Thinking of switching to a new career, but think it’s too late? Throw away the notion that middle-age is a time for crisis, and instead, think of it as an opportunity for change. In your 50s and 60s, your life has no doubt already undergone a transformation. Your grown children are likely finishing college and out on their own, your mortgage may be paid off, and you may have already downsized from a larger home to one more suited to your needs.
If you’re ready to make the switch to a new career, now’s the time to take stock of where you are heading—and hoping to land—in your new field. “You can’t jump without a plan,” says Tom Denham, career counselor, and motivational speaker, and owner of Careers in Transition LLC in Albany. “What you need to do is find the courage and motivation to launch that plan.”
Changing careers at any time in life is likely to be most successful if you follow the basics. Some of these tips you even may have learned in your high school guidance office or your college career center. In other words, you don’t reinvent the wheel.
Instead, spend some time taking inventory of your talents, goals, and dreams. You may quickly hear that inner voice that’s been nudging you for years to hone your culinary skills to become a caterer. Or perhaps you’re a teacher who’s longed to work one-on-one with students and would love to be a tutor. Maybe you’ve always been great at home repairs and have the experience to open your own Mr. Fix It business. Perhaps you wrote the church newsletter and are interested in being a content writer. The list of available opportunities is broad and varied.
“It’s all about finding out who you are and where you want to be,” says Bonny Boice, an executive coach who owns her own Albany-based business, BGB Consulting and Retreats. “It’s part of life’s journey. You are always learning more about yourself. It never ends.”
Boice knows firsthand about switching to a new career midlife. In her 50s she bid farewell to accounting as a COO for a large company and went into life counseling. “I realized I couldn’t care less about spreadsheets,” Boice says, laughing. “What I really enjoy is helping other people, so I began to steer in that direction.”
A great way to jumpstart the discovery process is by taking online self-assessment and career exploration exams. These question-and-answer tests (no essays required) are designed to spotlight your strengths and identify career paths that will put those strong points to good use.
The tests can show, for example, whether you lean toward creative or analytical jobs; if you work best alone or as part of a team; and how you can best use your communication skills.
Then, it’s time to put pen to paper and write a complete list of your skills and experience. You’ve taken your hopes and dreams into account, but for this step, you need to be realistic. Many of us wished as children to be astronauts or doctors finding the next cure to save the world. These are not likely within reach at this stage of the game.
Do, however, include even minor skills in this list. Maybe you were the go-to person for technical computer glitches, or you organized the company’s annual donation drive for a non-profit or selected the furnishings for the lobby. All of these point to your abilities to be hands-on, organized and creative. Focusing on your talents and strengths will also boost your confidence and help you stay motivated.
If you find yourself stymied at the ideas stage, you may want to consult with a life coach. Hour-long sessions run about $80 to $200, and you can opt for a single session or a series of 5 to 7 or more.
Switching to a new career midlife means taking into account down-to-earth considerations as well. One of them, of course, is your finances. Can you afford to switch careers, and if so, do you need a full or part-time job? If you plan to get more education or training, can you manage to pay the bills while doing this? Talk to your partner and other family members about what is realistic, and what’s simply unattainable.
Boice kept her job in corporate finance for three years while switching to a new career in life coaching.
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of job that will be fulfilling and meet your financial needs, it’s time to put the plan into action. Yes, you should take advantage of LinkedIn and the numerous online job search engines. But a valuable tool for finding jobs has always been, and perhaps always will be, talking to everyone you know about your search and picking their brains for what may be out there today. Networking is still the name of the game.
“Find people who are in the field you are seeking,” Boice says. “Talk to them about what they like about it. Look for mentors.”
There are other practical matters at hand when switching careers, such as updating your resume. There are plenty of services out there to help make yours stand out from the crowd and spotlight your experience and skills.
Take advantage of all the resources at your fingertips. For example, AARP has an easy-to-navigate online Job Board for its members. This job search tool was designed for experienced workers and helps users look for job openings that match their background and interests. Narrow results with filters for part-time work, full-time work, location, and more.
With age comes wisdom, and you can harness that deep well of experience to your advantage. “The older you get, the more you know,” says Lisa Giruzzi, a business and life coach and owner of Transformational Conversations in Colonie. “Find your own truth, and then use that to build your own path.”