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The Age of Career Changers (And How to Find the Right Job at 50 and Beyond)

Welcome to the age of career changers. New career in your 50s? Why the hell not. “Old” is the new gold. In this piece we explore the idea of not sticking to a restrictive framework and linear path, no matter what your age.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. I think if he had the chance to write that letter over, he might add “change” to life’s inexorable certainties.

Sometimes we choose change, and sometimes it chooses us. What I’m suggesting here is that change in your professional life, for example, can be good. Dare I say, great even; no matter how it came about.

What is a Career Changer?

“Old” is the new gold. This point is neatly illustrated by a rather brilliant and inspiring article in the Guardian, which describes an eclectic mix of “career changers” who actively switched professions because they aspired to do something more fulfilling or to pursue a passion. Several of whom made the jump in their 50s.

Take Alison, for example, who began a medical degree in her 40s to fulfil a childhood dream of working in medicine. Elizabeth transitioned from self-confessed "Stepford Wife" to a barrister at 55 (and is still working at 72). At 54, Robert left his job as head teacher to become a songwriter and, approaching his 50s, Jack retrained as a train driver after three decades in IT.

In the article, Alison is asked by a teenager why she is studying medicine "when she is so old". Her response really resonated with me: "Go home and ask your mum if she likes her life. I bet there is something your mum has always wanted to do and didn't. Ask her what her dreams are and see if she has fulfilled them".

This statement will chime with anyone who has parental responsibilities and may have prioritised well-paid careers over those with purpose, but, coming full circle, might also strike a chord with those who have caring responsibilities and now require remote or flexible working options.

Health issues and feeling unfulfilled or lacking in purpose, were also a catalyst for change among this group and while these collective experiences are by no means exhaustive, they are all imbued with a clear message – to "be brave" – and reinforce that this transition can be for the many, not the few.

Changing Careers: It Doesn’t Have to be the Big Bang

It’s worth pointing out that career changes can be more imperceptible than infinite. If you love your job but are stifled by its outputs, changing industry might appeal to you. A job in internal communications or marketing will produce content that varies wildly from one industry to another. Take professional service firms such as legal or accounting in which your craft could be limited to corporate tax accounting or compliance. However, in the not-for-profit sector, this type of work is likely to be rich with purpose and help you to feel that you are making a real difference with your work.

Consulting, on the other hand, offers the choice to pivot, doing the same work, but in the manner of subject matter expert, applying your years of experience in a freelance capacity. Although relatively new, there is now an accreditation route through CMI to validate your awareness of consulting best practices, to kickstart confidence and credibility.

Career Changers: Switching Industry and Role

From pivot to full throttle pirouette, you may wish to change industry and role. This bells-and-whistles approach is likely to require significant planning, particularly if you lack experience in your chosen vocation (or haven’t yet figured out what you want to do).

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”

How to Approach Changing Careers at 50 and Beyond

Transiting to a completely different career is likely to involve planning. To help guide you on the process, here are some steps to consider.

  • Accreditation – Depending on the course (and unless a certificate from Udemy or Coursera will do the job), education can be expensive. Very expensive if you go the degree route. This drain will impact not just your pockets but your downtime so if you are running a full-time role in parallel, organisation skills will be critical.
  • Volunteering – There isn’t a substitute for experience and offering your services in return for some on the job training will reap rewards (I returned to work after a 10-year gap and was told by my hiring manager that I was offered the role because I had worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau as a volunteer 18 months previously.)
  • Networking – This doesn’t fall in everyone’s comfort zone, but the ability to develop relationships with people in your lane is a valuable asset. LinkedIn is an unparalleled source of networking, connecting you with experts in your coveted industry. So, go ahead and ask that person what they recommend you do to get your break, people worth following, books worth reading, courses worth taking. Don’t stop with one person either and before long, you will have yourself your network.
  • Reflection – When change is irresistible, but you’re stuck on what’s next, take time to reflect. Here is where you ask yourself, what are you good at, what do you enjoy in your current role? What are your transferable skills? Grab a marker and list all the ways in which you rock. In case you are inclined to modesty, ask a trusted colleague what they think you do well and the kind of role they think you’d be good in. Are you a problem solver, do you have great analytical skills, a flair for design or are you a wordsmith? This approach is a journey, but you can gain some wonderful insights when you stop and listen to that inner voice.

It’s worth noting that along with these practical considerations, you will encounter the obligatory naysayer along the way (just in case your own self-doubts aren’t doing an adequate job). If I’m being honest, this may come from someone who has been your cheerleader in every other aspect of your life. My mother has never been able to understand my need for self-development, my drive to be better. “Why can’t you just enjoy what you have?” she wails.

So, from the younger generation you will be lambasted for even considering going to college (to quote my 11-year-old son when I was considering a Masters: “You won’t be going into college, will you? I mean, it will all be online with the camera turned off?”. Equally disparaging but from the perspective that you should jolly well make do with your lot, enters the parental point of view.

So, in the words of Paulo Coelho (no, I don’t know either), repeat after me: “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

Staying Honest with a Motivation Mantra

Remember to revisit your motivation for embarking on this wonderful, exciting – but yes, terrifying – journey, every, single day. In fact, turn your motivation into a mantra because, as we have seen, the pre-launch of your career change will mean a lot of work, create tension, torpedo your downtime and create washing-up piles the size of Everest. Remind yourself of your why, each morning (and remind anyone else who happens to be incapable of finding a clean cup).

“Who Can I speak to About a Career Change?” I Hear You Ask

A career coach may be able to help you to process and work through some of these challenges, or you could consider joining a community such as Brave Starts who focus on “supporting people in the mid to later stages of their lives” and offer lots of career-related advice. As an aside, I can also promise a trip to their website won’t activate a cascade of advertisements for wrinkle cream or bunion remedies either.

You might also enjoy reading:

Ask the Expert: After 35 Years in Finance, How do I Transition to Something New?

Ask the Expert: How Can I Turn My Hobby into a Profession?

What is the Best Job to Retrain For?

If you’re interested in a career change but not sure where to start, why not read some of the job descriptions on the Jobs/Redefined job board, which states: “We believe you can live your best life at 50 and beyond and aim to inspire and support you in whichever way you need”. Jobs/Redefined work exclusively with age-inclusive employers so you are in good hands.

And if its Good Enough for Brad...

On a final note, and in what I hope will be the prelude to your fabulous new career, I thought I'd share that Brad Pitt is turning his back on the movie industry to pursue a career in music. Yes, Brad Pitt has now joined the elite club of career changers. So, what are you waiting for?!

Article written by Annette Corbett