Middle-Aged Career Change

Q. I am a middle aged woman with a M.S. in Education, interested in a career change.  What advice can you provide?

A. Changing careers is difficult and the farther you attempt to get away from your current profession, the more difficult it becomes.  Making the switch from a teacher to a registered nurse or accountant, for example, would require a return to school and starting at the bottom rung of that profession’s career ladder.  This type of dramatic career change is more realistic for someone in the first five years of his or her career.  For someone with 10-20 years, such a change is far less tenable.

For the mid- to late-career professionals, the key is to take the fundamental skills and experience you have gained and transfer them to another industry or another area within your chosen career.  In the case of our teacher, her masters in education opens up a lot of opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting.  Regardless of the teacher’s subject area, through her education, training and experience, she has the fundamental tools necessary to teach.  Those skills can be used to develop and/or deliver training material and programs to other teachers or to employees in a corporation, for example.  They can be used in for-profit education firms that provide tutoring and other tailored education programs to young people who are either trying to catch up or get ahead.  In addition to the core teaching fundamentals, many educators have strong writing, research and oral communication skills.  These skills would be valuable in non-profit organizations needing people to write grant proposals, for instance.

For many mid-career professionals, it is difficult to determine where to begin the divergence from their current career path.  A good place to start is by making a list of all of your responsibilities and accomplishments.  What fundamental skills did it require to meet those responsibilities and achieve those accomplishments?  Then write down some ideas on where you see yourself going.  Figure out how your fundamental skills could apply to these new areas.

If the problem is that you don’t know where you see yourself, you might start by visiting the educational institution where your current career path began.  Career counselors and professors there might have some good ideas on how to you use your degree in different ways.  You can also seek out former classmates who took different career paths to learn how they got there.  Once you determine what areas you would like pursue, start talking to people in those areas; not from a “do you have any jobs” approach, but from a “can you provide me with any advice and guidance on making the transition from my current situation to something in your area” approach.

Changing your career path or changing industries often takes a certain amount of creativity.  You have to think about your skill sets from a new perspective and then consider all the different ways those skills can be applied to new and perhaps non-traditional areas.  However, you cannot be so creative that prospective employers cannot imagine it.  Remember, in the end, you have to be able to explain to employers why your skills and experience make you a good fit for their organization.  If the connection does not make sense to them, then the job search will not be successful.

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The latest workplace news/trends/issues from global outplacement and business coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
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2 Responses to Middle-Aged Career Change

  1. Jodi says:

    This is really good advice. I’m not in this situation (I’m still quite young) but I’ll keep it in mind — who knows, I may change careers later in life.

  2. Milly says:

    Biggest problem I’ve seen is recruitment agencies who don’t want to work for their money. If you don’t fit neatly into a tick box on their computer they’re not interested. I have a wide range of skills and experience but they insist on only looking at my most recent job role, … which is the one I want to change from! Argh!!

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