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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

The Non-Scary, Realistic Guide to Changing Careers When You’re Older

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Making a career change ranks right up near the top of life’s biggest stressors, no matter your age. But for older job seekers, the need or desire to transition into a new role can be downright terrifying. The assumption among many veteran professionals is that they’re going to be unfairly bucked out of the competition by some zealous rising star.

And you know what? This could happen. But it will be a less likely scenario if you manage the parts of the equation that you have control over.

And when you establish control, it’ll also feel a lot less scary.

What can—and should—you focus on if you’re changing jobs when you’re an older worker? Try these five things for starters:

1. Keep Your Skills Fresh

This is probably the most important tip for an older job seeker. A stereotype that some employers may assign to a more seasoned professional is that he or she is likely to have antiquated skills, especially those pertaining to technology.

Do not shoot the messenger (who, herself, is 25 years into this song and dance). In order to remain a viable contender through the sunset years of your career, you’ve got to stay current with technology. Software changes, trends evolve, new things emerge. Nothing will say “long in the tooth” faster than stale skills.

You can show tech savvy in several subtle ways—include your LinkedIn URL or your Twitter handle in your email signature line, share content regularly via LinkedIn, create a “Technology Skills” section on your resume. However you can, show that you’re current.

And if you’re not? Head directly over to one of the many online course providers—, Udemy, or Coursera—and shore up the skills you’re light on. Not sure where to start? Use the job descriptions you’re eyeing as your guide.

2. Keep Your Appearance Fresh

You should never judge a book by its cover. We all know this. But it happens every single day. And, in the Western culture, most people value a cover that says “vibrant” and “youthful” when it comes to first impressions.

This does not suggest that you need to race out for Botox or hit Forever 21 for your next interview outfit. (Good grief, please don’t.) This means that, as you embark on your transition, you should evaluate the currency of your appearance (ask a stylish friend if you’re not able to give yourself an unbiased review) and consider freshening up any areas that might need a hard shove into the year 2016.

This doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. A new haircut, a fresh pair of glasses, or an outfit or two will likely go a long, long way. Don’t be afraid of this. Don’t be mad about this. Use it as an opportunity to rejuvenate both your look and your sense of well-being.

3. Leverage That Network You’ve Built Up

Here’s an advantage that you have as an older job seeker: You’ve had more time to get to know people. That said, it’s likely that you have a more extensive network of professional contacts and allies than the whipper-snapper with whom you may compete. Leverage the heck out of these people. The most impactful, most immediate way to become a contender for a job of interest is to score an “in” within a company of interest.

If you already have a bunch of “in’s” at companies for whom you’d like to work? Dial them up. Take them to lunch. Let them know, specifically, what you’re up to, what you’re looking for and—if they’re willing—how they can help. (And then be sure and offer to return the favor once they’ve given you a hand.)

4. Manage the Dates on Your Paperwork

Will decision makers do the math on you when they review your resume? Yes. If you make it easy, they sure will. Don’t let this unravel you. Instead, strategize accordingly. Remember that your resume is not your autobiography; it’s a marketing document. A marketing document that you’re going to use to position yourself for—and endear yourself to—a particular audience.

Chances are, you can paint a compelling picture about yourself and your capabilities without going back to 1984. Unless your career experience from 15 to 20 years ago is vital in illustrating what can bring to the table, consider leaving it off. Same goes for college graduation dates.

5. Consider Sectors in Which Age Could Be an Advantage

Here’s one that too few people consider: Try looking at sectors in which age isn’t viewed as a potential liability, but as an asset. Think about roles, industries, or particular companies at which senior practitioners would likely be highly valued. Could you be a fit for one of these?

Examples of this may be jobs in which your clients are older adults (e.g., caregiver, retirement services, healthcare, and so on), or young people who need the guidance or support of someone with life wisdom (e.g., nonprofits that serve underprivileged youth and schools). Brainstorm on what roles might leverage your career capital and, at the same time, value your maturity.

There’s no doubt that navigating a job search as an older adult can present challenges that people in earlier career stages don’t (yet) face. But guess what? They’ve got their own stuff to worry about.

But it does you no good do dwell on these challenges.

Your best bet as you embark on this transition is to stop worrying about anything you can’t control and, instead, spend your time and energy on the stuff you can. Start with the suggestions above, and then enhance your strategy from there.

(And, as you work through all of this, reflect in how little you actually knew 20 years ago. At the very least, it’ll be worth a smile.)