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Midlife Career Change: How to Make a Smooth Transition

Katharine Paljug

Thinking about making a career change, even though you're over 45? You're not alone. Though younger workers have, research from the American Institute for Economic Research shows that workers in the middle of their careers frequently change jobs as well.

Why workers make a midlife career change

Many workers choose to make midlife career changes in order to do something more meaningful or rewarding with their time.

"People want to be significant and make a difference in this world," said Dean Niewolny, president and CEO of the Halftime Institute, an adult educational program. "They want a job, but they really do care about leaving a legacy. They're saying, 'There has to be more to life than sitting in this office every day and hoping I get the next raise or promotion.'"

But John Henry Weiss, the author of "Moving Forward in Mid-Career: A Guide to Rebuilding Your Career After Being Fired or Laid Off," notes that for many midlife workers, a career change isn't always so positive. "A mid-career worker may realize that she is totally unhappy with the type of work she's doing every day … [or] that he's in a business that is going away, like print media," he said.

Another major reason for career changes? Layoffs. Many workers, Weiss said, make the mistake of believing that their job will last forever. "[They] do not build a personal network or keep up with the ever-changing workplace. When they are laid off, or fired, they have nowhere to go … All workers must be prepared to move forward at any time."

No matter what prompts a professional transition, it is possible to stay competitive in the job market and make a successful career change in midlife.

Staying competitive with younger workers

Making a career change in midlife is far from easy. Some skills are transferable, but you may find that your younger colleagues are ahead of you, especially when it comes to technology.

Mark Newman, founder of video recruiting platform HireVue, said it's important for candidates to identify both their strengths and potential challenges when transitioning to a new company and career.

"An older worker restarting their career in a new field will face stereotypes regarding their lack of knowledge about technology," he said. "If the career is heavily reliant on new technology, they might also require additional training and have a steeper learning curve."

Going back to school or enrolling in a certificate program can help you get ahead if you're trying to close your skill gap for a new career. Online resources like Skillshare can help you learn about new technologies such as social media and database management. Check job postings to see what skills employers are looking for, or visit the LinkedIn profiles of professionals in your new industry to learn where you need to be more competitive.

It's not enough to have these skills, though. You need to make sure employers know what you are bringing to the table. Weiss recommends giving your resume a thorough redesign to showcase your strengths, including headings like "Technology Expertise" to show that you are up to date and ready for the demands of a new industry.

He also suggests highlighting your project management skills and areas where you have achieved revenue goals or stayed within a budget. "Business is all about bottom line," he said. "This holds true even for nonprofit businesses."

Interacting with younger co-workers

While some midlife workers may be able to transition to professional-level positions, others may have to start back in entry-level work to learn the ropes of their new industry. This can be jarring, especially if this is your first time dealing with managers or superiors who are younger than you.

In this situation, it's important to be humble and open enough to accept the experience of starting from the bottom. Your new co-workers may feel equally unsure about how to interact with you professionally, but showing that you respect their industry knowledge and skill will help ensure a smooth transition.

Being a respectful team player will also help your new peers recognize and appreciate the value of your professional history.

"You have all your previous experience to draw from and will discover skills you thought would never prove useful," Newman said. "You have a vast network of connections that younger generations have yet to develop, [which] can provide added value to your new position."

Finding success in a new career

If you are making a career change in your 40s, 50s or even 60s, there is no reason to assume that you will be any less successful at starting over than a worker in their 20s.

"We are more physically and mentally fit to be productive workers well into our 70s and even 80s," Weiss said, noting that whatever your reasons for making the switch are, a midlife career change is an opportunity to find work that you feel passionate about and that motivates you.

"Learn what kinds of work you really like to do," he recommended. "If you look forward to going to work each day to do something that has meaning, your chances of success increase dramatically."

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article published January 2016.


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Katharine Paljug
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Katharine Paljug is a freelance content creator and editor who writes for and about small businesses. In addition to Business News Daily, her articles can be found on Your Care Everywhere, She Knows, and YFS Magazine. Visit her website to access her free library of resources for small business owners.