How to Find a Job After 50: From Part-Time to
Full-Time, from Career Moves to New Careers
by Betsy Cummings
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INTRODUCTIONIn the past year, more than five hundred
thousand Americans began their workday gainfully employed and
walked out at the end of the day without a job. Fired, laid off,
forced out as the victim of a company closure, or otherwise
shown the door, millions of workers, plenty of them over the age
of fifty, were suddenly forced to reenter the job search market,
something many hadn't faced for years, some not for decades.
THE FIFTY-YEAR-OLD WAKE-UP CALL
Others simply walked out on their own, uninspired by what they
do, desperate to escape the restrictions of tight management, or
anxious to find a new career path-or at least a job that will
offer them a different professional role or challenge.
Regardless of how they got there, embarking on a job hunt can
be daunting and, for those ill prepared, a quick lesson in
humility, frustration, or despair. Never an easy proposition,
finding a job after the age of fifty can be disheartening for
some and overwhelming, even terrifying for others. Resumes not
looked at in years may need to be completely reworked.
Interviewing skills have likely all but dried up.
Networking-probably the most feared professional task next to
public speaking-is something few job seekers are willing to
What's more, if you haven't traveled the job-hunting circuit
in recent years, you may not be aware of the many resources that
have sprung up out there in the last year or two alone.
Classified advertising certainly still exists. And it shouldn't
be knocked- people land jobs every day by scanning the listings
in their local newspaper. But where job seekers might once have
been able to rely on that historically reliable source alone,
now it's just the tip of the job-hunting iceberg-and barely
that. Classifieds can be the last spot a company places a
listing for a position, especially if the job is in a niche
industry where online job boards focused on a particular skill
or area of expertise may more effectively target the talent that
a company is seeking.
The good news, however, is that older workers do have a vast,
rich pool of resources they may not have been aware of, may have
taken for granted, or may simply have overlooked. And that
pertains to far more than just job postings. Longtime employment
in a particular industry provides reams of contacts for job
seekers, but many applicants don't immediately consider that
option when they start looking for work. Industry groups can
help out-of-work job hunters realize what areas of an industry
might be easiest to tap for job openings. Association
memberships throughout the years can now pay off in contacts and
The best tactic for mature job seekers? Stop before you
panic, and consider all the contacts, resources, and avenues of
exploration your career has built to date. Those who do are
usually pleasantly surprised with not only the options they have
but also the opportunities they never imagined lay ahead.
To be certain, the workplace after fifty is a rich terrain.
For all its uncertainty-careers winding down, retirement
looming, a younger generation itching to fill spots soon to be
vacated by older workers-the opportunity for professional growth
has never been more robust for Americans over fifty than it is
today. And for good reason. "People now are living on average
thirty years longer," says Jeri Sedlar, a retirement expert and
co-author of Don't Retire, Rewire!, a book about
finding fulfilling work later in life. And they're looking to
fill those years with meaningful work or make sure that they
have work options so their finances don't dry up.
If thirty or more years of living beyond age fifty is the
case for most Americans, older workers suddenly faced with a
pink slip would be wise to consider the many decades of living
that probably lie ahead of them. But they should also realize
that there are numerous opportunities for older job seekers in
need of employment later in life. Don't lose hope; older workers
are a much more desired talent pool than you may think.
That's good news for workers over fifty who are suddenly
unemployed but aren't thinking about how they can make early
retirement work. Most Americans in that age range don't have the
luxury of hanging up their career after being told to clean out
their desk and say good-bye. Expenses usually demand that people
put in years more of work. In addition, more Americans are also
realizing how crucial their jobs are to their physical and
In interviews conducted for this book with dozens of senior
workers-from as young as 50 to as old as 104-all, without fail,
stressed that they couldn't feel fulfilled financially,
professionally, intellectually, socially, or emotionally without
some form of work in their later years.
Where to Go from Here?
That's the question of the hour on the lips of many older
workers who have walked off the job or been asked to leave their
place of employment in recent years.
For better or worse, you've found yourself at a crossroads.
Whether it's a devastating layoff or an intentional walkout from
a painful position, you now have the opportunity to rework your
career from this point forward.
To change careers, find a new job, or return to work after
years away, especially at this stage in life, it pays to
discover what really turns you on, what drives you day in and
day out, what's going to propel you into another profession, and
what could motivate a monumental change in your professional
life. That requires some serious personal exploration. Workers
in this age group are asking themselves the following:
- How do I really want to spend the next twenty to thirty
years of my life, now that I can realistically expect to do so?
- Where can I continue to showcase my talents and be
appreciated and compensated for doing so?
- How can I step away from an all-consuming, high pressure
career, but still keep a hand in the profession that I find
- What's more important to me now-lifestyle or professional
- How much do I need to work to maintain my current quality
- What effect will my professional change have on my family?
These are important questions.
Baby boomers' lives aren't without their hurdles. As they
enter their fifties, they could just as easily start forging a
path to retirement as they could one toward new professional
ambitions. But doing the latter might seem like an easier path
for those who are young, eager, and untainted by the economic,
political, financial, and social frustrations of corporate life.
Changing paths now requires tapping energy-whether it's sparked
by a newfound interest, panic over lost employment, or the
possibility of a new lease on your professional life.
That energy will be widely needed as older workers face other
possible hurdles in pursuing new avenues. Plenty of potential
employers, for example, are wary of older workers, whom they
fear might be more feeble, less mentally alert, less ambitious,
or more apt to suffer from health problems than younger
colleagues. Experts on aging insist that those perceptions are
untrue. The good news is that the eagerness with which companies
are retaining a mature workforce is a refreshing sign that
employees in their fifties and beyond are an increasingly valued
and important part of American business success.
Even for those managers who still don't have faith in the
strength of older workers, human resource executives are slowly
working to change the perceptions rooted deep within company
offices. Consider a recent study from the Society for Human
Resource Management (SHRM), which showed that:
- 72 percent of human resource professionals said older
workers provide invaluable experience.
- 69 percent said they had a stronger work ethic than younger
- 68 percent said they were more reliable employees.
If ageism still exists in American offices today, it may not
be able to for long-and rightly so. Over the next two
decades, seventy-six million baby boomers will approach
retirement- leaving behind a mammoth gap and talent drain in
corporate America. Predictions are that over the next ten years,
the fastest growing workforce age group will be made up of those
fifty-five and older. At the same time, according to the Bureau
of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs available in the market
will increase by 15 percent, or twenty-two million jobs, by
2010, but the labor force will only offer an additional
seventeen million candidates. This means that if boomers aren't
a highly desirable talent pool now, they will be in the near
future-in fact, they will comprise a necessary recruitment
population for companies looking to fill gaps in the workforce
with already trained and skilled workers.
Some in corporate America are taking steps now to help older
workers break new ground as they navigate an evolving workplace.
Companies such as Procter & Gamble have realized the value of
former employees and are bringing them back to tap their skills
and expertise on a part-time basis. Companies such as the
Aerospace Corporation, a research and development company
Workforce Growth Per Age Group by 2010
Workers 25 and younger -- 2 percent
Workers 25-34 -- 5 percent
Workers 35-44 -- 19 percent
Workers 45-54 -- 8 percent
Workers 55-plus -- 33 percent
*Source: Department of Health and Human Services.
in El Segundo, California, have established phased-retirement
programs that allow older workers to gradually step away from
their careers over months or years. Others, such as Ford Motor
Company, offer part-time programs in which employees can reduce
the number of hours they work each week.
Recent surveys indicate that older workers are interested in
at least some form of adjustment to their work schedule. For
many, that may mean working part time or flex time. A Watson
Wyatt survey released in 2004 polled one thousand workers
between ages fifty and seventy; two-thirds noted that they
wanted to phase out of their current employer. And if companies
want to keep workers longer, recruit them back, or make certain
they don't jump ship for the competition, which may offer a more
enticing work environment, they should begin now to craft
strategies that cater to older workers. Certain industries, such
as education, health care, and manufacturing, are more receptive
to phasing and other flexible work options.
Leveraging Years of Experience
Despite a rash of lost jobs and a seemingly bleak job market
in recent years, experts have repeatedly insisted that older
workers are gaining power and influence in the workplace-and are
securing more promising work opportunities as a result.
But there's an individual push going on as well. Much of the
effort to continue working is coming from older workers punished
by a market that tanked after the dot-com boom. Others trying to
make do in retirement without an income are finding themselves
blowing through the nest egg at an alarming rate. And perhaps
more than anything, older workers are realizing that if they are
living longer, they'll want to be more engaged in their later
years and look for ways to find life inspiring. The typical
post-career life activities, such as bridge, golf, and
gardening, may not cut it.
"It's a necessity to work and create mental stimulation in
older people," says Colin Milner, CEO of the International
Council on Active Aging. "Work is a great thing dollar-wise, but
it offers a variety of different elements that you need to live.
It stimulates your mind, keeps you socially connected. It's much
more than a purpose."
Indeed, more and more Americans are discovering that work is
a key part of moving into the next stage of their lives.
Making a Move
If you think the end of the road is near in your current job
or line of work, but aren't sure, ask yourself the following:
- If I'm not happy in my current job, what is it that I'd
rather be doing?
- Is there something I could change about my current work
situation that would make it better-maybe working fewer hours or
participating in more inspiring projects?
- Am I ready to leave the camaraderie of peers and work on my
own or do I simply want a new environment with similar work
elements and structure?
- Are there any more challenging positions or levels of
responsibility that I could tap at this company or in my line of
- Have I learned all that I can in this profession, or are
there areas still unexplored that could provide new career
- Would I be bored not coming to work every day?
- Could I change my job or work hours and still maintain my
current lifestyle and cost of living?
- Is there a company in my field that would provide better
growth and money opportunities than my current employer?
- Is there much salary growth left for me at my company?
- Would it pay to try my same position in another industry?
If none of these answers comes easily, then chances are you
need to search deeper within yourself to find what drives you
professionally day in and day out. If professional ambition has
never been your strong suit, be honest about it. Maybe
rethinking your career or work life isn't about finding a new
job or career-maybe it's about holding on to the one you already
have. Perhaps finding a similar job in your line of work and
simply building a retirement portfolio or boosting the one
you've already got is more important than discovering a new
professional commitment at this stage of your life. Forcing
yourself to revamp a professional career later in life will only
be an exercise in frustration and disappointment if you're not
professionally driven in the first place.
One other thing to keep in mind: Be flexible while
investigating new career and work options. Where once almost
all Americans imagined themselves not working in their sixties
or seventies, a large group of us now see new work
opportunities. Likewise, your vision for working later in
life or during retirement may change many times before you
settle on what it is you really want to do.
"My vision has changed tremendously," says Robert Cannon,
fifty-six, who opened his Cannon Advantage business consultancy
later in life and watched an array of people throughout his
career travel down various paths toward retirement. "It was sad
to see so many people hanging on and counting the days until
they could retire and get out of wherever it was they were," he
continues. "I've seen others quit cold turkey and they don't
have anything else to do. And yet I've seen others who have
stayed involved. One man is eighty-five and still actively
working. He called me to talk about my helping him on another
project. This man plays tennis every week, mows his own lawn,
and still is looking forward to life where so many others are
ready to roll up and die."
Copyright © 2005 by Betsy Cummings
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