How to Make a Career Change at 50
It’s never too late to change the direction of your career if it is not giving you job satisfaction, although the nearer to retirement you leave it, the more factors you will have working against you.
A career change at 50 can be excellent timing. You will have at least fifteen years left before retirement and you bring to the table as many as 20 to 30 years of professional experience.
You may now have fewer caring responsibilities holding you back and, financially, you may well be in a more secure position to leave a solid but unfulfilling role and seek a new challenge.
Employers can benefit from your wealth of experience as well as a long proven work history, which can be an advantage over younger hires. Additionally, you can offer an understanding of corporate culture and strategy as well as a wealth of business contacts.
You can also benefit from the more millennial idea that a job is not for life, and that an individual can now expect to have not one but as many as three or four different careers during their working life.
Where once an employee might have stuck with a company for thirty or more years, workers now generally expect that they might need or want to move roles every three to five years to keep opening up new opportunities.
Humans enjoy milestones, so it is no surprise that we often re-evaluate our lives when we reach a round figure birthday like 50.
This might lead to one of three conclusions:
A desire to step away from the treadmill of work and move to a more flexible role with more balance (such as a home based role) – either within your industry or an alternative one with more opportunity.
A decision to set up your own business as an entrepreneur, especially if you are in an industry where there is growth and you are making a good profit for someone else.
The push you need to step up your career after spending the previous two decades juggling caring responsibilities and family commitments.
If you are now 50, you likely started working (or at least went to college) in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
That landscape was a significant shift away from the current one – not least due to the rise of the internet, technology and new digital innovation.
Careers are now possible in ways you would never have even dreamed about when you were starting out on your career path, and even more ‘traditional’ roles such as law, finance, consultants and corporate roles look a world away from their pre-internet counterparts.
This could influence a career change for one of a few reasons:
You might be excited to bring your experience to a new role or niche, or apply your skills differently.
You may have identified an opening for something that never existed when you started working.
You may find new ways of working to be outside your comfort zone and wish to leave and find something more suitable for your career tastes and skill set.
When you start work in your early to mid-twenties, depending on how long you spent at college, whether you attended grad school or studied for an MBA, there are several external factors which influence your choice of career.
Input from parents and peers as well as social expectations (such as a particular profession, job title or remuneration) can all influence you to pick a certain path.
After following that path for a couple of decades, the weight that you place on the various expectations may well have changed.
You may also now have children beginning their own careers and, in advising them, this can also lead to a period of reflection, in which you may consider that a career change is essential.
You may also find yourself seeking a career change at 50 if the circumstances of your working life change.
Businesses fold, people are laid off, roles are made redundant and external forces (such as the global economy or the impact of pandemics) can change the employment landscape rapidly.
It may not always be your choice to have a career change at 50.
Whatever the reason, the logical conclusion is that you might find yourself looking for new opportunities and completing job applications several decades after you expected to.
Start by considering what you are looking to get out of a new role. Are you looking to change industry, role or set up on your own?
You don’t want to just leap to the first opportunity that presents itself. It should be a considered move and the starting place should be a thorough analysis of your current situation, upsides, downsides and your current relevant key competencies, skills and selling points.
Part of your analysis will have to be related to remuneration.
Unless you manage to make a lateral move to a similarly senior role within a different industry, you are likely to be looking at a pay cut.
Make sure that you can afford this and consider any implication to your pension, health benefits or financial implications that will affect your family members.
That said, in your fifties, you have likely had two to three decades to pay off your mortgage and your family is likely to be less dependent on you financially (although you may of course now have kids that you are putting through college), meaning you may be able to afford to reduce your monthly income in return for a more flexible or less pressured role.
Another consideration that is worth bearing in mind is whether you are going to be able to take instructions or work for someone younger than you are.
If you make a radical career change rather than just moving industries, you may well have to start at the bottom, meaning that your new boss or manager could be younger than you.
Before you write your resignation letter, consider whether this is something you can tolerate.
Although it is illegal to make hiring decisions based on discriminatory factors, of which age is one, you will likely find it harder to find a new role in your fifties.
Not everyone will be as open-minded as you are about the benefits that an older worker can bring and you are likely to face more rejections than you might as a younger applicant (although that will never explicitly be stated as a reason).
You will need to be tenacious and face the challenge head-on, seeking out businesses and companies who seek experience, passion and proven experience as values.
Fear of making a new move can hold people back, but those that ‘face the fear and do it anyway’ can find massive rewards in making a change.
You will need to be realistic about what is achievable. If you have always dreamt of being an airline pilot, by the time you have finished your training you are going to find it harder to find work and the time to do it will be ever decreasing.
That doesn’t mean don’t learn how to fly, just accept that it may just be a hobby.
Consider the current market and work out where the gaps are that your skills and experience will be an asset.
Although you probably already use a significant amount of technology in your current career, make sure that you have an up-to-date computer available in your personal life from which to make applications, which often need you to either submit online or at least electronically using a PDF.
Make sure that your resume stands out for the right reasons. Carry out a thorough exercise in understanding what skills and experience are desirable in the new roles for which you are applying and what transferable skills you have, and make sure these are reflected in your resume.
If you identify any areas which are essential and you are lacking, consider re-skilling or attending training, or even educational courses, to ensure that you are not being cut from the application process before you make it to the interview.
For more on how to tailor your resume for a career change see our article on career change resumes.
Although you won’t have your age on your resume, the dates of your work experience and your education will be an indicator that you aren’t a fresh-faced graduate.
Reassure your potential new employer that you are versatile and up-to-date by ensuring that you don’t use old-fashioned language on your application.
For example, look up the name of the person who is managing the hiring process and use that name instead of the more out-dated 'Dear Sirs' or 'To Whom It May Concern'.
Another tip is that you will need a personal email address to make applications from, so set up a professional-sounding email address in your own name, using an up-to-date email provider; rather than using a joint personal email with your spouse and age.
Now is a great time to consider engaging the services of a coach who can support you through the process of changing career and be a sounding board, including sense-checking any decisions.
You will also want to seek emotional support from your family members as a career change can lead to a period of uncertainty and upheaval.
Do not underestimate how stressful a period of change can be, even if it is one that you have entered into willingly.
No formal education is required to be a real estate agent beyond state certification.
If you have a background in sales or management, the property industry can be an excellent place to make a career change.
Depending on where you work, you can set your own hours and the number of days that you work per week.
Pay is often commission-based, so the more deals you seal, the more you make, but you don’t have to work in that way if you’re looking for a more relaxed working life.
Although you will likely have to factor in the time to gain a teaching qualification, not all schools require formal qualifications and your extensive work experience may be enough to teach within your area of expertise.
If you previously worked in finance, for example, you could retrain as a math or economics teacher and your previous working career would set you apart from candidates who may not have industry experience.
Older teachers find they naturally carry more gravitas with students, so it is a profession worth considering.
Virtual assistants work from home and set their own hours.
This might appeal to those with management experience who are looking for less stressful work which is not tied to a specific location.
If you are interested in how and why people think, you might want to consider retraining as a life or career coach.
Coaches can choose their niche – so, for example, if you’ve worked in sales, you might find you can use this experience.
Likewise, if you’ve been a medical doctor, a sideways step to a corporate coaching role can be a lucrative but likely less stressful role.
Education is not limited to the classroom. You may be able to find work as a tutor or foreign language teacher (if you speak another language), perhaps online.
There is also a call for teaching English as a foreign language or, if your skills are particularly niche, you may be able to set up a business teaching and running workshops, or even a monetized YouTube channel. There are many possibilities.
Making a career change at 50 won’t be the easiest move you’ve ever made but it can be extremely rewarding to either capitalize on what you’ve achieved, or move to something that is more fulfilling or allows you more flexibility and free time.
With careful consideration and the right decisions, the second half of your career can be just (or more) fulfilling than the first.