A Quintessential Careers Special 15th Anniversary Report
What’s the best advice for a baby boomer who is thinking of changing careers?
Compiled by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
We invited 15 of the top career and job-search experts — our Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds — to share their advice with our readers as part of our 15th anniversary. This question is just one of several, which you can find here: Expert Job-Search Answers and Advice from Career Experts.
Best Advice for Baby Boomers Considering a Career Change
One of the first steps to take is deciding if a career change is actually necessary. A lousy boss doesn’t always require finding a new career, for example. Finding a way to carve out new challenges within the same industry is a good jumping-off point. If that fails, however, start preparing for the transition (minimally) months in advance. And preparation is the key word. Do the research. Put together as much information as possible about the new career you’re interested in — such as pay levels, trends in the industry, and necessary skills, certifications, and credentials. Talk to friends, co-workers, and experts in the field for added assurance as well.
— Teena Rose
Do a thorough inventory of yourself before you try to see what the job-market has to offer. (Chapter 13 in the current (2012) edition of my book, What Color Is Your Parachute? will tell you how to do this, step by step.) You may think that because you’ve lived with yourself for lo these many years, you know yourself without doing such an inventory. Maybe so. But have you decided among all your transferable skills, which ones you most love to do? And have you decided among all the special knowledges you’ve now got stored in your head, which ones you love most to use? Your new career should be one you care passionately about, and “passion” depends on “favorites.” Build a career in your head, before you go out looking for it in the real world. And if what you eventually find doesn’t exactly match that picture, at least be sure it overlaps it in the areas that matter the most to you.
— Richard Nelson Bolles
Changing careers is more a norm today than ever before. However, higher than normal unemployment means there are many more job-seekers applying for each job, and many have exactly the type of skills the employer is seeking. Career changers of all ages have a difficult time proving that they have what it takes to succeed in their targeted positions. Social media can help bridge the gap, as it may help you:
- Find information and trends in your targeted field
- Access experts and potential mentors
- Connect with recruiters and learn about positions
If you think social networking is having a conversation across the picket fence, LinkedIn is the latest video game, Twitter is something that birds or gossips do, and you don’t know a blog from a log, it will be difficult to be an attractive candidate for a job — no matter what your age. It’s not only important to know about these resources, it’s crucial to know how to leverage them for a successful job hunt. Social networking is a relevant and mandatory part of an active, engaged job search — especially for someone attempting to change careers. For baby boomers, using these tools helps demonstrate you are interested in and willing to learn new skills.
— Miriam Salpeter
Get on social media and learn how to use it strategically. It’s not enough to put a profile up on LinkedIn. You’ve got to understand how to use keyword loading, profile skills, groups, and visibility settings.
— Maureen Crawford Hentz
Get very clear in terms of what you want and build a super-targeted job-search campaign to find it. As seasoned professionals, there is a natural expectation that you know what you want and how to get it. So, if you don’t convey that in the process, you won’t be taken seriously.
— J.T. O’Donnell
Go for it. Don’t assume that you must always do what you’ve always done. Many people are able to successfully move in new directions. Desire and determination trump experience, education, and economics.
— Tory Johnson
1. Be realistic and 2. Quack like a duck.
By “be realistic,” I mean that it is much harder to make a career change in middle-age, and you should know that and accept it. The change you want to make needs to be in some way feasible based on your prior experience. And by “quack like a duck,” I mean that you must start to be the thing you want to be. Don’t wait for someone to hand you the opportunity — take the opportunity yourself. Volunteer in your chosen field, network your way into personal meetings with key influencers, join trade associations if you can, and start to do the work even though you’re not being paid for it.
In my practice as a resume writer, I’ve met several baby boomers who tell me they want to “become a writer” and ask me to create a resume to help them do that. I have to explain that I can’t write a resume that will make a magazine or Website consider hiring them unless they already have a body of work to show.
It’s pretty difficult to change careers for baby boomers. If you go to a completely different field, you will be competing with entry-level job hunters and very likely you will lose the interview. So, you can’t switch career fields easily, but you can change roles. There are two ways for boomers who are tired of working in corporate America and want more independence to change careers.
One strategy is to become the specialized expert in the field you are already in. For instance if you are in human resources you could become a specialist in benefits, process improvements, recruiting, compensation, etc. If you are an architect you could specialize in certain kinds of healthcare architecture or perhaps dental offices. By building a special team, you set yourself up for the ability to go out on your own and hang out your own shingle and be a private consultant.
Another way to gain your own independence and switch careers is to open up a side business. A boomer can find a franchise that s/he would like to run and buy a new career that way. Or it’s possible to run a home-based business.
Other than these two strategies, if you’re working for corporate America, make sure your pension is secure. Along that line I recommend reading the book, Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers.
— Jack Chapman
Don’t underestimate the competition. If you want to shift from for-profit to non-profit, for example, you have to know that there are very talented people who are already in non-profit, and they’re not going to slink away from competition. They have advanced degrees specializing in nonprofit and public administration, for example, and your name-brand MBA may not go as far as you think.
Changing industries is challenging in any economy, and in a bad economy, it’s particularly challenging. You have to get some real-world experience in the targeted area, and the longstanding advice was to volunteer or give away your experience until you had some projects to list on your resume. For example, most chambers of commerce sponsor a branch of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), an SBA affiliated project. By volunteering for SCORE, you can do some business or marketing or financial plans for small businesses in your targeted area, which gives you that critical industry experience. Or find someone who is launching a business, or trying to break into new markets with an existing business. You give away your time, if you have to, in order to get a track record in the targeted field.
Oh, and one more thing: You absolutely will not get a job out of a stack of resumes. If you wait until someone posts an opening and collects 400 to 1,000 resumes, you will not be chosen. You’ll have to use hidden-job-market techniques to find jobs before they’re announced, or to be the favored, inside candidate even if they do announce the job. See my book, Cracking the Hidden Job Market: How to Find Opportunity in Any Economy for more on this topic.
— Donald Asher
When I wanted to make a career change, I went back to school for an MBA — if you can afford to do that, it’s a very practical way to make a career change. If you can’t, start studying [for an advanced degree] evenings at a local school or online college — and begin picking up freelance work in your new field. If that’s not possible, volunteer. If you really have the passion and enthusiasm for your new career, most anyone you approach for a part-time or volunteer position will be interested in talking to you. Enthusiasm is your critical advantage in your career change. Keeping a blog in which you chronicle your efforts will seal the deal.
— Eric Shannon
Work with a career coach to help you assess your skills, provide career-assessment tools to help you identify your strengths, personality type, learning style, etc., and talk to people in professions that interest you.
— Wendy Terwelp
Our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds
- Donald Asher of Asher Associates
- Richard Nelson Bolles of JobHuntersBible.com
- Jack Chapman of Lucrative Careers, Inc.
- Deb Dib of Executive Power Brand
- Louise Fletcher of Blue Sky Resumes
- Maureen Crawford Hentz
- Tory Johnson of Women for Hire
- J.T. O’Donnell of CAREEREALISM
- Lindsey Pollak
- Teena Rose of Resume to Referral
- Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com
- Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers
- Eric Shannon of LatPro, Inc.
- Wendy Terwelp of Opportunity Knocks
- Susan Whitcomb of The Academies
Find more information about each of our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds.
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