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Should work for the family biz be on your resume?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,
Is it all right to include my job as an assistant manager for our family business on my resume? My friends are telling me not to. Do recruiters look down on people who worked for family businesses?

If your job was to do the dinner dishes and wash your own laundry, that is called being part of the family and does not belong on a resume. If your job involved ordering supplies, creating schedules and handling customers, that's called a job and it belongs on your resume, regardless of who is signing the checks.

That said, deciding to list work for mom and dad can be a little tricky. Here's a four prong test for deciding if it goes on your resume.

1. Is it a legitimate business? Helping your mom bake cupcakes for your little sister's cheerleader fundraiser is not a job. If your dad changes the neighbor's oil in exchange for the neighbor cleaning out your gutters and you help him, that's not a real job. If your cousin is dealing drugs, and you keep the books for him, it may give you experience but it's not a legitimate business. (And it's illegal, and as we all know, illegal activity doesn't belong on a resume, it belongs on Facebook*.)

2. Is it regular work? If your "job" consists of you wandering in whenever you want and asking for tasks to do in order to get money for your Friday night out, then that's not a job. A real job means you work on either a schedule or on projects with deadlines. (Lots of work can be done at any time of day or night, but it needs to get done to count.) Are there people counting on you to get things done?

3. Would they hire someone to replace you? Sometimes mom and dad give you a job at their business strictly to give you experience, but it's a make-work sort of situation. When you go back to school in the fall your duties are re-absorbed into the other employees. This is still work, but it's labeled as an internship, even if they pay you. (And in fact, must pay you under the law unless they meet a complicated set of rules including it must have no value to the company.)

4. You have actual responsibilities. If you can say, "My job is to take care of x, y, and z," that's a real job. If you can't come up with any responsibilities or accomplishments to go on your resume, you need to leave it off.

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Now, there are some pitfalls in listing the family business on your resume. When your name is John Doe and the business name is "Doe's Restaurant," it's highly suspect that you're related to the boss. But, while that question may come up in the interview, it should not come up on the resume. So, your resume should read:

Assistant manager, Doe's Restaurant, Philadelphia, Pa., January 2010-Present

-Accomplishment 1

-Responsibility 1

-Accomplishment 2


A good interviewer will probably comment on the last name thing, but will also ask you questions about what you did. Your answers will make it clear whether or not this was a real job. If you say you were in charge of doing the forecasting in order to make schedules and order product but you cannot coherently discuss this process you will look like a lying loser.

Don't let your loving parent boost your resume by giving you some super title, like Vice President, Communications, when your real job was to photocopy the fliers and then stick them under people's windshields. Normally, getting a title changed is difficult, but if mom is the boss it shouldn't be hard to convince her to give you a more accurate title (like assistant). 

You don't list references on your resume (or even mention them -- it's a given that you'll have them), but when asked for them, if it's possible to give the name of someone else who managed you, then that's better. This may not be possible. If the business was just you and dad, well then dad's the boss. If you're the assistant manager and no one is higher than you other than mom, well, she's the boss. But, if you work for dad and his business partner, then the business partner is a better reference than dad.

You can also say, "My direct supervisor was my father, but I realize that sounds a little funny. I can give you a name of a coworker or a client as a reference as well, if you'd like." But that only comes up when they ask for references, not before.

But, to make a long answer short, yes, your job as an assistant manager for the family business goes straight on your resume.

*That Facebook thing is a joke.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your question to

Photo courtesy Elizabeth/Table4Five.

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