Ask Matt: How can I navigate a successful midlife career change?

  • Article by: MATT KRUMRIE
  • Updated: September 16, 2013 - 9:58 AM

Dear Matt: I’m in my 50s and am forced to change careers because of an unexpected health issue. What advice do you have for me?

Matt says: This is unfortunate and challenging, but not impossible, says Sue Plaster (sueplasterconsulting.com), a Twin Cities-based career adviser who works with clients in all different circumstances to help them find and pursue career opportunities. While Plaster wasn’t forced to make a complete career change, she made the move from full-time corporate employee to her current role as a consultant just a few years ago. And as someone who is also 50-plus, Plaster understands the challenges you face.

“To make a career change after many years, you will need to understand yourself and your skills,” says Plaster. She also suggests giving some thought to the types of positions you want to pursue, plus the specific industries where you’ll focus.

The first step is identifying your passion, skills and interests. What would be your dream job? What jobs have you always been interested in but too afraid to pursue? Is now the time to do it? What would help with the transition — perhaps a steppingstone job to add skills and experience, leading to a more desired job in the near future? And finally, what type of job could you get while pursuing all of this? Even a new part-time opportunity can help add skills or open the door for opportunities not previously considered.

Next, Plaster suggests identifying three to five realistic targets for future employment. The list should include the type of work you’d like to do, the type of company you’d like to work for, the employment demand in those areas and a realistic understanding of the type of salary you can expect.

“Become an expert in these jobs and what it takes to do them, then explore these target careers through research, conversation and networking,” says Plaster.

Use the search properties of LinkedIn and your own network to find professionals in your target fields. Research their skills, work experience and education. Compare your background and education to theirs. Then, select several people for informational interviews to learn more about their industry. Most hiring managers want someone with proven experience in their industries. You will need to work extremely hard to show how the skills you developed over a lifetime of work can translate in a new industry.

“The good news is all the work experience you have already gained should help you demonstrate you have skills employers need,” says Plaster. “Now you just have to show how you can do it in your new field.”

Be patient, expect some bumps in the road, but remain optimistic and positive. In time, you will land.

jobslink@startribune.com

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