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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

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Jennifer R. Farmer

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

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Published on March 25, 2019

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up. You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out.

But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

3. Go to All Office Networking Events

Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

4. Show Initiative

Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

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Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

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Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

7. Find a Mentor

With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

9. Set Your Professional Bar High

Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

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Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

The Bottom Line

Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

“Half of life is showing up.”

The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

Remember, your career is your business!

More Resources About Ever-Growing

Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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