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June 3, 2021

You're Never Too Old: My Midlife Career Change

David Gledhill

Until recently, I believed that a career change at 50 was almost impossible. No one wants to invest in someone with such limited working life left, I thought.

Fortunately, I have a much more optimistic view now, having achieved a midlife career change unexpectedly. I've just started my new career as a transport manager for a local fencing company, kicking my previous job as a roadside technician to the kerb!

And the secret to achieving my later-life career change? Attitude.

Now or Never!

For 15 years, I had the same job under various line managers. I enjoyed the work itself, but grew tired of the company's politics and the constant monitoring and micromanagement.

The shift work took a toll on my health, and its inflexibility impinged upon my work-life balance. Opportunity to progress seemed out of reach, and I consistently felt undervalued – despite always exceeding my targets.

With my 52nd birthday around the corner, I came to the realization that it was now or never – I would have to make a career change now, or I'd never escape the harmful work culture.

Nothing to Lose

Despite searching for suitable vacancies every day, I discovered my new role almost by accident. When I was catching up with a friend, he told me about his workplace, and I jokingly suggested taking a job there, and thought little more of it. But two months later, my wife spotted a vacancy at that business advertised online. So, I applied.

Lacking experience in that particular role and industry, I was pessimistic. Lots of other candidates applied, and they all reportedly had much more experience than me. I probably won't get it, I told myself, but since I already have a job, what have I got to lose? Plus, applying would give me an incentive to finally dust off my résumé.

A Bumpy Road Ahead

I knew I didn't fit the job description on paper, so I was surprised to be offered a virtual interview.

There were a few technical issues which meant they couldn't hear me (at one point I even had to resort to holding up signs to communicate!) but the interview went well overall, and they told me I'd hear from them next week. Great!

So when three weeks passed with no word, you can imagine how deflated I felt. Obviously that was it. After all, the job advert had asked for experience and relevant qualifications – things I didn't have!

I carried on looking for vacancies, but my search was interrupted one afternoon when the company's HR team phoned and invited me to come in for a second interview – thankfully face-to-face this time! I was shocked, and at this point began to feel apprehensive. I had put the possibility out of my mind, but now making a career change didn't seem like such an unrealistic dream.

Attitude Vs. Experience

With nothing to lose, I did my best to adopt a relaxed attitude in the interview. This allowed for a bit of banter between us, and gave me a boost of confidence. I answered their questions as best I could, but there were moments where I still felt I had bitten off more than I could chew. For example, when they used jargon or terminology, it reminded me that I knew very little about this potential new career. I'm an expert when it comes to fixing vehicles, but managing a fleet would be a whole new ball game – and one I've never played before!

But my can-do attitude got me that far, and when I reminded myself of this, my self-confidence increased. Perhaps I would land the job!

During the interview, the managing director and I realized we share a similar mindset. We both feel that a good employee will go beyond the job description and be flexible, and that the days of the "that's not my job" attitude are long gone.

This gave me hope – perhaps he would value my attitude over the other applicants' experience. And, with the right attitude, I would soon pick up the knowledge and experience anyway.

In fact, to demonstrate my commitment, I offered to come in for work experience before my official start date. The suggestion went down well with the boss. So much so, he eventually offered me the job!

Who Said You Can't Teach an Old Man New Tricks?

I didn't expect to get to the second round of interviews, let alone get the job! Thrilled, I accepted the role. And I stayed true to my word: I went in to "shadow" the transport manager to learn the ropes.

By the second day’s work experience, my new boss had already assigned me a priority task (dealing with the theft of some tools and vehicle damage). He said my attitude and eagerness to learn had demonstrated I was up to the challenge, despite my lack of previous experience.

He later told me that one of the other candidates had the right experience and qualifications, but had been arrogant in the interview. So although an ideal match on paper, he wasn't the right type of person for the team. On the other hand, my attitude was a better cultural fit, and my different expertise and experience will bring something new to the team.

This has been an eye-opener for me. It's proved that companies do invest in people over 50, and favor attitude over experience. I've realized that midlife career changes are more common than I first thought!

I'm excited to be starting my new career at 51, and would urge anyone contemplating a midlife career change to take the plunge! With the right attitude, a few Mind Tools resources, and support from loved ones, you can achieve almost anything!

Have you changed your career path later in life? Or have you overcome a lack of qualifications with the right attitude? Tell us about your experience, below!

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4 comments on “You're Never Too Old: My Midlife Career Change”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this!! Having recently turned 50 I’ve had moments of ‘is this it for me?’ ‘Am I done striving?’ But quickly decided I’ve got a way to go before I’ll accept a career with no challenge! I’m happy where I am and every day has new challenges and opportunities but I won’t let my age prevent me progressing personally and professionally. So well done and good luck .... and thank you for sharing!!

  2. I'm about to turn 60 and hopefully complete a Cert IV in Training and Assessment (both in the same month), which could mean a major change of working for me. Like you, I'd like to think that I'm flexible enough to allow me to fit in where required, and different enough to be sought for my experiences. All best with your future.

  3. I started a totally new job at the age of 51 (2014). I was a mental health researcher for many years. The pressure to 'Publish or Perish' finally got me and I quit! I studied Floristry Cert 3 at TAFE (a post-secondary vocational training in Australia) and hid my previous life from my fellow floristry students in their 20s. I got a part-time florist assistant job and my mentor (the shop owner) must have noticed the creative flair and potential (a 'can-do' attitude and hard-working) in me. I joked to some really good friends that 'studying floristry with all these practical floral arrangement assessments is harder than writing my PhD thesis! LOL!' Fast forward 5 years to 2019, I founded a Not-for-Profit Social Enterprise 'Community Flower Studio' to help young people facing mental health challenges. My team and myself run creative workshops and sell flowers/bouquets to the public through this social enterprise. I also mentor young people to study Floristry (the way I was mentored) and share my journey of career change with them. Yay! You are Never Too Old!

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