How to Change Careers When You're Middle-aged

Finding Success in Your Second Career

We discussed the differing perspectives of those brand-new to the workforce and those who've been around the block. Once the second career has been embarked upon, the older worker once again has the advantage.

In a 2009 AARP study, 91 percent of workers who were 51 or older when they changed jobs said they were happier as a result [source: Hsu]. Less stress and more flexibility were the reasons cited, which, you'll remember from the introduction, are both leading reasons for seeking a change in the first place.

And because mid-life workers are often more focused on personal fulfillment rather than climbing the corporate ladder, they can concentrate on the work instead of angling for the boss's favor. This translates into added value for the employer. According to a study released by Bank of America Corp., 94 percent of employers think it's important to retain older workers. To do this, companies are offering scheduling options, telecommuting policies and retirement planning, and the statistics are bearing out the value companies are placing on senior staff. In May 2011, the U.S. unemployment rate for workers 55 and over was 6.8 percent, several points lower than the national average [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

Finally, and this is the area that may be causing the most hand-wringing, be prepared to report to someone younger than you -- maybe a lot younger. Bridging this potential generational gap will be a big factor in how much fulfillment you get from your new role.

There are a few ways to do this. First, avoid making generalizations. Not everyone born after 1980 is a slacker, honest. Plus, if you can demonstrate early a few key competencies (particularly in the areas of technology or new media), you can help obliterate any prejudices they may have toward the older crowd. Another way to make this relationship work is by encouraging feedback. One of the stereotypes that dogs older workers is that they're set in their ways [source: Hering]. Crush this right off the bat by actively soliciting input from younger team members. Finally, don't be afraid to wield your experience. If you have something to offer, don't keep it to yourself!

Making a career change is never easy, and doing so later in life carries its own set of challenges. But as you can see, with a little preparation, it's much more manageable than you might think.

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  • Bastien, Stephen. "12 Benefits of Hiring Older Workers." Entrepreneur. September 2006. (July 22, 2011)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "The Employment Situation – June 2011." (July 22, 2011)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "National Longitudinal Surveys." July 2011. (July 22, 2011)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey." July 2011. (July 22, 2011)
  • Hering, Beth Braccio. "The elephant in the interview room: Are you being passed over because of age?" July 2011. (July 22, 2011)
  • Hsu, Tiffany. "Job downgrade = more job satisfaction for older workers, says AARP study." LA Times. May 2009. (July 22, 2011)