Insights Blog

By Holly Valovick
on Dec 9, 2017
  • Leadership Development
Mid-Life Career Change

Average life expectancy in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2012, according to the CDC, of 81 years for women and 76 for men. With another decade or two of productive work life ahead of them, many baby-boomers and Gen-Xers are choosing to finish out their working years in "encore," or second, careers.

According to Dean Niewolny, CEO of the Halftime Institute, the most common reason someone makes a mid-life career change is that they want to do something more fulfilling. They have spent the first part of their working lives focused on earning money to provide for their families; once their kids are grown, they are able to shift their focus to leaving a legacy, having a purpose, and giving back. Others may have lost interest in their decades-long job, feel frustrated that they haven't gotten as far in their careers as they thought they would have, are tired of traveling, want to be their own boss, are facing irresolvable conflicts at work, feel that there is no room for advancement, and the list goes on. According to a 2014 Gallup survey, 51% of U.S. workers are "not engaged" in their jobs, and more than 17% are "actively disengaged." (Gallup defines engaged employees as "those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and the workplace.") Certainly, some mid-life career changes are also externally forced by failing industries or a poor economy, as well. Often, second careers are not as lucrative or prestigious, but are less stressful and more emotionally satisfying.

If you are considering embarking on a mid-life career change, here are 10 tips from the experts:

  • Utilize the contacts you have made throughout your career. According to career coach Julie Jansen, 85% of hiring managers use social networking sites like LinkedIn to look for potential candidates who have been referred by other professionals.
  • Choose your industry carefully and consider training. Some professions are much harder to break into later in life, such as science and finance, while other fields, such as nonprofit and consulting, have fewer barriers to entry. Switching fields (especially to one that is heavily reliant on new technology) may require getting new certifications or going back to school.
  • Tailor your résumé accordingly. Even if you don't have experience directly related to your new field, you've probably acquired transferable skills in your previous years of work.
  • Exude energy in the interview. The initial meeting can be a deal-breaker if you fail to match the vigor of your younger competition.
  • Be willing to take risks and embrace "career chaos." Making a change requires treading new territory and overreaching the boundaries of your comfort level. Accept that a period of uncertainty is part of the career transition process, and you will be more open to the exciting part of change and to exploring new possibilities.
  • Build a strong support network. Spouses, friends, co-workers, classmates, and mentors serve to provide encouragement, positive energy, and permission to take the leap. Engage the services of a personal consultant, coach, or therapist with some understanding of career development, or simply find someone in your new field to connect with who can help you with the real-world skills you'll need to excel in your new work environment. Job changes also affect a person's self-esteem and ego, as well as their family dynamic. You will make mistakes; ensure that your relationships are prepared to absorb them.
  • Be patient. If you plan to enter a new field, realize that it can take as long as five years to get up to speed in that industry, and in many sectors you'll be competing with entrenched players. There is no such thing as "magical" transformation.
  • Be flexible and be humble. Although past successes may open the doors to new opportunities, they don't guarantee success in a new career because the dynamics and circumstances have changed. Once you find the right job in your new field, be open enough to accept the experience of starting from the bottom.
  • Aspire to a realistic change. To be productive, dreams must be connected to our potential; otherwise, they are idle fantasies. Many professions and functions have emerged that didn't even exist 30 years ago, and large companies are outsourcing more and more tasks and functions, creating opportunities for professionals from various fields to market their services; with an awareness of the skills you have developed in the course of your work life, you will be better equipped to take advantage of these opportunities.
  • Get your financial affairs in order. Put some money aside first, recognizing that obtaining a new job may require a financial commitment and may come with a smaller paycheck.

Most importantly, move toward something, rather than away from something, and find your passion. Examine your motivation to ensure that you're making the change for the right reasons. This is a time in your life to follow your interests and to love what you do; don't be concerned about whether a profession is regarded as socially prestigious. You don't want to leave a job you dislike to find yourself in another position for which you have no real passion. Your new job should resonate with you and make you want to jump out of bed in the morning!