In just a few generations, the second half of our lives has undergone a rapid transformation. Many of us are taking on careers paths that change and adapt for our “second act.” Whether that involves continuing education, volunteerism, consulting work, entrepreneurship or a new adventure altogether, life after 50 has a wealth of career opportunities.
Why Choose an Encore Career?
There are many benefits to choosing a different direction on you career path, or to switch lanes, turn around and head in a different direction altogether. Usually, that decision is based on desires to:
After a satisfying career, people who reach retirement age may decide to spend their later years giving back to the community, either through volunteerism or working for a non-profit.
Find a New Direction
The idealistic career ambitions of our youth are sometimes put aside for more practical concerns like long-term stability or financial security. After real-world goals have been reached, some over-50s might look back at their early dreams of a career in teaching, cooking or the arts, for example, and decide to take advantage of the opportunity to try something new.
Dial It Down
For some, a full-time job can begin to conflict with a lifestyle that includes more travel, hobbies and time with grandchildren. Others seek to stay active in their career field but to a lesser extent. Letting go of a 40-hour week in favor of occasional freelance gigs, part-time work or consulting arrangements offers a good opportunity to keep skills sharp, make a contribution and enjoy some well-deserved time off.
How to Decide Which Path to Take
While our grandparents might have been content to receive a gold watch after decades of service to one company, younger generations tend to reimagine themselves several times before they hit the half-century mark. If you’re considering an encore career, you may want to give some thought to how your current skills and past accomplishments can translate into another field or endeavor. If you spent your main earning years as a salesperson, you might want to become a consultant for small businesses in your area. If you just retired from the military, perhaps you could go back to school for teaching certification, helping others learn how to succeed in a field you’ve already mastered.
Job Search Tips for Older Workers
You’ve probably heard about “hot” jobs in emerging fields like green energies (e.g. wind or solar), healthcare and technology. These might be great places to start your search. No matter what the industry, there are always core skills that will make you an attractive candidate, including communications, interpersonal relations, planning, customer service orientation and organization. Put a spotlight on all the great things you can do, and seek out a field that’s right for you.
If you’ve set your sights on a career that might require some refreshed skills and up-to-date training, you should be able to find cost-effective educational opportunities through programs offered by local community education or community colleges. Check online for free course options, too. Don’t be intimidated if you’re one of the older students in the class. Take some time to get to know your classmates, and be prepared to learn from them and to share some of your own hard-won wisdom, too.
Your resume may currently be written to present yourself as an expert in one field, but the skills you have acquired over the years can help you make a positive impact in any number of other jobs. Here are a few tips:
Edit your resume by removing industry jargon and reframing work experiences as sets of demonstrable skills.
Consider enrolling in a class at a local school or library in your area about how to get your resume into tip-top form.
Ask friends or family to help you with a final proofreading before you submit your resume to anyone. After looking at it for so long, it can be tough to spot your own resume’s errors, but even a small mistake can be an opportunity-killer for a job seeker.
You may have found your first job by searching the classified ads in your hometown newspaper, but you’ll need to get onto the information superhighway for a job search these days. As a first step, you might want to post your resume on some of the larger career online search engines, too. Another place to begin is by signing up for a free LinkedIn account. Be sure to include a professional-looking, recent photograph on your profile. Ask friends and former colleagues to connect with you, and consider making your own posts or sharing updates from others. By participating in an online community you tell others, “I’m a professional who is interested in my newly chosen field.”
It’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their age. Still, you’ve probably heard countless stories from friends and colleagues about subtle – and not so subtle – ways that your skills and experience might be marginalized in the modern workplace. If you’re worried about how a future employer might perceive you, be well-groomed, well-spoken and up-to-date on the latest developments in your chosen encore career. And keep your stories about “the good old days” to yourself. Today’s employers are looking for dependable workers who are ready to embrace the future with open arms.
What to do if you experience ageism in an interview
If you suspect that you’re being asked ageist questions by a potential employer (e.g. “Do you feel you’re overqualified for the job based on your experience?”, “How would you feel about working for a boss who’s younger than you?” or “Are you concerned about our technology demands?”), deflect by emphasizing your interest in the role and how your experience will help their goals.
If you feel that the company you’re interviewing with is discriminatory, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: http://www.eeoc.gov/employees/howtofile.cfm
Job Search Resources
is a great resource to help over-50s look for work, polish resumes and explore a second career paths.
features a library of informative articles, plus job boards from employers in many industries.
aims to provide content, tools, and motivation to empower people to find their true career passion.
started in 1986 as a research-based organization, testing techniques to help job hunters find success. They continue with a stated goal of helping outbound employees transition successfully.
Financing the Transition into an Encore Career
For some people over 50, financial stability is a given, so they seek the fulfillment of finding a more purpose-driven, but less lucrative, encore career. But for others, an encore career requires the flow of new income. While you may not have the inclination or the ability to work at a high-powered job as you age, you can find flexible, interesting work that allows you to have additional income in an uncertain financial landscape.
If you’re hoping that a new career will help you create a more secure future and a more stable income, there are several steps to consider before you begin searching for that new job:
First, if you’re thinking of an eventual job-switch in five, 10 or 15 years, start planning now to set aside savings that will tide you over as you establish yourself in your new career. The more you save now, the greater peace of mind you’ll enjoy as you launch yourself into those uncharted career waters.
If possible, hold off on cashing in retirement funds or pensions and delay accepting Social Security benefits, if that makes sense for you.
You might also want to take a look at your current lifestyle and make some adjustments before your first day on the new job. This change in career might be the perfect segue for you to make changes in other parts of your life. You may want to downsize from a house to an apartment, or seek more budget-conscious living arrangements. Perhaps it’s time to sell that car and rely on public transportation.
Keeping your eye on the fulfillment of a new career can help you adjust to a new set of economic circumstances and feel more in control of your future and your finances.
Profiles: Successful Career Changes after 50
When she was struggling with the decision of whether or not to leave an unsatisfying corporate job, one of Carrie Boe’s friends gave her some advice: “You gave them the first 20 years of your career. Do you want to give them the next 20, too?” Realizing the answer was a decided “no,” Boe made the transition from working at a marketing services agency to becoming a certified health coach and holistic health practitioner. “I had worked in a number of roles for the same agency, including incentives, project and product management, corporate training and marketing,” she said. “I held a variety of positions and titles within the same company -- all with increasing responsibility and compensation.”
Boe says her encore career evolved organically. “I’d left my previous position thinking it would just be temporary,” she said. “I wanted to take a year off and get healthy, so I hired a trainer and nutritionist and lost nearly 100 pounds. That’s when I realized I couldn’t go sit in a cube again. I wanted to figure out a way to share my story and help others get healthy, too. I explored some health coaching certification programs and decided on the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and embarked on their 18-month program.” She also appreciated the career-building assistance she received.
The program really connects you with graduates and what they’re doing, and the last six months of study are focused on building your practice and business.
These days, Boe has firmly bid the cube farm goodbye. “I own my own company, SuperStrongChick, LLC and I partner with a clinic, Ascent East Asian Integrative Care.” Her advice for others considering a move into a field like hers is to do thorough research and understand the options. “Be patient,” she says. “It can take years to get established. But if you can find something you love and are passionate about, I truly believe the money will come. “
Ann Ness was 58 when she moved from vice president of corporate brand management at Cargill, the largest privately held corporation in the United States in terms of revenue, into a position in higher education. Her responsibilities had included elevating the profile of Cargill worldwide and helping employees understand a changing business strategy. In free time, she volunteered as a trustee at Hamline University, an American private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn. Hamline, founded in 1854, is the oldest institution of higher learning in Minnesota.
During her work as a trustee for the school, Ness says she became intrigued by the challenges and complexity of higher education. She began researching the field, thinking that a second act in higher education might be a good fit for her. “Seminars were the most helpful, so that I could meet and learn from colleagues at other universities,” she says.
I read a ton because I found there is no shortage of material on the fascinating challenges facing our nation's higher education system.
Eventually, she made the switch and took a job as vice president of marketing and enrollment management at Hamline. She learned a great deal during and after the move, she says. One important lesson: “Nonprofit doesn't mean non-stress!” Overall, the transformation from corporate executive to non-profit team player has been good, if not as financially remunerative. “I’m certainly living less disposably,” she says. “My car has 90,000 miles on it, for example, but overall it was a good decision.”
AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 this award has recognized innovative, forward-looking employers who are ahead of the curve when it comes to valuing experienced workers.
The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.