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According to a 2014 job satisfaction survey by The Conference Board, over half of all Americans are unhappy with their current job. While younger workers may be quick to make a change, workers over the age of 50 may feel that the only choice they have is to “stick it out” until retirement. A common misconception exists that after a certain age it's “too late” to make a career change. Quite the opposite is true, however. With the average age of retirement rising, many people over 50 may have 15, 20, or even 30 years of working life left in them, and some choose to spend the remainder of their working years in a new career.
People age 50 and over are in a unique position to have plenty of workforce experience to bring to a new career, while still being able to obtain the knowledge they need to take on something new. This guidebook walks you through the process of changing careers over the age of 50, including how to get started, where to get additional training, and what types of careers might be right for you.
What constitutes a career change? Even the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics isn't quite sure. A career change can be dramatic, like a lawyer becoming a tugboat captain, or more subtle, like a teacher becoming a corporate trainer.
The Stats about Over-50 Career Changes
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average baby boomer held 11.7 jobs from at 18 to 48.
The fastest growing occupation for older workers through 2018 is working as a primary, secondary, and special education teacher.
Registered nurses (RNs) and MDs heading towards retirement currently dominate the aging healthcare workforce—55 percent of RNs are older than 50 and 47.7 percent of MDs are older than 50.
Even though making a career switch can be intimidating, older workers can explore job opportunities that did not exist five years ago, such as jobs in social media, cybersecurity, financial regulation, and global relations.
According to a 2012 United States Government Accountability Office study, the number of long-term unemployed people over 55 years of age has more than doubled since the recession and more than third of unemployed older workers have been out of work for more than a year.
Teachers and Nurses are among the fastest growing occupations for older workers in the coming decades, according to a report underwritten by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures.
Registered nurses and home health aides are the second and third fastest growing occupations for older workers through 2018.
Laurence Shatkin, Ph.d, author of “150 Best Jobs for a Secure Future” highlights careers as athletic trainers, clinical, counseling and other school psychologists, and instructional coordinators as among the top three secure jobs with the highest percentage of older workers.
The “New Careers for Older Workers” study by the American Institute for Economic Research finds 82 percent of survey respondents reported making a successful transition to a new career after age 45.
Why the Over-50 Crowd is Changing Careers
While it may seem like everyone else is happily settled in their career, some may be surprised to find that they are not alone in wanting to change careers. Here are some of the most common reasons people change careers:
One of the major reasons people change careers is that they are tired of working in a stressful environment. Even if a career has a number of benefits – paid time off, medical care, high salary – there comes a point when the amount of stress they live with is not worth the benefits. Many men and women have stepped down from lucrative positions either in the business or government contracting worlds to accept positions for a lower-paying position simply to reduce the amount of stress in their lives. For them, the lifestyle benefits of shorter working hours and a more defined schedule outweigh the extra zeros on their paychecks.
No matter how exciting it is at first, any career can get boring after years of service. As Science Daily reported in their article “Pure Novelty Spurs the Brain,” learning new skills and information is not only fun, but it speaks to a basic human need that people have to experience new, novel things. Many people leave successful, established careers because their line of work does not excite them anymore. Instead, they turn to new careers that offer them opportunities to learn new information, perform new tasks, have new experiences, and interact with others in different ways.
Sometimes the desire to make money or to live a more stable life can keep a person from following their passion earlier in life. Many 50-and-over career changers decide that there is more to life than making money and a stable living. They decide that it is worth earning less and that it can be worth living with a little risk in order to pursue their passion. Many individuals over the age of 50 step away from traditional positions in the business world to work in the arts or to combine their love of art and business know-how to open a gallery or studio.
Another major reason that people 50 and over decide to change careers is that they are tired of the frantic pace of their work. Even if the work is fulfilling, the tasks exciting, and the money and benefits agreeable, they decide that they would rather live life at a calmer, more peaceful pace. This may mean something as simple as a change in company or office; but if the nature of the industry itself is hectic, it will mean a new career.
Should You Consider a Career Change After 50?
Even though the idea of getting back into the workforce after being unemployed for some time or exploring an entirely new career path after 50 can be daunting, there are some ways to alleviate some of the anxiety about making the jump and enjoy the process. Here are some important things to consider when changing careers after 50:
Identifying Your Skills
If you have held multiple jobs throughout your working life or have been laid off, don't forget that you developed many marketable skills over the years. Create a list of skills you have acquired and determine what you are good at so you can present yourself to employers. Don't overlook general skills that are essentially transferable skills relevant to multiple occupations. Skills such as reading and writing, management skills, technical skills, and communication skills can transfer over to a number of positions and industries. Use tools like the CareerOneStop Skills Profiler to get this process started.
Learning New Job Skills
Is a lack of certain job skills holding you back from pursuing a new career later in life? Explore online training programs and local resources that will allow you to acquire relevant job skills that make you more marketable to a new employer, or, help you jump into entrepreneurship so you can work for yourself through retirement. Make use of sites like jobskillshare.org or OnlineCourses.com to take courses and strengthen or develop your job skills.
According to a survey by RetiredBrains.com, more than 86% of business professionals plan to continue working once they are eligible to retire. If you are not interested in retiring from the workforce early, consider ways to combine your existing skill set with a lifelong dream. For instance, if you have always been passionate about dancing but spent your working years as a teacher or educator, you may consider serving as a dance instructor or opening your own dance studio.
Benefits for Experienced Workers
Some companies and organizations go above and beyond to recruit older workers with attractive benefits packages and other perks. Consider applying with companies that have earned the AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 award in the past few years.
Data from the Kauffman Foundation finds that the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55 to 64 age group. According to the latest information from RetiredBrains.com, people over 55 are almost twice as likely to found successful companies as those between 20 and 34 years of age. If you have always wanted to own your own business and support yourself — including paying for your own benefits and contributing to your nest egg — entrepreneurship may be the most rewarding route for you.
If you're prepared to complete short-term on-the-job training or have work experience in a related occupation, you may be qualified to work in one of the fastest-growing fields projected over the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and AARP reports that home health aides, computer software engineers, medical assistants, and self-enrichment education teachers are among the fastest growing jobs for workers age 50 and over.
How to Get Started
Mark Twain once said that the secret of getting ahead is getting started. But first, you need a plan. Follow these steps to create a concrete career change action plan.
Determine What You Want
If you already know what career you'd like to change to, you're ahead of the game. But before you hand in your two-week notice at your current job, make sure you're specific about what you want in your future career. Research the different types of positions in your new field of interest, and determine which best aligns with your skill set and with your interests.
Where to start:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: check out the fastest growing jobs and see how they match up with your experience, interests, capabilities and passion. For example, healthcare is booming. While some of these careers may require several years of school, others, such as radiology tech or medical billing and coding, require two years or less.
Salary.com: You may also want to check job satisfaction survey results for any careers of interest.
Find the Similarities.
Even if your new career seems drastically different from your current career, there are bound to be several skills that you have been using that you will use in your new line of work.
Characteristics that often translate to new careers:
- Time management
- Interpersonal relationship skills
Where to start:
Career One Stop: Use this tool to find out what careers you can do with skills you already possess.
If one of your main goals in changing careers is to reduce stress and workload, it may mean a smaller paycheck, and you may need to make some lifestyle changes. These changes may include changing your housing situation and/or the town you live in.
Where to start:
Payscale.com: offers a cost-of-living calculator that can show you how much money you'll need to earn to maintain your current standard of living if you're thinking of moving to a new area.
Determine What You Need.
Once you've landed on a few careers that ignite your interest, consider what it's going to take to transition to one of them.
Depending on the career, there may be certifications, degrees, or endorsements that are either necessary or would make you a more competitive job candidate. Find out exactly what kind of qualifications are expected by looking at recent job postings, and also speak with people working in the career to find out what additional expertise they recommend. If you've already got your bachelor's degree, you may only need a certification for certain jobs. For example, while associate and bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies are available, someone with a bachelor's degree can study for a paralegal certificate in a year or less.
Where to start:
O*Net Online: Learn deep information for thousands of jobs, including education level of those currently employed in the career credentials required and/or available.
Start reinventing yourself, professionally speaking, once you decide on your new career. Rebrand yourself by changing the way that you present yourself in person and online. Don't wait until you land your new position to change your LinkedIn profile – do it now. This helps potential employers understand that you aren't just thinking about a change; you have already made the shift into their industry.
Where to start:
Entrepreneur: Check out this site's comprehensive section on personal branding.
Now is the time to get involved in social media if you haven't already. Every line of work has an active network that connects individuals with shared information, understandings, and ideas, and most can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
What to look for on social media:
- LinkedIn and Facebook groups
Where to start:
LinkedIn: Still not on LinkedIn? Now is the time to start. Do a quick search using your career goals as keywords and find groups to join and people to connect with.
Finalize Your Plan. Make It Happen.
Once you've determined what you need to do to make the switch, turn those tasks into concrete action plans and accompanying organization. Make short and long term goals as to what you want to accomplish, and give them a completion date. Also attach rough dates to each action item you need to accomplish to make your successful career change, and keep everything organized. Your plan may include:
- A list of contacts
- A recordkeeping system to record who you've contacted and what you send them
- A file for your resume, portfolio, and other materials for self-marketing opportunities
- Dates for targeted marketing, job fairs, informational interviews, networking events, webinars, etc.
- Dates for skill building, seminars, workshops, volunteering, classes, certification and more
Where to start:
This site offers a plethora of job search organization tools, including setting up email alerts, applying for jobs, searching for jobs and more
Craft Your Elevator Speech
If someone asks “why are you switching careers,” or “what are you looking to do going forward,” you need to have a comprehensive answer you can give in about 30 seconds.
Tips for crafting an elevator speech:
- Avoid talking about negative past experiences
- Highlight the best thing about the past; incorporate them into your new career
- Steer clear of industry jargon
- Tailor it to your audience
- Work it out on paper
- Practice out loud
It is crucial that you do not give the appearance that you are tired. Even if your previous career wore you out and that's why you want to change careers, you need to make it evident that you have come a long way, but that you still have plenty of gas left in your tank.
Surround Yourself with Positivity
Even if you are excited to change careers and are certain that you are doing the right thing, it can be easy to let negative talk and doubtful individuals affect the mood of your transition. Make sure that you regularly talk with people who speak positively about your change in career.
Keep Track of Your Progress
A great way to make you feel like you're making progress and closing in on your goal is to keep track of all of the things you have done to get you there. That way, even if the transition takes a little longer than you had hoped, you stay positive that you are on your way to transitioning into your new career.
What to track:
- Books and blogs read
- Videos watched
- Meetings attended
No matter how many times you do not land a position, no matter how ideal the position seemed, never give up. The only way to get what you want is to keep chasing it down. Eventually, you will get what you aim for. But you have to keep aiming at it, no matter what.
Career Change Over 50 Myths
No matter how inspired you are to change your career, you no doubt feel nagged by myths about the job market that you have heard before. Here's the real truth behind three of the most common ones:
Employers don't want to hire people over 50.
Myth Debunked:Experience matters. Older workers have good leadership skills and a strong work ethic, they're focused and loyal, and they have strong networks. If a person has worked in a role where they have been responsible for working with customers and keeping them happy, they can perform that role in any career. Employers are looking for people who can do the job the best; age does not play nearly as much of a factor as a person's abilities do. In May 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate for people over 55 was 3.7% -- that's lower than the overall rate of 5.5%.
You won't be able to keep up with the younger employees' technology prowess.
Myth Debunked:Getting to know a new technology can be overwhelming, but if you digest the info in small chunks, it may become clear that the new technology is not that different from what you did previously. The only difference is it's simply digital, easier to access, and can make it easier to collaborate with others.
Don't let what seems like a never-ending wave of technology blind you to this reality. If you are capable of doing the job without technology, then you are just as capable of doing it with technology. And even if a younger employee is more comfortable with technology, the most important measure of their effectiveness in their position is whether or not they can do the job well â technology or no technology.
To keep up with the latest in technology, subscribe to popular sites such as TechCrunch, Mashable or Gizmodo. Even if you don't use all the technology featured on these high tech sites, you'll still be up on the latest developments. If you need additional help understanding specific software programs, classes are available online or on campus at community colleges that cover computer basics.
It's too late to learn a new trade.
Myth Debunked:You already have a lot more of the skills you'll need in your new career than you may think. Reviewing the list of crossover skills can be a great way to boost confidence as you set out to learn whatever remaining skills you need to conquer. For instance, some teachers who leave the classroom for the business world find that they are a lot more prepared than they anticipated. Many learn that their skills of dealing with difficult behaviors, balancing the needs of upwards of a hundred people at a time, and reaching benchmark achievement goals make them uniquely qualified to work well with others, manage the needs of coworkers, managers, and consumers and accomplish goals set by management.
âI've been unemployed for a while. I can't get back into the workforce.â
Myth Debunked:Even long gaps of being unemployed shouldn't hold you back from pursuing a career in something you are passionate about or choose a path that you had experience in when you were younger. Even though you are unemployed, you have still retained valuable skills from your years of employment. Get potential employers to notice you by highlighting key skills and experience on your resume, and writing a strong cover letter that describes exactly why you are fit for the job. If you are interested in updating your skill set, consider taking advantage of resources available in the community. The U.S. Department of Labor has set up One Stop Career Centers in all 50 states where participants can take computer training courses for free and become more confident about their skills.
Career Changer Spotlights
Still not sure if you're ready to make a career change after the age of 50? Here's a look at three distinct career changes personas. Perhaps you see yourself in one of them.
Women Over 50
Women over 50 are changing jobs and careers for a variety of reasons. Divorce, an empty nest or death of a spouse are just a few of the major reasons why some in this group seek out new employment. For others, the reasons aren't quite as earth shattering, but important nonetheless. Women looking to follow their passion, learn something new, or looking for a change of pace are also switching careers after 50. Regardless of the reason, below are a few:
Don't hesitate to ask a coworker or someone in the space for mentoring help, even if they are a decade or more younger.
It's more important than ever for career women over 50 to network with like-minded individuals. Local and trade organizations are great, but check out LinkedIn for groups filled with women in similar situations.
Understand that competition is fierce for some jobs, and don't become discouraged if it takes longer than you originally thought it might to transition to a new career.
Don't try to be one of the 25-year olds at work, but refresh your look at attitude.
Don't deny or try to hide your age, but instead reinvent what your age means in the workplace. Stay on top of tech advances, cultivate energy and stay fit.
More: Website for women in midlife features a hefty section on careers and work.
Next Avenue: complete section on changing careers after 50.
The Over-60 Career Changer
Changing careers over 60 can be tricky, but people all over the country are doing it all the time. While a complete 180-degree change may not be possible, this group is still willing and capable to venture into new career territory:
The over-60 career-changing crowd should choose careers that enable them to forge their own path and allow for some independence, such as sales, freelance work, social activism and consulting.
Garner all the support you can get: The Purpose Prize-the nation's only large-scale investment in people over 60 who combine passion experience for social good. The Prize awards at least $100,000 annually to individuals creating new ways to solve tough social problems. The 2014 Purpose Prize awarded $300,000 to six individuals.
The Purpose Prize: For people age 60 and over who are passionate about solving complex problems
Sixty & Me: An inspirational site for women over 60. Topics include technology, careers, retirement and more
Some over-50 career changes may be looking to liven things up and quicken the pace. Others, however, may be looking to slow things down a bit on the career front so they can make room for other life priorities. For these folks, part time work can be just the ticket. But part time doesn't mean half the work.
Don't just consider 20 hours a week as “part-time.” Working less than you have been could basically mean part time. And while part time may not mean 20 hours a week, it could mean less days a week or more stretches of time not working but working 40 hours when needed.
Job sharing: As employers become more flexible, they are more willing to do what they need to keep good talent around. Job sharing with another colleague could mean a variety of setups: one week on and one week off, half the week on and the rest off, etc. If you're flexible, chances are your employer will be as well.
Working remotely: By cutting commute time and even a set lunch hour, you may be able to pack 8 hours of work into five.
Work Sharing Program: Information on work sharing from California's Employment Development Department
Combatting Age Discrimination
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits companies with 20 or more employees from engaging in age-discrimination against people age 40 and older. It forbids discrimination when it comes to pay, promotions, training, benefits, hiring and more.
You should be aware of, but not obsessed with, the fact that age discrimination does exist. According to one survey, 65 percent of Baby Boomers believe they've been discriminated against in the workplace due to age. Women are hit with the double whammy of age and gender discrimination. There are things you can do to combat age discrimination, including:
Never stop learning. Keep up with technology via online learning, college courses, workshops, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and more.
At this point, you career change may very well be facilitated by word-of-mouth. Keep eyes, ears, and connections open.
While it's not against the law for you to be asked your age when applying for a job, it can put you in an awkward position. It's up to you whether or not you want to give your age, but it's best to be truthful.
Age discrimination can be tough to prove, particularly if you believe not being hired for a job is based solely on your age, but you can contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Making the Transition
Career Match: New Careers that Make for Easier Transitions from Traditional Careers
Many skills translate from one industry go another. For instance, the ability to think clearly and convey meaning is necessary for a writer, but is also necessary for any other career that involves words. And the better at it that you are, the more successful you will be. Here are a few examples of new careers that make for easier transitions from traditional careers.
Traditional Career: History Teacher
New Career: Historical Reenactor
Traditional Career: Police Officer
New Career: Security Consultant for Schools
Traditional Career: Journalist / Reporter
New Career: Blogger
Traditional Career: Accountant
New Career: Financial Advisor
Traditional Career: Professor
New Career: Tutor
Traditional Career: Engineer
New Career: Technical Writer
Traditional Career: Business Manager
New Career: Grant Coordinator
Traditional Career: Firefighter
New Career: Physical Trainer
Traditional Career: Dietician
New Career: Menu Consultant for Restaurants
More Resources for Career Changers Over 50
AARP: Tools, resources and more for re-careering and working after retirement.
CareerOneStop: Comprehensive resource sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor that provides tips on getting a job as an older worker.
CareerProfiles: Career Change Center features articles and resources to help answer some of the more difficult questions when making a career change later in life.
Careers I: 1-stop source for up to date, and trending career information.
Careersafter50: Career training and employment research resources.
Encore.org: Dedicated to helping people in midlife and beyond focus their skills and learn new ones to improved communities throughout the world. Handbook, resources, live and web events, and more.
FlexJobs: Subscription-based site that can help you find freelance or remote work based on certain skills you have. Also offers valuable career advice for workers over 50.
IdealistCareers: Blog posts and resources for job seekers over 50 years of age.
Indeed: Offers access to millions of jobs from thousands of company websites, job boards and newspapers, this is a one-stop-shop for job finding.
LaterLife: Tips for retirement planning, work, finances, and managing leisure time through retirement.
Life After Teaching: Offers practical career advice for those exiting the classroom and entering new careers.
Monster: A source for jobs and career opportunities. One can search for jobs, read career advice from Monster's job experts, and find hiring and recruiting advice.
MyLifestyleCareer: Blog posts and tips for proficient from your passion during semi-retirement.
MyPlan.com - tips for adults and career changers interested in exploring career opportunities and options.
National Council on Aging: Economic security, healthy aging tips, and other resources to assist the aging population.
NextAvenue.org: Career, living, and healthy living tips and resources for the aging population
Over 50 Web: Over 50 Web is an online magazine for people over 50, baby boomers and senior citizens. The site is meant to offer guides on various issues pertaining to this population.
Quintessential Careers: Job-hunting and career resources for every stage of life.
University of Washington, Professional and Continuing Education: This site has a section chock full of career change articles, including some geared to over-50s.
Vibrant Nation: Vibrant Nation is the leading online community devoted exclusively to the influential and fast-growing demographic of smart and successful women over 50.
Work Force 50: Workforce 50 is a site offering current job listings specifically for boomers and seniors.
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