How To Make a Career Change After 50

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The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the idea of employment in the United States and left many of the survivors — particularly the older ones — rethinking what’s important, what they value and what, exactly, they want to do with their precious and fleeting time left on Earth. 

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For many, the answer required just two words: career change. 

Leaving your field or even your job for something new, different and more in tune with you is exciting but terrifying — and the older you get, the less margin for error you have. 

GOBankingRates talked to the experts to find out what to do when changing careers, what not to do and what to expect along the way

Ageism Is Wrong but Real — Factor It Into Everything

When the economy began to reopen in the summer of 2020, workers 55 and up stayed out of the workforce longer, took more time to get rehired and were often forced into involuntary retirement when they simply couldn’t find a new job, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

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By February 2021, Bloomberg was reporting that the workforce had 2 million fewer workers ages 55 and older than it did one year earlier before the pandemic in February 2019. One astonishing statistic tells the tale: Between August 2020 and February 2021, the economy added back 2.7 million jobs for workers under 55 and just 28,000 jobs for workers over 55. 

A lot of it can be attributed to something that is illegal, immoral and rampant — ageism in the workplace. If you’re changing careers over 50, you must be aware of it — but you mustn’t let it stop you. 

“Employers’ perceptions of older employees are often biased and skewed,” said Alex Mastin, CEO and founder of Home Grounds. “But there’s no age limit on success. Overcoming ageism is one of the many hurdles that needlessly stands in the way of older job seekers, especially as COVID-19 has placed an emphasis on computer literacy.”

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Target Specific Industries and Companies — and Avoid Others

When brainstorming about your professional future, keep in mind that some fields are much harder for older workers to break into. According to The Ladders, the following industries are the most hostile to 55-plus candidates:

  • Business and finance
  • Tech
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Hospitality
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Energy

That, of course, is a generalization. Workplace culture is shaped by individual companies, not economic sectors. According to Monster, the following brands are on the other end of the spectrum, placing the most value on their older workers:

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  • SafeStreetsUSA
  • Aptive Environmental 
  • Liberty Tax Service
  • OMNI Systems
  • Franklin International
  • H&M
  • Government Accountability Office
  • Wegmans Food Markets
  • TJX Companies
  • Nike

Explore Your Options — and Yourself

“Changing careers” has a nice ring to it, but how do people decide what they want to do and what they realistically can do if the only thing they know is that they want something new?

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“While making a career change when you’re older inevitably has its challenges, I advise older applicants to be realistic and flexible, and think about their purpose,” said Matt Glodz, founder of executive resume writing and career coaching firm Resume Pilots. “In this stage of your life, think about prioritizing your purpose over a paycheck. What have you been wanting to do for a long time that you never gave yourself permission to do? If finances aren’t a significant factor, you may want to consider taking a step down to enter a role that you’ll find meaningful and fulfilling.”

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Personal brand strategist and career coach Petra Zink of impaCCCt believes it all starts with self-examination.

“Take a personality test and a brand archetype test to clarify your drivers and motivators,” she said. “Often, it helps to put language toward actions that we do subconsciously.”

The next step, Zink said, is to identify the skills and traits you want employers to associate you with and find places in your history that exemplify those traits and skills.

“Review your professional and personal life in 10-year increments,” Zink said. “What have been your notable achievements, awards, milestones? How did you get there?”

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Create an Outline for Your Long-Term Plan

When changing careers, all plans must be elastic as the process will inevitably throw you curveballs along the way. Everyone’s plan will look different, but for reference, career/leadership/life coach Katherine Golub of the Center for Callings & Courage came up with the following seven-step outline: 

  1. Make a list of all of the ingredients that are important to you in a job.
  2. Based on that list, make a list of all the possible jobs that interest you.
  3. Choose one possibility on your list to experiment with first.
  4. Then, think of people you know who might know something about this job — potential colleagues, employers, clients — and ask to have a conversation with them (otherwise known as an “informational interview”).
  5. Have as many conversations as possible, and each time, ask the people you’re speaking with who else they might recommend you talking to. Set up meetings with these new people.
  6. If you find you don’t have many people in your network, get curious about how you might expand your network. Attend networking meetings in person (many are meeting online now) or join online networking spaces such as professional LinkedIn or Facebook groups.
  7. Keep going. If you keep showing up, moving through your insecurities and having conversations, eventually, you will find opportunities that you never considered before.

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Get Yourself Ready

An expert interviewed by the Los Angeles Times stressed the importance of getting yourself in shape for a job hunt, both literally and figuratively. By building even modest physical exercise into your daily routine, you will look, feel and perform better, both mentally and physically. She also recommends that you revisit your look — your clothes, hair, glasses, whatever — but never to go overboard in an effort to reinvent yourself artificially. If you do make a drastic physical change, always make sure the photo on your application or LinkedIn profile matches the real you.

Get Your Resume Ready

An expert interviewed by the Grand Forks Herald advises most older employees that their resumes probably have some cobwebs on them. She recommends listing only jobs from the last 10-15 years and condensing anything important from before that into un-dated bullet points. She also recommends not advertising your age — a hedge against ageism, which culls so many good resumes in the preliminary stages — by omitting indicators like college graduation dates.

Don’t date yourself with yesteryear language, either.

“Lines such as ‘extensive experience in word-processing programs’ may make you appear out of touch,” Mastin said.

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If you have a stale email address from an AOL or Hotmail account, upgrade to a free Gmail account, which looks more modern. 

Also, while experience is the obvious benefit of age, it’s important not to dwell on it.

“While emphasizing experience is important, try to integrate terms such as ‘flexibility, willingness to learn and positive attitude’ to make an impression of a highly motivated and valuable individual,” Mastin said. “With an emphasis on qualifications rather than dates they were completed, the sky is your limit.”

Pursue Certifications or Continuing Education Where Needed

Depending on how significant of a change you’re seeking, you might be required to learn a new skill, earn a new credential or pivot from one of your goals.

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If you come from a finance background and don’t have proven experience using Python and SQL, for example, you may have a challenge breaking into the tech sector as an older applicant,” Glodz said. “It may be much easier to obtain a teaching certification and leverage your transferable skills as an economics teacher.”

But certification is not the only way to earn new qualifications. By donating your time in a pertinent field, you can get paid in experience and CV credibility at the same time.

“Volunteer and upskill,” Zink said. “One of the best ways to change careers is to get hands-on experience.”

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Last updated: July 29, 2021

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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