Shifting gears professionally during your middle-age years can set off a whirlwind of introspection and new beginnings. But midlife career changes also can bring a lot of anxiety because a professional change often means navigating through unknown territory. Women typically search for different professional avenues during economic slumps, such as when they see their employers struggling to stay solvent or their particular industry is in trouble. Many others seek change because they yearn for more purpose in their work.
The best starting place to launch a midlife career change is to take a long look at your existing track record and analyze where you have transferable skills. "I think that's the most important thing: Make sure you have the background and training," says Dan Schilling, human resources director at Notre Dame Educational Center in Chardon, Ohio, outside Cleveland. "Set your skills with your expectations." For example, a seasoned HR manager with a personal passion for computers might not have an easy time segueing into an information systems role based on just her business experience. But if that same manager has a lot of hands-on professional experience with payroll or other HR-related software, she could have less difficulty pursuing a new career in technology because she has proven computer skills.
Your quest for a new occupation can be a time for achieving lifelong dreams. "Make sure you're going to enjoy what you do. You have to have a passion for that new opportunity," says Schilling. As employees get older, they often want a job that's more meaningful. He suggests stepping into a new role on a part-time basis to ensure it's the right fit for you. A gradual transition into a different line of work is especially important for moms who may have stepped out of the job market while raising kids and later decided to return to the workforce while making a midlife career change. "Part time is a good way to put your toes in the water before going back," says Schilling. "Going from being a mom to full time can be overwhelming, where it could be better to come in part time." Andrea Atkins, writing in Grandparents.com, echoes his comments, saying part-time jobs and consulting roles can turn into full-time opportunities.
Using Your Network
Your circle of professional contacts is invaluable when you transition into another field. Employers often prefer hiring someone who already knows someone within their organization, says Atkins in Grandparents.com. There are several ways to leverage connections that you've developed over the years. First, many recruiters use social media sites like LinkedIn to see who's been endorsed by other professionals, so keep your list of social networking contacts up to date, advises Laura Sinberg in Forbes.com. Next, look at your associates as potential mentors, says Nicole Fallon in BusinessNewsDaily.com. Ask a business acquaintance for his advice if he's already working in a field that appeals to you. Your volunteer work might also hold some prospective career opportunities. Many workers 55 years and older have done some sort of community service activity during the past year, reports the American Grandparents Association, so see if any of those experiences and contacts can shed some insight on new career pathways.
A midlife career change often results in a significant effect on your finances. You may have to step into an entry-level position in your new occupation, which won't command the same salary that you might be accustomed to earning. Another point to consider is how much time and money you want to invest in retraining, says Sinberg in Forbes.com. An online certificate program could be more cost-effective than a degree program because an older worker has fewer working years to recoup those educational expenses. Forbes.com's Sinberg also suggests making your transition in phases. Look at other internal opportunities within your existing employer and see if an intra-company move might be a possibility. For instance, someone with problem-solving and analytical skills in one field, such as a technical lab, could find herself leaping into human resources, where those same skills bring value, says Sinberg in Forbes.com.