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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 November 14, 2018

Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

Do you find yourself constantly feeling busy? Or, maybe you feel like you have too much on your plate? Perhaps you have a to-do list with no end in sight, or many responsibilities to juggle on a daily basis at work. When you get home, you have household responsibilities to take care of, too, and it just seems like you never have much time for a breather.

Being busy is good, it’s better than not having anything to do and letting time slip away. But, what many people don’t realize is, being busy doesn’t always mean you’re being productive. The more time you take to complete something does not equal to more success. Many people end up falling into this trap as they pack their day with tasks and errands that may sometimes produce little outcome or output for the effort that they’ve put in.

For example, let’s say that your washing machine at home broke down and you need to fix it. Instead of calling the handyman to come, your husband decides he’s going to fix the machine. He ends up spending half a day figuring out the machine, and does eventually fix it. He did however have to make a trip to the tool shop to buy some extra tools and parts for the machine. Now, if you had called the handy man, it would probably have taken the handyman much less time, and he would have all the necessary tools and parts already, because that is his job. So in this instance, was your husband’s time and effort worth it? Oh, and because he took half the day fixing the machine, you now had to take over his duties of dropping the kids off at soccer and swim practice.

We Need Not Be That Busy

I hope you would agree, that it would have been ideal to delegate this task to the handyman. That would have saved you time and effort, so that you and your husband could focus on doing other things that were more important to you, like being there for your kids or spending time with each other. This is just one example of how we often impose busyness on ourselves without us even realizing it.

But, I’m going to show you just how you can gain quality time from external sources. Whatever big goals or ambitions that you may have, it’s normal for them to involve a lot more of your time than you first expect. I’m talking about things like starting a new business, changing careers, perhaps even moving to a new city. New challenges often involve things that are outside of our experience and expertise, so covering all the bases ourselves is sometimes not feasible as it takes too much time to learn and do everything.

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You Are Just One Person

At the end of the day, you are just one person, and you have a limited amount of time. So, you have to do things that are meaningful to you. While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones needed to get there may be meaningful. Because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, not every task will be enjoyable or all fun & games. Some simply require pure willpower and discipline to grind through. And that is where delegation comes in.

What is Delegation?

You may hear this term a lot in the business or corporate world; it’s an effective way for managers to distribute (or sometimes avoid!) work. But, that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, delegation means leveraging time from an outside source to give you opportunities to increase your quality time. By outside source, we simply mean that it’s not your own time that you’re spending.

What Should You Delegate?

To delegate effectively, it has to be done with deliberate intention. So the aim of delegation is to create more quality time for yourself. There are 3 types of tasks that you should generally delegate, called the Delegation Triangle.

The first are tasks you don’t enjoy doing. These are things that you know how to do, but don’t enjoy. Second, are tasks you shouldn’t do. These are things you know how to do and may even enjoy, but may not be the best use of your time. Third, are tasks you can’t do. These are things that need doing, but you don’t have the skills or expertise to follow through with them at this moment.

Have a look through your daily tasks and responsibilities, and see if you can fit them under these 3 categories.

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Pitfalls of Delegation

Using the Delegation Triangle, you can decide which tasks are worth delegating. In theory, it might look easy to sort actions at first glance; but often, it’s actually harder than you think! 

One such example, is diverting time on tasks you shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to the washing machine example. Your husband decides to fix it on his own instead of simply getting an expert to fix it. Why? Because it’s probably a challenge he enjoys, and it’s an accomplishment that would bring him satisfaction. However, if the value of the task is too low, you really ought to delegate it to others.

Sometimes, when you have a larger goal in mind, you might have to sacrifice some actions in return for making progress. Always think about the bigger picture! One thing that can help you avoid this pitfall is to keep your deadlines in mind whenever you set milestones for a project or task.

Deadlines are a commitment to yourself, and every bit of time is precious. So if an activity you’re focusing on is taking time away from progress towards your goal, it may be time to let go of it for now. You can always decide to pick it up again later.

Then there’s the other extreme of delegation. And that’s when you start delegating everything you dislike doing to external sources.Sometimes it’s tempting to abuse delegation and get carried away outsourcing everything on your “don’t like doing” list.

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Some people are too picky on what they’re going to do. But sometimes, if you don’t like doing so but you’re the only one who can do it, you still need to finish the job. At the end of the day, it does take your own hard work and effort to achieve the success you want.

So if you find that you’re constantly running into this problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation, or reason for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

Ask yourself, “Is this task contributing towards a meaningful objective that I want to achieve?” and “what kind of progress do I make each time I carry out the task myself?” If the task is both meaningful and creates progress, then the next step is to ask yourself questions that can help you create actions.

What obstacles are causing you to avoid this task? Is it because of low confidence in your ability? Do you think someone else can do a better job? Is it your level of focus? Or is there an alternative action you can take that can produce the same results?

Take Action Now

Take a look at your current tasks or to-do’s that you have planned this week. Which tasks are possible candidates that fall under the Delegation Triangle? Are there any that fall under the pitfalls mentioned above? Which tasks can you immediately identify that should be delegated out right now?

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I hope this exercise helps declutter your tasks and responsibilities a little and allows you to see how much more time you can be saving for more important things. But, this is not the end of delegation. After you’ve sorted out the tasks that can be delegated, the next step is to determine who it should be delegated to. Besides people like your co workers, or spouse/family members, did you know that there is a whole delegating industry out there?

If you’re keen to learn more about this delegating industry, and find out how you can decide who’s the best fit to do your delegated tasks, subscribe to our newsletter today. We will help you discover many more skills that will boost your productivity by leaps and bounds!

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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