You wonder how they did it… How did your friend, a librarian at your public library, snag the fabulous marketing job at a digital ad agency? And how did the TV producer you’re acquainted with just become the prestigious publisher of an online parenting magazine? While you were watching “Game of Thrones,” how did so many of your peers manage to make a midlife career change that landed them in exciting new jobs?
One thing your friends probably didn’t do: listen to the naysayers. There will always be some well-meaning family member or acquaintance who will counsel you against any sort of career change, saying it’s too big a risk.
Aren’t your mid-30’s to early 50’s meant to be your optimal earning years where you advance up the ladder in your current field, this person may argue. Why would you want to sacrifice spectacular earnings for the paltry paycheck you will likely earn when you change careers?
Because maybe it’s not all about money. Maybe you’ve decided that your chosen career path doesn’t have the allure it once had. Or maybe the change you’re after is about money!
You realize that you’ve already reached the pinnacle of your earning potential at a figure well short of your original goal. Instead of being held back by this fact, it forces you to really examine your long-term career trajectory.
Below, find your 5-Point Plan for how to swiftly make a midlife career change.
1. Allow Yourself the Luxury to Dream Big
Now that the idea has taken hold, what is your next step? You may have to reckon with financial responsibilities such as a home mortgage, a car payment, and a family to support, so making a rash move isn’t in your best interest. Still, give yourself the luxury of dreaming big.
Give some thought to what your ideal career looks like:
What’s your perfect job title? What responsibilities will make up your workday? What qualities would make for an outstanding boss and great colleagues?
Make a list, and refer back to it as you consider new opportunities.
2. Do Your Due Diligence on Your Midlife Career Change
Next, do your homework. Understand the fundamentals of your dream job so there won’t be any unwelcome surprises later.
Find out whether this occupation offers a respectable starting salary and is in a growth cycle. Explore any additional educational requirements and available programs.
In this investigative stage, take an inventory of all the hard and soft job skills you have to offer. You probably have more transferable skills than you realize.
For example, if you’ve been teaching high school science but want to venture into the medical research field, your classroom experience may have more crossover potential than you first thought.
A scientist working in a medical university lab, for instance, may oversee undergraduates helping to carry out the research. Similarly, strong communications skills honed from teaching classes may make you a whiz at presenting research findings.
3. Think of Yourself as a Matchmaker
Look at job postings for your dream position — and for a tier or two below it if you’ll need to work your way up. Consider how to adapt your abilities to the job requirements.
Think of yourself as a professional matchmaker, creating a match between yourself and your potential employer. Pinpoint and promote those traits that make you most desirable, and know how to put your best attributes forward.
Employers will be attracted to your technical expertise, but also to your people skills — the soft skills that make you a good communicator, a reliable team player, and a value-driven employee.
Suppose that you’re applying for a financial analyst or financial planner position. Hopefully you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in a major that qualifies you, such as business or economics. Then showcase your accounting skills, analytical acuity, and dexterity with a spreadsheet. Many firms have their own software, so you’ll want to plug your overall knowledge of technology along with your talent for navigating computer platforms.
Beyond proving that you possess these hard skills, you’ll shine if you can also highlight two or three people skills. Provide relatable examples. Strong verbal communication and unwavering integrity are two skills with particular relevance to careers in finance.
Beyond that, it’s always a good idea to remember that every job involves interacting with people. People skills are always in demand.
Ideally, you will perfectly match your skills with the skills needed in the job of your dreams. For those skills that you already possess, be sure to describe them in the exact way they’re stated on a job posting. As for the skills you don’t possess, put a plan in place to acquire them.
4. Carve out a Path for Mastering New Skills
The radically changing nature of most industries today can actually work in your favor. Even veteran workers in professions such as consumer electronics, retail and service industries, to name a few, need to re-educate themselves to stay on top of the changing way business is conducted in today’s technological world.
Still, before you spend the time and money on any program, check out reviews by previous students, ask colleagues for recommendations, and carefully read the course descriptions.
Here’re some options for you to master new skills:
If you’re a self-starter who is pressed for time, online courses may be the easiest way to pick up needed skills for the job you’re after. Online courses run the gamut from providing a quick 2 to 3 hour introduction to a potential career path to offering specific training. Some online programs even reward you with a full-blown degree from a prestigious university.
Do you dream of wading into the cyber security field? Today you can earn a Bachelor of Science in Security and Risk Analysis from Penn State completely online! You’ll need to finish coursework by the stated deadlines, but be able to do the work in the timeslots most available to your schedule.
Continuing Education Courses
Another route to acquiring new skills for a midlife career change is to take continuing education courses at a local university or community college. Weekly, in-person classes will allow you to keep your day job.
Consider discussing your goals with your boss. Some companies encourage continuous learning. Home Depot, for example, offers employees up to $5,000 toward approved courses. Ask your supervisor whether your company has an educational assistance program. You will save your hard-earned money, and your employer will be investing in a very important asset: You.
Career Training Programs
Many high-skilled, high-paying careers require a specialized industry certification. Moreover, today’s career training programs are a far cry from the vocational education centers of the past. They’re now driven by technology and often taught by instructors working in the field. These programs are career-focused and can be completed faster than traditional community college and four-year college programs. It’s often possible to set up a class schedule that includes online, evening, or weekend classes.
Academic Degree Programs
If you decide to go all-in and enroll in an academic degree program (MBA, MFA or other), discuss low-residency options with your academic counselor that will allow you to earn the degree while being flexible about hours spent inside a classroom. Fellowship programs, while intensely competitive, can fully fund a master’s degree in some fields.
5. Attract Notice Through Smart Networking
Along with gaining requisite skills, you’ll need to ramp up a robust networking campaign. Seventy to eighty percent of jobs never reach the open market in an online listing. Why? Because the jobs are filled before they go public.
When you network, which, broadly speaking, means reaching out to employers and employees in the field of your dreams, you increase your chances of hearing about a job long before it hits the open market.
Smart networking means taking a two-pronged approach:
First, target your friends, acquaintances, and industry connections who may be able to give you a foothold for making a contact inside a particular firm. While it may be considered old-fashioned to tap your organically grown network, it still comes with the best odds of success.
Make a point of meeting face-to-face with anyone who can offer you a lead or provide a reference. You never know what kind of opportunity will unfold from these offline connections. For a midlife career change, face to face networking is a great strategy to pursue.
But don’t stop there. Employ social media, which will exponentially increase your networking opportunities. Today, first impressions are mostly made in cyberspace. Making a strong online impression through a carefully curated social media profile may attract hiring managers and recruiters to you.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, every good match comes down to a “speed date.”
Throughout your career transition, you’ll be working to effectively make the case that your skills are the skills that your dream company needs.
Just like speed dating, where strangers make snap decisions on your “date-ability,” employers will decide your hire-ability in less time than it takes to eat lunch. With both, first impressions are key.
Written by Vicky Oliver.