Planning a Later-Life Career Change
How to Start a New Career in Your 40s, 50s, Or 60s
Nima, who's been an HR manager for 30 years, is facing one of the most "exciting" challenges of her life. She's learned that she's to be laid off at the end of the month.
She's devastated at first, but, as she thinks about what to do next, she starts to feel more enthusiastic. She recalls an idea that she's toyed with for some time – that of working as an HR consultant. However, it feels daunting to make such a big transition at this stage of her life.
Each year, millions of people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s face a similar situation. They may have been laid off or terminated, or they may simply have decided that their careers are no longer fulfilling. And they face different challenges and have different opportunities from those of younger job seekers.
In this article, we'll look at what these are, and we'll explore how you can plan a successful later-life career change.
Recareering on the Rise
If you're considering changing careers – "recareering" as it's sometimes called – you're not alone.
US government research suggests that a "job for life" is now a rarity, with college graduates between 18 and 46 likely to have around 11 jobs during their careers. What's more, the survey showed that, of the jobs started by 40 to 46 year olds, 33% ended in less than a year, and 69% ended in fewer than five years.
While many of these changes may have been involuntary, other research shows that around 30% of the total US workforce aged over 44 are actively considering making a major career change. Some 11% plan to make this change within four years.
Professionals all over the world are making this kind of transition. And while it might seem intimidating at first, it's an opportunity to try out potentially rewarding roles that you may not have had the chance to explore earlier in your career.
The Importance of a Career Plan
Career plans aren't just for people fresh out of college. It's always important to know where you want your career to go, and it's especially important when you're planning a major change.
A well thought-through plan will help you tease out ideas, identify challenges (and think about how to resolve them) and keep you on track if times get tough. As a later-life career changer, you'll have built up plenty of knowledge about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses during your career so far. Make sure that you feed this insight into your plan.
Making a Later-Life Career Change
Follow the steps below to plan a successful later-life career.
1. Adjust Your Mindset
Starting over calls for some major adjustments in lifestyle and emotions. It can take time for these to feel right for you, but if you can think positively about your new journey, you will help yourself through the transition.
Ask friends and family for support if you need it during your period of transition, and, if you're finding this time difficult, use appropriate stress management techniques to cope with your new situation.
2. Make Time
Set aside time to give your new career plans the attention they deserve – especially if you need to take on project or temporary work to maintain your income. Use our time management tools to ensure that you're getting everything done, and consider using action plans to keep on top of tasks.
3. Build Your New Career Around You
You may already know what you'd like to do with your new career. Perhaps you want to stay in the same field and work as a consultant. You might want to start your own business, work in the non-profit sector for a cause you care about, or even train for an entirely new profession.
If you are not yet sure what you'd like to do, use our tools to find career direction.
Either way, to make a success of the next phase of your career, you'll need to make sure that it's built around you – your values, your strengths, your experience, your goals and your dreams. One of the most powerful advantages of making a later-life career change is that you know yourself well. Unlike younger career-changers (who may lack this insight) you can make more realistic judgments about what's likely to work for you in the future. Use this self-knowledge to your advantage.
- Make a list of any dreams or goals that you haven't yet accomplished in life. Which of these really stand out? Which of these do you regret not doing?
- Next, make a list of your interests. Could you turn any of these into a full-time job? Or could any of them be combined as part-time roles?
- Think about tasks or projects that you worked on in the past that made you happy. What skills were you using during these times? How could you build these into your new career?
- Think about your strengths and weaknesses: conduct a Personal SWOT Analysis to identify what you're best at. How might your strengths transfer to the field or position that you're thinking of?
- Was there anything that you disliked or found challenging in your past roles, or was there something that clashed with your values? This fresh start could be your chance to free yourself from something that has prevented you from fully enjoying your work.
- Take a self-assessment test such as Myers-Briggs or The California Psychological Inventory to understand of your personality and preferences better. This insight won't tell you the type of work you're most suited to, but it can help you understand which factors, such as an extrovert personality or good people skills, you could build on in a new role. Likewise, these tests can also reveal the personal factors that you may need to work on if your new career is to be a success.
- Write a personal mission and vision statement. These help define what you care most about, and this, in turn, will help bring focus to what you'd like to accomplish in this next stage.
- Many older workers use their later-life career to "give back to society" in a meaningful way. If you're interested in working for a non-profit, how could you use your knowledge and skills to its benefit? Or could you volunteer for the organization – perhaps as a board member – while doing paid work elsewhere?
- Think about the type of environment in which you'd like to work. What type of culture would you like to be part of? Would you like to work part time, do you want another full-time role, or do you want to build several roles into a portfolio career?
It's important not to rush this process. Mull these questions over. Give yourself the time you need to "try on" different ideas, and the freedom to cast them aside if they don't fit.
These recommendations assume that the role you want is available, at terms that you can afford to take. Listen to our interview with Cal Newport for a different, career-capital-driven approach that can suit more difficult circumstances.
4. Start With Small Steps
Small, manageable steps are always useful when you're starting something new. They help you move forward at a time when there may be many unknowns, and help you avoid taking on too much, too soon.
For example, if you let your entire professional network know that you're seeking new opportunities the moment you receive your layoff notice, you may feel tempted to rush into something that isn't right for you, and you may fritter opportunities away.
Instead, set yourself small but achievable targets, such as contacting a few members of your network for informational discussions each week. This will help you make the most of what they can offer.
5. Determine Qualifications
List the qualifications, knowledge, and skills you already have, and compare these with the ones you'll need in this new field. You may need to create a plan to overcome a lack of qualifications, or to address any gaps in your current skill set.
First, think about education or training. Does the industry that you want to enter require any certifications or tests that you don't currently have? Note down what you have to learn to be properly qualified in this industry.
Next, research how you will acquire the necessary training. If you're still working, make time for professional development. This could mean devoting evenings and weekends to study, or using vacation time to attend a seminar or training event.
If you do need to go back to school or enroll in a training course, consider online learning. Many professionals love this because it allows them to pursue education or training while balancing work and family commitments.
Research the training you're thinking of carefully, looking for positive reviews from past students and for evidence of their employability having completed their course. Ask questions about certification of the study, transferability between states and industries, and how recruiters are likely to view the training.
6. Work Your Network
By this stage, you may have some clear ideas about your new career. Now use social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with professionals in this industry. Explain your situation, and ask if they'd be willing to offer an informational interview. Use this opportunity to find out what this line of work is really like – will it give you the rewarding experiences that you want?
You can also use your network to get a foot in the door with voluntary work, or freelance or contract roles. Be ready to communicate your accomplishments with a quick and informative elevator pitch: recruiters need to understand quickly how your experience provides value. Again, short assignments such as project or freelance work can give you an idea of what this kind of work could involve.
You may come across age discrimination as you progress towards your new career. It's important to be aware of what constitutes age discrimination in your country and to know how to deal with it.
If you're affected by age discrimination, our article on dealing with discrimination tells you what to do when you're faced with unfair and unethical treatment.
Also, listen to our Expert Interview with Robert Critchley, "Rewire or Rust!", for more information on starting a career later in life.
7. Keep Building Your Skills
Whatever direction your new career takes, you'll only be successful if you keep your skills up-to-date. Connect with professional bodies to build the knowledge needed in your industry, and use social networks to keep abreast of technological and other issues facing it.
Whether you're a consultant, a new team member or a volunteer, your career transition will be smoother if you can empathize with the issues that your colleagues are facing, and be ready to use your skills to work with them.
You may feel excited about making a later-life career change, or you may simply feel scared. Either way, it's important to make a plan for your new career. This will help you tease out your ideas and understand the steps that you need to take to get started.
To plan a successful later-life career, follow these steps:
- Adjust your mindset.
- Make time.
- Build your new career around you.
- Start with small steps.
- Determine qualifications.
- Work your network.
- Keep building your skills.
Above all, the self-knowledge you've gained during your working life so far, along with the networks (both personal and professional) that you've established, will give you a great start in launching your later-life career.