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Career Change at 50

By Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

For the past 14 years I have worked in a close relative's small office and now I am in my mid-fifties and I need to make a move and change my life.

Given my age and the fact that I have been a 'Jack of all trades' (IT to bookkeeping and
everything in-between); I wonder if you can offer advice on how to proceed in search of employment. Thanks in advance.

Answer:

Marketing and packaging are the two strategies on which to focus. You can look at your age, lack of a particular specialty, and long tenure with one employer as negatives. Or, you can play them up and sell them to the right employer. Let’s look at some strategies.

For example, large companies usually hire people who have a specialty, or depth of experience in a certain area. But smaller companies like employees who can be flexible and wear many hats. So, in your case, target small to middle-sized employers.

Rather than do a one-size-fits-all resume, you would be wise to have several versions that can be customized further to fit different opportunities. For example, you may want to emphasize your bookkeeping, accounting and administrative duties on one resume, and then on a different resume, focus more on customer service and marketing duties. And on a third resume, you might want to package yourself as a “Jack of all trades” who can do it all.

Highlight accomplishments on your resume and during interviews. Use CAR stories to illustrate some examples. CAR stands for Challenge, Approach, Results. . For example, on your resume that emphasizes customer service duties, rather than simply say you handled all customer calls, you could describe your results like this: (Challenge) “Customer service inquiries doubled over five years, due to the growth in revenue. (Approach) With no increase in staff, was able to resolve 90 percent of all questions and problems on my own, with no involvement from the owner (Results). Resulting in 85 percent repeat and referral business.”

Go and talk with several staffing agencies. Most agencies do a temporary to permanent placement. In other words, if you go on a temporary assignment and the employer likes your work, they may offer you a job. Many agencies also do permanent placements directly.

Make sure your packaging is up to date. For instance, take an objective look at your wardrobe, hairstyle, glasses, and all aspects of your image. After so many years of working for a small employer—especially a family member—you may have slipped into a comfortable and casual look that won’t be polished enough for a different business.

Buff up your self-image until it shines. Bring confidence and pride into every conversation. Your experience, wisdom and dedication should be sold as an asset.

Because you are in your mid-fifties, potential employers may be worried about health care costs, your retirement plans and your commitment to the rigors of the job. Dispel these fears if you can. For example, you might say, “As the only administrative support person in the business I couldn’t afford to get sick, or the business would suffer. Fortunately, I’ve rarely missed a day,” or, “My healthcare comes through my husband’s employer and fortunately we are very healthy,” or, “I have a high energy level and I get a lot of satisfaction from my job, so I plan on working as long as possible.”

Your best bet is to get a job through networking with people you already know. Since you are probably going to have the best luck in the small to middle-sized market, look into local small business associations and professional organizations in the industry. For instance, if you are in the manufacturing industry, there are many trade shows, trade publications, job boards and other resources you may be able to tap. Why not market your years of experience to another employer in the same field?

Use your contacts to network with vendors, subcontractors and even customers. If the owner is supportive of your career decision, he or she may be willing to help you transition. For example, your relative may be willing to announce your intentions to customers and colleagues, or even make introductions to potential employers. If you are doing this on your own, you may be able to network discreetly with a few suppliers, but exercise caution about telling customers, for it will inevitably get back to the owner, or might even adversely affect the business. Simply suggest to them that you have had many good years in the business but that you are thinking of making a change and wondering if they have any advice for you, or contacts you could pursue.

The best chance of getting a great new job is by leveraging your reputation with those who already know you. Then your age will become immaterial and your past results and relationships will do your selling for you.