With life expectancies rising by about three years every decade and more than half of babies born in wealthier countries since 2000 expected to reach their 100th birthdays, the idea of reinventing ourselves has become a necessity.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the working world, where employers are already seeing more older workers thanks to an aging baby boomer population. But what happens when you lose your job as an older worker if you aren’t someone who can afford to just retire?
Betty McWillie, founder of McWillie Career Directions, has seen the effect a layoff can have on older workers.
"People generally feel when they've lost their job that they've done something wrong, even if they haven't," she says. "Younger people [feel this] less, but the older professionals keep searching for a reason."
Once you understand the layoff wasn't personal, it's time to take a moment to reflect on your career. Sam Phelps, an executive recruiter at Newcastle Associates, says that one of the benefits of a late-career shift is that you probably know more about yourself than you did at the beginning. "You're working out of a desire to do what you want to do as opposed to what you have to do."
The motivation to make a late-career change rather than shifting in your mid- or early-career has a different motivation, Phelps argues. "It's a catalyst that refocuses your priorities."
How to stay relevant
Having up-to-date skills is the best way to remain relevant, especially as an older worker. Phelps says, people should be continuously updating their technical skills throughout their career, not just after they get laid off.
"That learning takes time and that time is time away from the job market, which makes it harder to plug back in," Phelps says. "Being an active learner is critical to adapt to change.” After a layoff, she says, you really have to dial it up.
Through the course of your career, you should pick up new skills from your colleagues. Instead of viewing younger workers as a threat, partner with them. Try to understand the new technology through their eyes.
If you're out of a job and don't have colleagues to consult with, you can still use websites like Lynda.com and Udemy as learning tools. Some universities have free tools as well, Call the college closest to you and ask if they have any free courses for older workers trying to keep their skills fresh.
Your network is key
Career coach Stephanie Licata says she's worked with many people making a late-career shift. Typically, she says, they're "taking well-developed professional contacts and they're making the switch because someone's giving them a chance because they know they've been accomplished in a certain area."
By the late stage of your career, your relationships and demonstrated experience may be enough for someone to give you a shot in a different arena.
Shift into different types of work
Experts say many older workers leverage their vast experience into work as an independent contractor. "The other thing about people I work with late in their career is that they become consultants," Licata says.
People like to work for themselves. "If they have done a certain amount of work in an area that they now can provide consultancy to other people or other companies," Licata adds.
If working for yourself isn't in the cards for you, you'll need to redo your resume. While you shouldn't be ashamed of your age—after all, your experience is your greatest asset—you don't necessarily need to highlight it either.
Tiffany J. Franklin, founder of TJF Career Coaching, has a few simple resume tweaks that will make your history seem less stale to a wary employer.
First, she recommends only including experience from about 2000 onwards, or the last 20 years of experience. "It's really hard to not include some fabulous companies that you worked with in the 80s, but let's try and think about what your most recent really big wins and accomplishments are," Franklin says.
Additionally, you can drop the graduation year from your education section. Again, this change makes the age of your degree less apparent.
Finally, you'll need to think about keywords and key phrases, something that may not have existed the last time you were on the job market. These days, most resumes submitted through online application portals are never read by a human. Human resources departments use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to weed out resumes that don't fit specific criteria.
An ATS can scan hundreds of resumes in seconds, selecting for keywords, phrases and other criteria that meet the company's needs. The problem with this, as you may have guessed, is keywords must be an exact match to get picked up by the ATS.
How do you know which keywords to use? Read the job description. Everything is contained there, down to the exact phrasing. If the description says the company is looking for a candidate with "strong communication skills," do not refer to yourself as a "good communicator" in your application. Use the word "communication" for your best shot of making it through the process.
Finally, you'll want to make a strong first impression with your cover letter. Write with authority. Highlight the transferable skills that will impress the employer. Reviewing your work history, you may be surprised by how many soft skills, such as leadership and teamwork, you possess, and how well they fit a huge variety of careers. Make sure to work a few stories demonstrating those skills into your cover letter, with one eye on exactly how this skill will help the potential employer.
If you're looking for additional tips on making a smooth career transition, LiveCareer can help. Our Resume Builder features hundreds of templates and professional designs for all jobs and industries. Additionally, the Cover Letter Builder will help you craft a letter that sounds professional, is proofread properly, and is personalized for the job you want.