Practical tips for a mid-life career switch

For some reason, while the Christmas season is one of Black Friday sales, travel, good food and family celebrations, for some people it’s also a time of real personal apprehension. That’s because they’ve been thinking about changing jobs at mid-life or contemplating retirement.

While daisies are not in bloom at this time of the year, the decision one needs to make feels like plucking petals off a daisy while repeating "do I, don’t I, do I, don’t I" in your head. If you aren’t doing that, you are stewing about why you want to leave your job or change careers. Yet career-change decisions should not be made lightly. In fact, a decision such as this is similar to job loss, where an individual should ideally have three to six months of salary banked for personal security.

Perhaps we should stop and look at why people might want to change careers at the mid-life point. The answer might lie in the fact that as individuals mature, they begin to experience an emotional transition around age 40 through their 50s. At this point, a person may simply feel stuck in life or think they need to make major changes. Some move through this transition fairly smoothly, while others shake off all their life status and make sudden and very major changes.

These folks remind me of the The Wild One, a movie in which the hero rides off on his motorcycle without a care in the world. Still others spend big bucks on a dream car, a new home or that cottage at the lake, all of which are often a flashback from their youth.

While a mid-life crisis is often the butt of jokes, a mid-life crisis and career management are no laughing matter. That’s because people going through this transition often start questioning their value at work, their job performance, their sense of achievement and sometimes their overall personal identity. They re-evaluate their life goals and their priorities and reflect back on what they believe has been missed in life. No matter the age, an individual in mid-life crisis will ask, "What now?"

For those who are looking at changing jobs or careers, it is important to realize it might be a six-month to five-year journey. For those looking at semi-retirement, your new career journey might just involve a new stage of work. No matter what, the process of changing one’s career path is not easy and can be quite a frightening experience. So, where does one start?

Work with a career professional

These professionals have access to numerous assessments that can help you identify key strengths and areas of challenge. They can also help to identify just what motivates you and how these might be contributing to your current sense of dissatisfaction.

These assessments also provide recommendations on potential careers that are suited to your current skills and careers that provide potential transfer opportunity. By this, I mean you may not have to learn all new skills but will be able to apply all or some of your current skills in a different job or industry. Once you have completed a series of assessments and discuss the results with a counsellor, you can set new goals that give you focus.

Find your story

One of the best exploratory exercises you can do by yourself is to study your career life line.

Draw a straight line across a horizontal page. Mark with a dot, and name all the jobs you’ve had that you enjoyed above the horizontal line. Below the line, place the jobs you didn’t enjoy.

Next, examine each job for the features you liked or didn’t like. Eventually, you’ll see a pattern, and this will help you get a sense of the right career direction for you. Most people are quite shocked at the results of this simple exercise. That’s because people typically take themselves for granted and don’t take time to assess where they are and what they want out of life.

Focus on personal self-esteem

Individuals who have reached the mid-life-crisis stage often begin questioning their value and their achievements, with some falling into depression.

I’ve often seen individuals lose their sense of identity. This occurs particularly with individuals who were motivated by job titles and position or who have spent their career in a well-recognized uniform.

If the sense of identity is lost, an individual often feels they’ve become a "nobody." Keep in mind you are not your job title. Think of yourself as a bundle of skills and expertise.

Conduct research

Before you jump from one job to the next or plan a totally different career, check out the facts. What is the proposed longevity of the industry sector or new career you are seeking? Are the salaries within your desired range? Are you willing to take a reduction? Do you have the required education and, if not, how can you achieve this in a reasonable timeframe? Do you know of any network contacts who could help you make a transition or build further contacts in the desired area? Are there social-networking groups you should be joining?

Update your resumé

Chronological resumés are passé. Today’s resumé style focuses on your skills and accomplishments, not where you got them. Think of yourself as a "product" and design your resumé so it markets your skills and accomplishments effectively. Avoid highlighting your former employers and focus on highlighting job titles, skills and accomplishments.

Update your interview skills

Many mid-career candidates haven’t had an interview for many years and are not familiar with the current interview styles. Today, interviewers ask questions that elicit real-life examples focusing on your role in confronting a challenge, the steps taken to overcome the challenge and the results. With this in mind, review your career history and identify key accomplishments for each of the skills you offer. Be sure to have several examples so you can select the best one to use in an interview. Select examples that can easily relate to the industry or career you are now seeking.

As you move toward planning your New Year’s resolutions, recognize transitioning through mid-life and dealing with the emotional anxieties that come with it is indeed a challenge, especially if you’ve added the desire for a career change. Take it easy, take it slow. Plan, plan, plan, seek help, and give yourself the gift of time.

Professionalism: An Attitude and a Way of Life
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