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Published on November 1, 2018

How to Get a Job When You’re Changing Careers After 40

How to Get a Job When You’re Changing Careers After 40

If you are changing careers after age 40, you should know something about the late Dr. Paul Burgett, the beloved former vice president and provost of my alma mater, the University of Rochester. During a visit to the university in 2016, he shared,

“You are only limited by your imagination.”

In other words, if you can imagine it, you can have it. Far from an empty platitude, Burgett shared this wisdom as he pondered his career that began in his twenties and spanned more than 50 years.

Notably, Burgett enjoyed a 54-year career at the University of Rochester. He arrived at a time when Blacks were not accepted at most institutions of higher learning, yet he went on to earn three degrees from the university’s Eastman School of Music. Burgett later became a dean of students at Eastman, a dean for the university, a provost, vice president and adviser to four University of Rochester presidents.

While these titles are admirable, historians will record Burgett’s greatest accomplishment as becoming an icon emblazoned in the psyches of tens of thousands of university alumni and Rochester community members. By all intents and purposes, Burgett knew something about imagination. He also knew something about defying expectations.

If you are reading this article, you are likely considering a job change after considerable time in a specific industry. Experience brings comfort, and if you are upending a pattern, you are likely facing discomfort and uncertainty. However, as you focus on your next chapter, I hope you will also hone your ability to imagine.

If you believe your age is a barrier and you focus your energy on that versus the wonderful skills you have accumulated over your vibrant career, you will stifle your imagination. To unleash your imagination about the future, here’s how to get a job after 40:

1. Ask for Help

There is something in our culture that leaves many of us reluctant or unwilling to ask for help. As Lifehack Founder and CEO Leon Ho put it,

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“Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

In fact, most people are rather generous in their willingness to offer guidance and coaching. If you are in the job market at any stage in your career, but especially after 40, ask for help:

Afraid to Ask for Help? Change Your Outlook to Aim High!

Ask for help from friends and colleagues who have made a career change after 40. Ask for help from millennials to get a sense of the technology they are using and find most helpful.

Ask millennials for their perspective on the most and least helpful qualities about colleagues who are north of 40 so you can be mindful of what to and what not to do. Reach out to hiring managers and request informational coffees.

These are low-stakes meetings that will give you insight on how you could approach interviewing and launching a new career.

Finally, consult a career coach to learn everything from how to craft a resume to how to identify technical mentors to how to enter a new field. If you ask for help, you are bound to get it.

2. Identify Transferrable Skills

My day job is in public relations and strategic communications, but before I became an author of a public relations book, I was once a recruiter for the software development company MindLeaders.

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My experience recruiting has helped me as a hiring manager. Many of the skills I learned as a recruiter – clear communication, tips to narrow the applicant pool, the ability to sell a company or a position, etc. – are transferrable.

If you are changing jobs, think about the underlying skills that could be helpful in a variety of settings. I will admit that it is often easier to point out someone else’s transferable skills than to recognize your own skills that may serve multiple industries.

If you are struggling to identify your strengths, ask family members, friends and colleagues what they see as your transferable skills.

3. Focus on Your Transferrable Skills

When you are making a career change, getting an interview is only part of the equation. Once you land the interview, you obviously must make a positive impression and stand out from other candidates. To do this, focus less on what you can’t do and more on what you can do by being laser-focused on transferrable skills.

When I was interviewing with the software development company, I knew very little about software. My answer to every question was some variation of “I have never done that specifically, but I would love to learn” or “I did something similar when I worked as a ….” I left the interview confident that I would not only be passed over for the position but that I wasted both mine and the interviewer’s time.

To my surprise, the company called me a few days later and offered me the position. Sure, I had a learning curve, but I also was committed to learning and applying transferable skills. That experience remains a standout in terms of memorable interviews.

4. Seek out Coaches in the Industry You Wish to Enter

It is impossible to know what you do not know. To ensure you are learning and meeting metrics that make you a valuable contributor, consider getting a technical coach who is well-versed in the industry you wish to enter.

The coach can serve as a connector to other people who can assist you, and the coach can also support your understanding of the technical aspects of your role.

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5. Download Podcasts, Articles and Videos on the Industry of Interest

In our digital age, there is a host of information available to support learning. As you think about breaking into a new industry, carefully research the industry.

You can do this by downloading and listening to podcasts on the industry, reading industry-specific articles and reports, and watching industry-related videos. This will allow you to know what’s happening in the industry. It will also help you have informed conversations with hiring managers, coaches and other people connected with the field you wish to enter.

6. Brush up on Technology

If you are contemplating a job switch after age 40, meet with people in the industry you wish to enter, and ask them specifically what technology they rely on to do their job. You will also want to determine which social media platforms they find useful for their work and for staying up to speed on their industry.

Research indicates that millennials tend to use Instagram and Snapchat to a higher degree than Generation X, but both millennials and Generation Xers are similar in terms of their Facebook usage. Generation Xers also tend to use LinkedIn and Twitter to a higher degree than millennials. Baby Boomers tend to use social media to a lesser degree that younger generations, and the Pew Research Center has data that suggest their technology adoption is increasing rapidly.

I am sharing this information because social media is more than personal preference; if you are entering a company whose target audience is millennials, you will need to be versed in the best platforms and technologies to reach this demographic.

Also, research the communications platforms (such as Slack or EverNote) people in your desired industry are using to stay in relationship with one another. This will signal to hiring managers that you are proactive. It also suggests that age will not be an impediment to you adopting technology.

7. Volunteer

One of the best ways to gain information about a new industry is to volunteer in that arena. Volunteering is a win-win as volunteers gain insight and employers receive additional help.

If you are unable to work full time without pay, look for opportunities that allow you to contribute a few hours each week. This ensures you are able to continue working full time and volunteering without a major schedule disruption.

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8. Refrain from Discussing Your Age, or Discussing Your Age as a Liability

When interviewing, be careful not to volunteer your age. Your age has absolutely no bearing on your ability to perform well, especially if you do your research and thoroughly understand and adopt in-demand skills for the position you are applying.

Since your age holds little weight, think twice about freely disclosing it. If you do talk about your age, be careful not to be too self-deprecating or in any way suggest that you are anything less than proud of the experience your age has afforded you. You do not want to involuntarily give hiring managers reason for pause.

9. Inquire about Benefits and Vesting Schedule

If you are changing careers after 40, you will need to pay careful attention to not only the employee benefits package, but also the vesting schedule.

Since retirement and estate planning is likely top of mind, you will want to learn as much as you can about how the company will support your financial and benefits needs. This is also the place where you can apply the negotiating skills you have acquired over your career.

Just because a benefit is not voluntarily included does not mean you should not acquire about it. For instance, I always negotiate more than the standard vacation package. Even if an employer offers new hires two weeks for the first year, I almost always ask for more and I use my years of experience as a negotiating tool.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the weight of Burgett’s words still speak volumes. The people who defy expectations, are the people who have courage and insight to imagine that great things are possible. They also have the fortitude to implement a plan to reach their goals.

So as you contemplate your next move, adopt the tips outlined in this article, and be sure to pass on what you are learning to others you meet along the way.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

More by this author

Jennifer R. Farmer

An author and public relations expert specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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Last Updated on January 14, 2019

The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

Regardless of whether you hold an entry-level administration role or regularly travel to the ends of the Earth as a hot-shot senior executive, you can still find yourself harboring an emptiness… a feeling that something is missing. A popular assumption that experiencing job satisfaction and a successful career should be underpinned by a well-rounded suite of tangible benefits, no longer holds true for many of us.

We’d never deny health care benefits, appropriate and fair remuneration, bonuses and travel perks in a job package. However, even if served to us on a silver platter, those features can only satiate us to a certain point.

You might wonder what governs entrepreneurs and start-up business owners to quit their lucrative jobs, essentially look the gift horse in the mouth and kiss such benefits goodbye! There can be an irresistible pull to mastermind a business with products and/or services that serve the greater good of community wider than that constituting their daily existence.

Even with research showing entrepreneurship to pose greater threats to their mental and physical health, this unique breed of individuals choose to go against the grain in chasing their dreams of being their own boss. Why? Why would anyone risk this type of career suicide?

Whether you’re an employee, have recently taken the leap to being a business owner or been in business for a while, the commonality is a congenital condition we all share as human beings; to feel a sense of purpose, value and contribution to our community. Despite it being harder to find this for ourselves in today’s world, these approaches will help you achieve ultimate satisfaction through the twists, turns and joyrides that are essential features of shaping a successful career.

1. Search for Opportunities That Feed Your Passion, Not Temporary Excitement

Even though well-intended, the ‘feel good now’ compass that career coaches and consultants often recommend you use to create career satisfaction can actually do you more harm than good. Excitement is transient. It doesn’t last. Passion is the compass you need.

Passion and excitement are two different things. The resounding career legacy that still draws you to turn up on the job regardless of the sunshine or storm that awaits you…that’s passion. It’s like a mental and/or emotional itch you can’t shrug off. Staying attuned to that calling will breed success for you sooner or later. Patience is key.

You’re also likely to have more than one key passion. Beware of getting caught in the notion you have to find your one true purpose. In fact, run immediately from any coach who tells you there is only one. There isn’t.

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Your passion is a journey that can take multiple forms so forget thinking there is the single dream job out there that will give you satisfaction in every way you can imagine. It simply doesn’t exist.

Consider embracing different roles and projects to help you fuel your passion or fuel your pursuits in finding it. Job satisfaction and your career success will be all the more sweeter from a wider range of enriching experiences.

2. Don’t Position Job and Career Satisfaction Assessments as Pivotal Guides to Your Success

Despite their popular use for vocational guidance, assessment tools such as Gallup’s Clifton Strengths and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator have come under fire[1] as being limited to the amount of true value and direction they can offer partakers.[2] These and many other guidance assessment tools (e.g. VIA Character Strengths , DISC ) are self-report questionnaires that don’t have normative population data against which to compare your results.

Simply remember these tools help you develop a stronger sense of what you identify as strengths and weaknesses within yourself, not in comparison with other people. They will still add insight around what sorts of career opportunities, tasks and projects are going to light your fire, what ones are going to extinguish it and what will prod and keep the coals steadily smoldering.

3. Be Clear on Your Personal Values, Ethics and Principles and Choose Relationships That Support You Honoring Them

Teamwork, collaboration, open communication and trust are commonplace for any flourishing work environment. However, whether or not your personal values can be honored in your work can make or break your job satisfaction.

How committed do you want to be to an organization that expects an average of 10 unpaid overtime hours every week under the guise of ‘reasonable overtime’? Are you willing to accept their construing this expectation as ‘strong commitment’ at the expense of your partner and children waiting at home for you? What are your boundaries concerning when you clock on to their time and when you clock off to yours?

Being very in tune with what your personal values, principles and ethics are will bid you well in the job satisfaction stakes. Spending time to reflect on experiences and working relationships you’ve had – the good, the bad and the ugly – will help you make well-informed searches and grounded decisions that will propel your career success.

Finding and nurturing relationships with associates and colleagues who share similar values doesn’t just make your day-to-day pursuits more enjoyable. You become fortunate to work with like-minded people who will support, understand and appreciate you like a second family.

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Being able to honor your personal values in your work means you will still be able to sleep at night when you have to tread where others fear to, and make extremely difficult decisions others would never ever dream of having to make as you forge success in your career.

4. Be Clear on Your Own Definition of What Having a Successful Career Means for You

It’s tempting to get caught up in the ideals and projections of success expressed by those we love, admire and respect. Underneath, we all want on some level to belong to a successful club of some sort.

With research reporting how much money we feel we need to be truly happy,[3] many of us try to subscribe to the notion that having the car of our dreams or taking a European holiday annually will not bring us happiness. The truth, however, for many of us is these tangible rewards are congratulatory reminders of our persistent efforts to chase our career pursuits.

If those are things you aspire to, don’t let anyone steal your desire and want to feel deserving of these things, that those are some parameters by which you define your career success.

Despite consistently being the top revenue earner for two years running, you may not wish to become the sales manager. You may not wish to step out into running your own business even though you consistently excel as an employee, delighting clients and repeatedly receiving glowing testimonials.

Your definition of career success might be enjoying the predictability of a regular workplace routine. You get to leave – without feeling guilty – at the same time each day, love the people you work with and get to spend a good, uninterrupted amount of work-stress free quality time with your family. That picture is also blissful job satisfaction and complete career success.

5. Identify the Sorts of Challenges and Problems You Want to Learn to Overcome

Standard advice you might receive from a career coach might be to look for opportunities where you get to capitalize on exercising your strengths and career-related activities you enjoy.

However, to become a success at anything involves improvement. To excel at anything often involves stepping outside boundaries and comfort zones where others wouldn’t. This means dedicating focus and attention to things you’re not so good at and things you don’t like.

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Here’s where working with a coach can be particularly helpful. Map out the experiences that were unsavory in your working history. Were there challenges you opted out of, projects you failed at or toxic relationships that blasted your sense of purpose and self-worth into oblivion? It’s within these experiences that you might just find the most valuable lessons and guiding lights for your trajectory to achieve greater job satisfaction.

If your natural leadership style is to be a collaborator, finding opportunities that require you to apply a more dictatorial style might be needed. Discussing a secondment or short-term project where you get to develop and test your skills can be a step further in earning contention to lead a larger project down the track.

With several of the company’s boldest personality types penciled to roll out the operation, you’ll not only develop skills that earn your right to throw your hat in the ring; those key players have an opportunity to see your competence. You can then work on building relationships with those stakeholders before you need to hit the ground running should you win the lead.

Greater job satisfaction comes with planning and choosing the lessons and opportunities you want to learn, not desperately flailing, floundering and hoping for the best.

6. Keep Reviewing Your Goal Posts and Be Amenable to Change

The word ‘career’ is indicative of a longer-term pathway of change, growth and development. The journey is dynamic.

You will accumulate new skills and let those you no longer need, become rusty. Your intrigue will be stimulated by new experiences, knowledge and people you meet. Your thinking will continue to expand, not shrink. As a result, your goalposts are likely to change.

A major part of enjoying a successful career is not just setting goals effectively, but regularly reviewing and readjusting them where necessary. However, moving the posts or the target still needs to take place by applying the same processes by which you originally created them. The strength of your emotional connection to those revised goals needs to be the same, if not stronger.

By asking yourself the following questions, you can assure your developmental and growth trajectory is still on course:

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  • Would working toward these goals still allow me to honor my personal values, principles and ethics at the same capacity if not greater?
  • Do the activities I need to undertake to meet these goals honor my highest priorities?
  • Does this feel right for me and those who are nearest and dearest to me?
  • Is this aligned with my passion?
  • Is chasing this goal a right step for me to take now or is this a detour or distraction which could delay my greater plan?

Each of your career goals should have different review periods. Whatever you do, stick to the review schedule you set. It will not only keep you focused but help you see your progress (or lack thereof) and allow you to timely re-chart your course before you get too far down the track. You don’t want to waste time haphazardly heading in the wrong direction.

7. Be Prepared to Let Go

It can be unfathomable to us as to why others risk leaping into the unknown when everything truly appears fine and dandy in the career realm. The company provided stability, recognition, financial success, interesting projects and the promise of a promotion…what was wrong? Why now jump sideways to run a café or train in another field altogether?

Nothing may have been wrong at all. It was all going right. It was just the end of a chapter. Perhaps the yearning for the next step is actually taking a different trajectory entirely. You may want to simply experience a different rhythm. Perhaps it’s time to pursue a different passion.

If you have leaped from employee-land to freelancing or have made the reverse-jump (or you know someone who has), you will have quickly grown a different appreciation for pros and cons each work lifestyle brings. Working for yourself can bring the greater realization of your creativity, whether or not it can be monetized to earn you a living.

When your customers are buying you or a product you designed and fashioned, there is a direct level of appreciation and gratitude that can elevate your confidence in the way you have never experienced as an employee, regardless of your rank.

Similarly, there are times where we need to recognize our business ventures were adventures, not long-term life-changing empires. There are times we need to recognize that time is what provides the clearest limitation of how long we persist for in such pursuits.

We have to recognize the absence of enough financial, mental, emotional and physical breadcrumbs that tells us we’re no longer meant to push in that direction. At least, not for the present time.

The Bottom Line

Above all, keep the momentum. As long as you remain committed to pursuing work opportunities that allow you to honor your highest priorities, the truth of who you are and what you stand for, achieving ultimate job satisfaction and a successful career will never be too far away.

More Resources to Help Advance Your Career

Featured photo credit: Csaba Balazs via unsplash.com

Reference

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