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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Career Q&A: How Do I Find a Job With Less Stress?

Dear Pat, 

I'm in an unusual situation. The company I’ve worked for over the past 25 years recently closed. The good news is that it got me out of a terrible job situation. It wasn't unusual to work 60-hour weeks (and the last three months I was there, I averaged 65-hour weeks), and I came home from work crying half the time because I was treated like a two-year-old with no ideas or input on how to do my job.

Now that I've been out of work for several months, I've reassessed what I want to do. I'm 56 years old and would like to discover what it's like to have a life outside of work—maybe find a hobby or volunteer. In other words, I want to "downsize" my career and do something with less responsibility and less stress. I think I'd be very happy with an administrative type position (e.g., data entry—I love Excel and can “play” with numbers for hours on end). 

However, I can't seem to get anyone to even look at me because of the strength of my experience. My age is one strike against me, and the fact that I'm no longer a “go-getter” appears to be another. I would think someone would be happy to get a bargain—an experienced, reliable employee with an outstanding record. Obviously, I would not request my previous salary, but that is a tradeoff I am happy to make. 

Do you have any advice for someone who wants a reverse career?


Dear Downsizing,

Your situation is not a new one. As an executive recruiter, I hear people trying to make a “career adjustment” or career change all the time. We all evolve as we go through our various life stages, and so it is most understandable that one’s career goals, needs, and expectations change as well.

But I want to challenge you that what you think you are looking for may not really be what you want at all. In other words, you may not need to make a career change or a career adjustment—you may just need a new environment that is healthier and in better alignment with your day-to-day personal needs.

Related: The Foolproof Guide to Finding True Career Fulfillment

For example, it sounds like your issues with your old job were related to hours, micromanagement, stress, and responsibility. Unfortunately, some of these issues may well exist with any job, regardless of moving down a notch or two. In fact, moving down a few notches might not be the best solution to your current career concerns and frustrations. What sounds like a quick fix may lead to more frustration (e.g., not being heard in your new job because that position typically does not have a say in decision-making).

So, instead of focusing on your level of responsibility, let’s focus on finding a job that meets your goals and personal needs: more balance in your life, more time, and less stress. I would also add job satisfaction and enjoyment to that list. Let’s hone in on what you do want and find the right corporate culture that includes a day-to-day working environment that aligns with your needs. For example, maybe you’d be happy doing a similar job if you only worked 40 hours per week or had a flexible schedule. Or maybe you’d be OK with your current level of responsibility if you had a wonderful manager and team.

As you search for your new job, your mantra should be “fit, fit, fit.” As you navigate this next step, be conscious of learning about workplace dynamics during the interview phase. Do a great deal of research, talk to everyone you can who knows about the company, and try to subtlety glean what you can about the culture during your interviews.

Related: 4 Sneaky Ways to Determine Company Culture in an Interview

It will be equally important for you to clearly articulate what your requirements are in a new role. You will need to carefully refine your “elevator pitch” (a 30-second speech that concisely and clearly outlines your goals) to include your needs and requirements about culture and working environment. Most people are not as articulate as they need to be in this area.

I also want to mention that, in my 20 years of executive recruitment experience, I have observed a variety of examples where issues of discrimination have come to play, but never have I seen age as one of them. More to the point, in today’s standards, 56 is by no means considered old for someone to be engaged in a meaningful career. This idea is likely a result of your looking for a job that isn’t a real fit for your needs. I can promise you, the age issue is in your mind only.

So, embark on the next phase of your career with great anticipation and gusto! I would not compromise on anything if you don’t have to, and stay extremely focused: the right culture, the right people, the right boss. You will see that there are opportunities out there that offer a happy, healthy work environment—a great work-life balance and fulfillment in your current area of expertise. My guess is that, if you join this type of company, you will find lots more time in your days for fun, new hobbies, and personal life experiences.

Good luck, and keep me posted. I would love to hear about your success.


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