Switching careers at any age can be a daunting task. But for those who already have two or three decades of work experience under their belt, it can be even more challenging, particularly given the ageism that's present in hiring decisions. Various scholarly studies have found that not only does ageism exist, but it's also worse for older women than older men. This is just one of the hurdles when changing careers in your 40s, 50s, and beyond. With that in mind, Cheapism reached out to career coaches, executives who have made big career transitions, and other experts around the country for tips on successfully making a major job shift later in life.
ASSESS YOUR MARKETABLE SKILLS
One of the most important steps to take when preparing for a transition is to conduct an honest assessment of your marketable skills, says Laura Spawn, CEO of Virtual Vocations. "This can include a range of hard and soft talents — everything from customer service, technical, management, writing, and communication skills to interpersonal and organizational skills," says Spawn. "Forget about your age and focus on your wealth of experience. To ensure you transition into the right field, make certain you love performing those skills."
BUILD YOUR PROFESSIONAL NETWORK IN ADVANCE
Not only did Kim Bohr, a former executive, make a mid-career transition herself, she now works with professionals in the very same shoes. Bohr's top tip for those she works with is to build your professional network before you need it. "For most people, this is about investing the time to understand who is in their network currently, what areas are they considering transitioning to, and do they have contacts in those ‘new' areas," says Bohr, who is now CEO of The Innovare Group, a company she founded.
CREATE A LINKEDIN PROFILE
For those who need to beef up their professional network of contacts, LinkedIn is one of the best places to start, says Bohr, of The Innovare Group. "LinkedIn is the number one place to connect on a professional level," she says. "It's incredibly important that people establish a presence on LinkedIn."
REFRESH YOUR RESUME
It should go without saying that updating your resume is also an important part of embarking on a career transition. "Make sure your resume is up to snuff," says Lauren McAdams, a career adviser and hiring manager at Resume Companion. "Update your resume with any new achievements, as well as any new skills you've picked up." You might even consider hiring a professional to help with your resume revamp. There are countless top-notch professionals available who can assess your career to date and help you decide which skills to highlight and which experiences to eliminate from the resume altogether.
DO A SELF-AUDIT AND ENGAGE FRIENDS IN THE EVALUATION
What interests you and what do you think you do well? Above and beyond the assessment of your marketable skills, what is it that you are passionate about and do best? "Sometimes this can be a challenge to evaluate oneself, so ask five people you know in your professional sphere what three words describe your talents and strengths," says Bohr. "It's a great way to learn what value others see you bringing and to establish a starting place for where you may want to begin exploring next."
IDENTIFY WHAT YOU LOVED AND HATED ABOUT PREVIOUS JOBS
Similar to the self-audit, as you embark on a transition effort, make a detailed list of what you liked about your previous career (or careers), what you didn't like, and what you would like to have in a future career, advises Lynn Marie Morski, a physician, attorney, author of the book "Quitting by Design," and host of the podcast Quit Happens. This approach will help ensure that you're making "an informed decision and that you enjoy your new path more than the path you left," says Morski.
AUDIT YOUR PROFESSIONAL NETWORK
After all of the self-auditing is complete, it's time to do a professional network audit, says Bohr, of The Innovare Group. Ask yourself the following questions: "Based on my strengths and interests, what other industries or companies might I want to learn more about?' And ‘Do I know anyone in my network today that might be affiliated with someone in the area I want to explore?'"
TAKE STOCK OF YOUR CURRENT FINANCIAL REALITY AND NEEDS
Is there a certain income level that you require to maintain your lifestyle, economic obligations, or for any other reason? Keep this in mind as you consider career options, says Fred Cooper, founder and managing partner of Compass HR Consulting. "If money is not an issue, your options are open," he explained.
SCHEDULE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS
Once you've narrowed down the list of potential careers, it's time to begin requesting informational conversations, says Bohr, of The Innovare Group. "Ask those in your network who they might know that would be open to a 20-minute conversation to learn more about the company they work for or the industry they are in," Bohr says. If the area you're exploring is outside of your network altogether, then search for recruiters on LinkedIn who are with the companies you're interested in exploring and send them a note to ask for an exploratory conversation.
ASK RECRUITERS FOR THEIR TOP TIPS
When chatting with a recruiter, be clear about the information you're seeking. "Structure the conversation in an organized fashion," says Bohr. "Ask for a brief call to understand more about their organization and the path they'd suggest taking in order to make a transition."
UPDATE YOUR SKILLS
If you've been in one job for a long time, it may be time to refresh your skills with an eye toward the most recent developments in technology. "Keep up with the latest software, apps, and technology to stay competitive," says Spawn, CEO of Virtual Vocations. "If you feel your tech skills need a boost, free online training can help you remain current."
FOCUS ON YOUR PASSION
As you age, your energy levels may start declining and therefore, finding a new job you're truly passionate about can be key to your success, says Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Mettle, an HR technology company. "Your passion for the new job must be the fuel to compensate for the dip [in energy] and should trump all other factors" when considering new careers, says Kapoor. "If passion is not your primary reason, you'll find yourself in a slog and watch your motivation fade quickly."
BUILD ON TRANSFERABLE SKILLS
Your career transition may be slightly easier if you find a new role that utilizes skills you gained from your professional journey thus far, added Kapoor. "If your transferable skills match the key skills needed to succeed in the new job, you don't need to worry about starting out from scratch because you have a foundation to lay the second innings of your career," Kapoor says.
CONSIDER THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR SOFT SKILLS
When thinking back on what skills you've learned over the course of your career, don't forget to factor in your soft skills, says McAdams, of Resume Companion. They include such things as communication, people skills, and problem-solving skills. "Often under-appreciated, soft skills are applicable across all industries, so you'll definitely find a way to use them at your new job," says McAdams.
DON'T SELL YOURSELF SHORT
Value the experience you bring from your past career, urges Erica McCurdy, a master certified coach with LunaNav Consulting, who specializes in business and career transition. "Often people who are starting a new career undervalue themselves because they aren't well established in their new field," says McCurdy. "Changing careers doesn't wipe out all the experience that one brings to a new opportunity." What's more, make sure to price yourself accordingly and be proud of all the different insights that you bring to the table.
BE THOUGHTFUL, FOCUSED, AND INTENTIONAL ABOUT YOUR DECISION
If you choose a career where most people are just starting out and are willing to work long hours and weekends or travel frequently, then know that you are also going to be expected to do the same, says McCurdy. "If you don't enjoy environments where people tend to be young, inexperienced, or playful, don't consider career changes that tend to draw those kinds of people," she continued. If you value seniority, make sure a career change is really the best move instead of merely a company change.
FINANCIALLY PREPARE FOR A TRANSITION
In addition to updating your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and your marketable skills, making a big job change requires shoring up other areas of your life as well, says Morski, author of "Quitting by Design." "To prepare for a transition, ensure that your finances, health, and relationships are all prepared for it — as in, have saved enough or cut your expenses in a way that means you won't go homeless during the transition," says Morski.
STAY IN GOOD HEALTH
Before leaving an employer or career behind, make the most of your health benefits. "Get whatever health checkups you need before losing your old insurance (if applicable) and get food, exercise, and sleep habits in line before making the change, as those will help prevent the transition from having negative effects on [your] health," continued Morski.
PREPARE YOUR LOVED ONES FOR THE CAREER SHIFT
A major career change is an effort that will impact more than just you and your future, it also has ramifications for your family members. "Make sure your partner, family, [and] friends are on board with the change as their support will be a huge help if things get tough," says Morski.
TRY OUT THE NEW CAREER IN YOUR SPARE TIME
While this may not be feasible for everyone, if you have spare time and the profession you're eyeing allows for it, try testing the waters before jumping in full-time by doing the new job on nights, weekends, or days off. "If you think you know what you want your next career to be, then consider dipping your toe into that arena while still in your current role," says Cooper, founder and managing partner of Compass HR Consulting.
VOLUNTEER, JOIN PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, AND MORE
There are many ways to establish inroads in a new field. Cooper, of Compass HR Consulting, suggests joining a national or local professional association connected to the field you're interested in moving towards. You can also look for volunteer opportunities in that field. "Volunteer, get involved, get to know the folks and the work itself, as well as the organizational aspects and people involved in your potential new career at the local or national level," says Cooper.
TAKE CLASSES OR GET INVOLVED IN TRAINING FOR YOUR NEW PROFESSION
One of the best ways to determine whether a new profession is ultimately right for you is to start doing some of the tasks it requires. Yet another approach to doing this beyond volunteering or doing the job in your spare time is to enroll in some initial classes that provide the skills you will need for the new job. Think of it as a way to test the waters. "If possible, sign up for classes or take training while you're still exploring in order to gauge your level of commitment and the intensity required to perform and be effective in your new career," suggested Cooper.
DON'T PAY TO PLAY
While taking some training courses might be helpful for a career transition, be careful about sinking too much money into such an effort. "Unless your new chosen career requires a credential, certification, or license, don't pay to jump into another career until you have explored the options," says McCurdy, of LunaNav. "Lots of people try to capitalize on career-fear — the fear that you cannot have a career unless you take their class, buy their book, attend their seminar, sign up for their coaching regimen." Try looking around, talking to people already in your desired field, and doing some diligence before spending your hard-earned cash.
ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS
When considering a major career shift, do your research. That includes not only talking to the people you might be working for and with, but also the people your new profession may be designed to support. "Asking questions of not just the people you're now associating with but of those the new career serves may help reinforce that the new direction is right for you or provide meaningful information that may change your mind," says Cooper, of Compass HR Consulting.
DON'T FORGET TO FOCUS ON YOUR LEGACY
As you reach the later chapters of your career, for many people the focus or goals should begin to shift, says executive mentor Elene Cafasso, of Enerpace Inc., who has coached many clients in their 50s and 60s. "It shifts from achieving a certain title or position to making the greatest impact," Cafasso explained. "What legacy would you like to leave? And what would you like to create in your retirement or semi-retirement years?"
A PART-TIME JOB CAN BE A GOOD STEPPING STONE
Don't despair if you're hoping to land a full-time gig in your newly chosen profession, but don't immediately have success in doing so. "By taking a part-time or short-term job, you're getting your foot in the door, which is an excellent opportunity to impress your employer so that he or she will go on to hire you for the longer term," says McAdams, of Resume Companion.
FINALIZE A TRANSITION PLAN
Once you've settled on your new career, it's important to develop a detailed transition plan for your path forward. "A transition plan should cover all aspects of the career move including when you will leave your current job [and] how much notice will you give," says Cooper of Compass HR Consulting. "You should determine what and how much preparation time is required and if some of that prep time will take place while still employed."
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
When it comes to making a career transition, we all have slightly different paths and methods of reaching our goals. But you can make that process less stressful and more fruitful by engaging in a thoughtful, deliberate approach that includes research and legwork. "There is no one size fits all transition plan but knowing what your options are and planning ahead for all of the knowns and anticipating the unknowns will ideally make your transition from one career to another go as smoothly as possible," says Cooper.