Turning 50 is a milestone in anyone’s life, after all you are half way to 100! But seriously, turning 50 is often a time in life when people can sit back and take a look at where they’ve been and contemplate what the future holds.
Can you change careers at 50? It’s not uncommon for people in their 50’s to consider a career change, after all if you’ve spent 20 to 30 years in a career, chances are that some of the bloom is off the rose.
Often, when we are starting out in our 20’s, we choose a career path based on factors that are no longer relevant to us in our 50’s. Things like our parents’ expectations, a fast paced exciting lifestyle or the lure of making a lot of money can all be motivating factors in our 20’s.
But in our 50’s, those have given way to other priorities. Things like the desire to spend more time with family and friends, a slower paced less stressful lifestyle, the need to care for a sick spouse or elderly parents can all contribute to wanting a career change in your 50’s.
Just like any big life changing event, changing careers is scary. The good news is that just like most things we are scared of, the fear is mostly in our own head.
Understanding how to go about a career change at 50 and what you can expect should help reduce the anxiety and fear of the unknown.
Table of Contents
- What are Your Goals for a Career Change?
- Types of Career Changes at 50+
- Famous People Who Changed Careers at 50
- Practical Tips on Making a Career Change at 50+
- Final Thoughts
- More Tips for Career Change
What are Your Goals for a Career Change?
As in any endeavour, having properly defined goals will help you to determine the best path to take.
What are you looking for in a new career? Choosing a slower less stressful position that gives you more time with family and friends may sound ideal, but you’ll often find that you’re giving up some income and job satisfaction in the process.
Conversely, if your goal is to quit a job that is sucking the life from your soul to pursue a lifelong passion. You might be trading quality time with family and friends for job satisfaction.
Neither decision is wrong or bad, you just need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of any decision you make.
Types of Career Changes at 50+
There are four main types of career changes that people make in their 50’s. Each type has it’s unique set of challenges and will vary in the degree of preparation required to make the change.
Industry Career Change
In this career change, a person remains in the same field but switches industries.
With an industry change, a person takes their set of skills and applies them to an industry that they have no previous experience in.
An example would be a salesperson in the oil and gas industry becoming a salesperson for a media (advertising) company. They are taking their skill set (selling) and applying it to a different industry (media).
This type of career change is best accomplished by doing a lot of homework on the industry you want to get into as well as networking within the industry.
Functional Career Change
A functional career change would be a change of careers within the same industry.
For example, an accountant at a pharmaceutical company who changes careers to become a human resources manager. It may or may not be with the same company, but they remain within the pharmaceutical industry. In this case, they are leaving one set of skills behind (accounting) to develop a new set (human resource) within the same industry.
In a functional career change, new or additional training as well as certifications may be required in order to make the switch. If you are considering a functional career change, you can start by getting any training or certifications needed either online, through trade associations or at your local community college.
Double Career Change
This is the most challenging career change of all. A person doing a double career change is switching both a career and an industry.
An example of a double change would be an airline pilot quitting to pursue their dream of producing rock music. In that case, they are leaving both the aviation industry and a specific skill set (piloting) for a completely unrelated industry and career.
When considering a double career change, start preparing by getting any needed training or certifications first. Then you can get your foot in the door by taking an apprenticeship or part time job.
With a double change, it’s not uncommon to have to start out at the bottom as you are asking an employer to take a chance on someone without any experience or work history in the industry.
Entrepreneurial Career Change
Probably one of the most common career changes made by people in their 50’s is the entrepreneurial career change.
After 20 to 30 years of working for “Corporate America”, a lot of people become disillusioned with the monotony, politics and inefficiency of the corporate world. Many of us dream of having our own business and being our own boss.
By this time in our life, we have saved some money and the financial pressures we had with young children have passed; so it’s a perfect time to spread our entrepreneurial wings.
Entrepreneurial career changes can be within the same industry and using your existing knowledge and contacts to start a similar business competing within the same industry. Or it can be completely unrelated to your former industry and based on personal interests, passions or hobbies.
A good example would be someone who played golf as a hobby starting an affiliate marketing website selling golf clubs. If you are considering an entrepreneurial career change, there are a lot of very good free resources available on the internet. Just be sure to do your homework.
Famous People Who Changed Careers at 50
Now that you know the types of career changes you can make, you’re one step closer to undertaking a new career at 50. You probably need just a little push to finally take the plunge.
To help inspire you make a midlife career change, we’ve gathered successful individuals who switched careers at 50 and still thrived.
Colonel Sanders (Industry Career Change)
“One has to remember that every failure can be a stepping stone to something better.”
KFC fried chicken is a classic meal everybody loves. However, it would not have been present today if Harland Sanders did not change his career path later in his life.
The chicken mogul only started his journey after turning 65 years old when his business dwindled. Instead of going broke, he tried so hard to perfect his unique spice blend and cooking technique to make fried chicken. Decades later, KFC became a multi-million dollar company with stores all over the world.
Ray Kroc (Entrepreneurial Career Change)
“Adversity can strengthen you if you have the will to grind it out.”
It seems Colonel Sanders is not the only fast-food mogul who switched careers at 50. One of the most successful people who did not let their age define their career is Ray Kroc. A salesman by trade, he met Dick and Mac McDonald when he was 50 while selling milkshake mixers to restaurants and drug stores.
Kroc was immediately wowed by the self-service burger joint of the brothers and he did not waste time convincing them to the franchise. This prompted his drive to switch to a new career at 50. Not soon after, he went from a man selling milkshake mixers from state to state to a millionaire.
Judi Dench (Functional Career Change)
“The more I do, the more frightened I get. But that is essential. Otherwise, why would I go on doing it?”
Judi Dench started as a theatre performer, and although she dabbled in a bit of TV and film work, she did not fully transition to becoming a film star until she turned 51 in 1985 after being cast as Eleanor Lavish in A Room with a View. That same year, she had five projects in line.
This switch to a new career at 50 became the catalyst for Dench to be recognized for her work. She went on to win the Academy Best Supporting Actress in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love when she was 65. She was also nominated for seven Academy Awards in her career.
Ronald Raegan (Double Career Change)
“Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.”
You may know Ronald Raegan as a former US president but before he was elected into office, he was a famous actor. Raegan did not even enter the political scene until he was 55 years old.
Despite serving as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, there was nothing in his credentials that signalled his destiny in politics. But in 1966, he won a landslide victory for the gubernatorial race in California with over a million votes. This was the starting point of his journey as a politician.
Julia Child (Double Career Change)
“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.”
Chances are, you have an old Julia Child cookbook in your kitchen. But did you know this famous chef and author did not publish her first book until she turned 49? Julia was working at the Office of Strategic Services – now the CIA, and later served as the Chief of the OSS Registry before she fell in love with cooking.
After her marriage to Paul Child, she began taking cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. Having no background in the kitchen, she was deemed unqualified to level up her cooking course.
Thanks to her education and her will to improve, she eventually mastered the craft and published Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1. Only two years later, she became a TV personality thanks to her show The French Chef.
Nora Ephron (Functional Career Change)
“What are you going to do? Everything is my guess. It will be a little messy but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.”
Director Nora Ephron is behind your favourite chick flicks like Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia, and You’ve Got Mail. However, she had no prior directorial experience up until she turned 51 in 1992.
Before she became one of Hollywood’s most sought-after directors, she was serving as a screenplay writer for movies like When Harry Met Sally. Although she was still dabbling in writing after turning 50, it’s truly her directorial skills that made her stand out.
Practical Tips on Making a Career Change at 50+
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and make a career switch in your 50’s. No matter what your reasons or what type of a career change you are embarking on, here are some helpful hints to make the transition easier:
1. Deal with the Fear
As stated earlier, any big life change comes with both fear and anxiety. Things never seem to go as smoothly as planned, you will always have bumps and roadblocks along the way. By recognizing this and even planning for it, you are less likely to let these issues derail your progress.
If you find yourself becoming discouraged by all of the stumbling blocks, there are always resources to help. Contacting a career coach is a good place to start, they can help you with an overall strategy for your career change as well as the interview and hiring process, resume writing / updating and more. Just Google “Career Coach” for your options.
I also recommend using the services of a professional counsellor or therapist to help deal with the stress and anxiety of this major life event.
It’s always good to have an unbiased third party to help you work through the problems that inevitably arise.
2. Know Your “Why”
It’s important that you have a clear understanding of the “why” you are making this career change. Is it to have more free time, reduce stress, follow a passion or be your own boss?
Having a clear understanding of you personal “why” will influence every decision in this process. Knowing your “why” and keeping it in mind also serves as a motivator to help you reach your goals.
3. Be Realistic
Take an inventory of both your strengths and weaknesses. Are your organizational skills less than stellar? Then, becoming a wedding planner is probably not a good idea.
This is an area where having honest outside input can be really helpful. Most of us are not very good at accurately assessing our abilities. It’s a universal human trait to exaggerate our abilities while diminishing our weaknesses.
Requesting honest feedback from friends and co-workers is a good place to start, but this is another area where a career coach can come in handy.
4. Consider an Ad-Vocation
Sometimes, making a career change all at once is just too big of a change. Issues like a severely reduced income, geography and lack of benefits can all be impediments to your career change. In those cases, you may want to start your new career as an ad-vocation.
An ad-vocation is a second or ad-on vocation in addition to your primary vocation. Things like a part-time job, consulting or even a side business can all be ad-vocations.
The benefit of having an ad-vocation is being able to build experience a reputation and contacts in the new field while maintaining all the benefits of your current job.
5. Update Your Skills
Whether it means acquiring new certifications or going back to school to get your cosmetology license, having the right training is the foundation for a successful career change.
The great thing about changing careers now is that almost any training or certifications needed can be free or at very little cost online. Check with trade associations, industry websites and discussion groups for any requirements you may need.
6. Start Re-Branding Yourself Now
Use the internet and social media to change the way you present yourself online.
Changing your LinkedIn profile is a good way to show prospective employers that you are serious about a career change.
Joining Facebook groups, trade associations and discussion boards as well as attending conventions is a great way to start building a network while you learn.
7. Overhaul Your Resume
Most of us have heard the advice to update our resume every six months, and most of us promptly ignore that advice and only update our resume when we need it.
When making a career change, updating is not enough; this calls for a complete overhaul of your resume. Chances are that your current resume was designed around your old career which may or may not apply to your new goals.
Crafting a new resume emphasizing your strengths for the new position your looking for is key. There are many places that will help you craft a resume online and it is a service included with most career coaching services.
8. Know Your Timeline
There are a lot of factors when it comes to how long it will take to make the career change.
Industry and Functional career changes tend to be the easiest to do and therefore can be accomplished in the shortest period of time. While the Double Career Change and the Entrepreneurial Career Change both require more effort and thus time.
There are also personal factors involved in the time it will take to switch careers.
Generally speaking the more you are willing to be flexible with both compensation and geography, the shorter time it will take to make the switch.
Changing careers at anytime can be stressful, but for those of us who are 50 or above, it can seem to be an overwhelming task fraught with pitfalls and self doubt.
Prospective employers know the benefits that come with more mature employees. Things like a wealth of experience, a proven work history and deeper understanding of corporate culture are all things that older workers bring to the table.
And while the younger generation may possess better computer or technical skills than us, if you’re willing to learn, there are a ton of free or nearly free resources available to you.
Deciding on a career change at 50 is a great way to experience life on your own terms.
More Tips for Career Change
- How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late
- How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch
- How to Write a Cover Letter for a Career Change (Step-By-Step Guide)
- How to Write a Career Change Resume (With Examples)
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