Artwork by: Kate October
Yes, you can start a new career at age 50 and have the confidence you are making the right move. It just takes some sound planning.
You might be wondering if 50 is too old for a career change. Not necessarily. It's understandable that life situations change. As you get older, your perspective changes. Your needs change. So it would follow that making a new career change at age 50 is doable. However, it might feel daunting at first, especially if it has been a while since you made a job change.
This article provides helpful tips as you embark on this new journey. We aim to ease your doubts and show how you can do it successfully and with confidence. Here are the topics we’ll cover:
Longevity in the workplace
What motivates your need for change?
Know thyself and write it down
Talk with others
Rebrand and update
Go back to school at 50?
The US government sets retirement age brackets based on life expectancy rates. The earliest you can retire is at age 62. That’s twelve years away from age 50, allowing plenty of time to work on building up your social security reserves.
Other countries around the world have retirement ages ranging from 58 to 67. It stands to reason that many people still need to work beyond those ages–even if they are “retired''–due to financial considerations and/or other reasons.
Another compelling aspect of changing careers at 50 is that it can intersect with an early retirement plan. There is a movement called FIRE that stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. Perhaps you want to work only part-time in a new career and plan to live frugally off savings.
Know the reasons why you want to make a change. Historically, people made mid-life career changes due to inadequate salary, lack of advancement opportunities, company culture, and job environment. After the pandemic, people are re-evaluating what they have and want in life. Critical areas now considered include a better work-life balance, flexible scheduling, and a positive culture.
Other reasons for this change may be out of your control. The company downsized or shut down, and you got laid off. Perhaps management was a factor. Maybe you felt you could do a better job in management than what your company was doing. And, even after all your years of experience, no further promotions were available.
Nearly one-third of Americans who lost their job during the pandemic and are planning to return to work said they would likely change their career path to another industry. Source: US Chamber of Commerce.
It could also be that you burned out and realigned your life priorities to take better care of your mental health. Perhaps you want to give more time to your family, yourself, a side hobby, and so much more. A big part of a major career change is the value you give to your priorities in life.
It’s vital to take an assessment of all your skill sets. Many of the skills you have learned and developed by age 50 are transferable to a new career, and it's just a matter of figuring out what new career you want and where those skills apply.
It will take time to research the new field you are considering and what types of jobs are available in that field that interest you. See if the skills listed for those jobs match any of the skills you already have. Look to determine if new skills are required. If so, then returning to school might be another option. You could also consider short-term certificate courses to bring your skill set up to date.
Break this list down into the areas you think you are good at such as soft skills, technical abilities, or hard skills. Note that not all skills are transferable because certain hard skills may be job or industry-specific.
Soft skills involve communication, empathy, and listening. Hard skills involve your proficiency at what you do, for example the software you have used. Make sure the software you know well is not outdated in terms of what employers use in today's market for different company operations.
For example, let’s say you learned how to use Microsoft Excel over 20 years ago. While Excel is still used in the marketplace, there is newer accounting software such as Google Sheets that it would be helpful to know.
If you are unfamiliar with all the aspects that Google software offers, you might want to look at how it works. There are free self-paced training courses to learn the whole suite of Google tools.
Ask friends and colleagues what soft skills they think you demonstrate. See how it compares with what you know about yourself already. You might learn some valuable insights into how to best present your soft skills in a new light to potential employers.
You can also hire a career counselor to discuss all the possibilities related to whether you should change your career to a new industry or stay within your industry but switch jobs. Sometimes a little guidance and a gentle nudge go a long way in helping a person move forward with a big change, especially if it seems reasonable.
As you take stock of your strengths, career achievements, and future goals, it’s especially important to keep an updated resume on hand that will fit the new career you are seeking.
It would also be helpful to update your LinkedIn profile to signal to recruiters that you have rebranded your work image. Once you are sure you want to make a change, set your status as “available for work” on LinkedIn so recruiters can find you.
Continue researching the various industries and fields within an industry to see if there is something that matches your aims and desires. Sometimes, that research can lead you to find a job description you didn’t know existed. At the very least, you gain knowledge of how the industry describes job openings and can see whether your skills are relevant for that area.
Attend a few industry networking events to help inspire your motivation, meet new people, and gain new insights about the job market.
What if you would rather go after a Master’s Degree at age 50? Perhaps you’re ready to pursue that undergraduate degree. In either case, is it worth getting a higher education degree in mid-life before switching careers?
It all depends on if the new career you have in mind requires a higher education degree. If not, is a degree something you’ve always dreamed of completing but never had the time for? These are big decisions that require lots of thought and research.
Here are some tips.
Check what degrees your local universities offer. Many offer online programs you can complete in one or two years. Remember:
Let people talk you out of completing a higher education degree at age 50. Don’t listen to negative comments such as:
Age is not a restriction
“You’re too old.”
You can become a lifelong learner
“You don’t need it.”
Financial aid is available
“It’ll put you into more debt.”
I recall when I was in my early 30s, I went back to school to finish a program. In my psychology class was a woman in her 70s who had recently become widowed. Her children were grown with their own families. She had always wanted to get a degree in psychology, but “life got in the way.” Now she had her chance to finally complete her undergraduate degree. She went on to become a counselor.
She wasn’t at all intimidated by all the younger students around her. In fact, she said it made her feel young again. I was impressed with her courage to go forward with a late-life career change. That goes to show you if someone in their 70s can do it, you can do it at age 50!
Even if you haven’t been in college for decades, you might be wondering what degrees are offered. A lot has changed and continues to change. There are degrees for just about anything you can think of.
The best way to determine if a new degree is needed for a career change is to look at projected forecasts for specific industries. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annually publishes an outlook showing which industries are trending. In 2022 the fields listed are:
Business, Management, and Sales
Computer and Engineering
Education, Social Service, and Legal
Media, Arts, and Sports
You can also search a detailed database of occupational information outlining job information such as highest paying, rate of growth, most new jobs, and field of degree. See the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) here.
Other ways you can explore a career change at 50 is to take on a non-paying position. Volunteer at a school, senior care center, animal shelter, help the homeless, etc. By volunteering, you’ll be expanding your network which could lead to finding a new career.
Finding an internship is another option to test the waters (so to speak) and whether a new field could be the right career move. All of these non-paying options can be added to your resume showing the transition between previous work and a new field or industry.
You may have been too complacent in your current career because it affords you a decent salary and job security. The thought of changing careers at 50 seems impractical if others look at you as successful. Don’t let others make you feel bad for wanting to make a change, because it really comes down to how happy you are staying in a role you have outgrown or feel unfulfilled in.
But you may also have lingering self-doubts about whether you can achieve a satisfying career change at this later stage in life. Don’t be someone who lives life with that nagging thought in the back of your mind of “what if” because of others’ perceptions. It’s your life, your choice, and you can do it if you want.
The subsequent outcome of all these efforts combined can lead you to discover a new career change at age 50. It’s meaningful for you not to give up your dreams to fulfill your passions in life. It’s been shown people are more productive when they are happy in their work-life roles. You, too, can be happy with a career change at age 50!
Remain focused on what you want.
Stay flexible to change when and where needed.
Return to school to learn new skills.
Research your desired career or industry.
Update your resume and LinkedIn profile.
Consider non-paying roles to gain experience.
Valerie is a seasoned freelance writer adept at content creation in diverse industries such as business, career, tech, and lifestyle. She specializes in helping professionals optimize their resumes and LinkedIn in order to rise in the ranks during their job search. Her passion is career development and using her unique blend of engaging & technical copy to help people make a positive impact on potential employers.