Strategies for Making Your Age an Advantage in Your Career

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The good news is this: You do have the time to learn and play a new musical score and to experience the joy of career renewal or the birth of an entirely new career. Career transition is a precious gift, a time for you to pause and truly reflect, maybe for the first time, on what you want to do in the second and third stages of your life.

If you are consciously choosing a career change, you may find the career transition experience stimulating and enjoyable. On the other hand, if you have been a part of a corporate reorganization, downsizing, or unexpected lifestyle change, you may be asking yourself the “why me, and why now?” questions. For whatever reasons you find yourself in the job search or career development mode, you can revel in the fact that you are over 40.

Why? Because you have a competitive edge over a younger worker. Your past work and volunteer experiences provide you with many more career options than you had as a young adult fresh out of school. And your wisdom allows you to explore and exploit your options in choosing your ideal next career.

Informal Assessments

These are a few of the informal ways to discover your interests. Make a note of what you discover.
■ Look at your yearly calendar and take an inventory of how you have spent your leisure time in the last three months.
What interests are reflected?
■ Look at your on- or offline checkbook and credit-card statements for clues on how you have spent your discretionary income in the last three months. What interests did you support?
■ Check the Sunday career section of your local paper and circle all the careers that interest you. Did you find anything that excited you?

Aerial, one of my clients, age 61, discovered a position of great interest in the newspaper, a Director of Outdoor Wilderness Activities for a coed camp in the mountains. His combination of volunteer and paid experience qualified him for this position, and he is thrilled about the challenge. When I asked him whether this interest was reflected in his checkbook and credit card statements, he answered in the affirmative. He is in the process of taking a Wilderness First Responder Course to round out his credentials.

Formal Assessments

The best way to formally match your interests to actual career positions is to take an interest inventory such as the Transition-to-Work Inventory or the Leisure/Work Search Inventory by Dr. John Liptak (both available from JIST Publishing; www.jist.com) or the Self- Directed Search by John Holland (available at www.self-directed search. com).

These inventories match your interests to actual career positions. Other excellent career-preference inventories include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory that can be purchased from and interpreted by an individual career counselor or through multiple online career sources.

David, one of my career clients, took the Transition-to-Work Inventory and discovered that his interests fell into three occupational clusters/interest groups: arts, entertainment, and media; plants and animals; and sales and marketing. As many people have discovered, David’s past careers did match his interests. He had been a broadcast journalist and a furniture salesman careers that fit in the media and sales clusters. David admitted that he would love to be a cat veterinarian or forest ranger, but at 59, he felt that a career as a mortgage loan officer would take less time to develop while still expressing his interest in sales and marketing. And, he had eight cats and two young kids at home, anyway.

Ability

After you decide that you are interested in a career, determine whether you need to update or obtain new skills or credentials to make yourself a prime fit for the position. In some cases, just changing the emphasis of your resume to highlight transferable experience and using a functional resume will be sufficient, because you already have the ability to do the job based on past experience.

In Chapter 5, I’ll cover how to design a resume to emphasize your strengths and turn your past experience into a new career. David chose to pursue a career as a mortgage loan officer because of his interest in sales and marketing and because he was able to obtain credentials in a short time at a reasonable cost. His certification cost $500 and took a week to obtain. You will enjoy reading about many inexpensive skill and credential updates in Chapter 4.

Marketability

After determining that you have an interest in a career position and that you are able to affordably update your skills and credentials in a reasonable time frame, you must determine whether your career choice is marketable in today’s economy and is age-diverse.

We look more closely at viable career options in Chapter 3. Robert, 48, a vice president of sales in technology, spent a year hitting career-search dead ends. During his search, the telecommunications industry was in a mass downsizing mode, with few new hires. Having majored in biology in college, Robert wisely revitalized his past interest in the subject and became a high school biology teacher and baseball coach.

He loves the challenge of his job but does miss his six-digit earnings. Robert’s wife, Judy, has returned to work to supplement the family income. They maintain a flexible attitude toward the future. Like Robert, you may find yourself in the position of accepting a job that is not your first choice. Not to worry. Yours is not a life-or-death choice.

The market will invariably turn, and new doors will open for you. If you accept that less-than-perfect job, for now, you will be relieved, knowing that you did not seriously deplete your retirement savings or put your family in financial peril.

Earnings

As you investigate your career options, take the time to determine the earnings potential of the position that interests you. Will it support your lifestyle? Will you need to supplement it? How does your family feel about your choice? You can easily check out the salary range for a position of interest in the city where you will be working at www.salary.com or www.monster.com.

Sophia was interested in and fascinated by the position of the mediator;
but, through a salary survey and two information interviews, she learned that she would be paid only $25 to $50 for inconsistent court-appointed mediations. Because of immediate earning needs, she decided to consider mediation as a volunteer option for her leisure time and her retirement years.

Values and Lifestyle

Does your career choice match your values (or principles) and lifestyle preferences, such as your need for solitude or socialization, or your desire for a short commute or international travel? When you are involved in or considering a career move, you have an

excellent opportunity to consider more than salaries. You can also focus on challenges, relationships, values, and the lifestyle you want. Steve is a former “big firm” consultant who traveled 75 percent of the time in his job. He recently shared with me that he is gladly taking a small decrease in salary for a challenging, local work environment and more time with his family.

He is wise to recognize that earnings are only one part of the ideal job equation. Values and lifestyle are equally important. Considering these five essential career elements—interests, abilities, career marketability, earnings, and values and lifestyle—before you move forward will prevent you from wasting time or getting stuck in a career you hate. Use the following worksheet to make a few notes about what you know now and what you need to discover to determine your ideal career.

Exploring New Games: Your Career Options

Why shouldn’t you play the old game? What are the new games? In the popular book Who Moved My Cheese?, by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard, two rats, Sniff and Scurry, lose their supply of cheese. For a long time, they keep returning to the same rat restaurant (have you eaten there too?) to find their cheese, but to no avail. Finally, they smarten up and realize that they must change directions to locate new sources of food.

Fortunately, they are successful. In my practice as a career counselor, I see candidates who, like Sniff and Scurry, continue to look for their cheese (careers) in the same places. In my experience, I have found that the most difficult career choice for a mature worker is to try to resurrect a career that is no longer viable in today’s economy or is in an unreasonably youth-oriented industry.

It is possible to play the old game, to seek a similar position in your most recent industry, but this may not be the best choice if your industry no longer supplies your cheese. If the industry is not financially healthy, hiring, and age-diverse, you may need to explore and exploit your other options. In Chapter 3 we’ll explore specific careers that are financially healthy, hiring, and age-diverse.

Uncover What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where are the financially healthy, hiring, and age-diverse careers? Are there truly any safe careers today? They are in industries that are not experiencing recent or consistent mass downsizing. These financially secure employers deliberately seek, hire, and respect older workers as valuable resources because of their practical, transferable work and life experiences; surprising technological savvy; and ability to learn, adapt, and quickly contribute to the company. These employers recognize that the learning curves of experienced workers are significantly shorter than those of students fresh out of school.

Identifying the Top Five Financially Healthy, Hiring, and Age-Diverse Industries

The top five industries that are financially healthy, hiring, and age-diverse and forecasted to be so in the future are
■ Healthcare
■ Education

■ Residential services
■ Products and services for the aging population
■ Business-to-business services These forecasts are based on demographics (research on population trends), statistics on the history of mass layoffs, and future career trends provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Federal Reserve Bank, executive recruiters, outplacement firms, employment agencies, and my own personal research and evaluation in my position as a career-transition consultant.

Understanding the Relationship Between Major Layoffs and Financially Healthy Industries

In the past three years, I have participated in layoffs involving in excess of 100 major companies. Although manufacturing, telecommunications, and technology have experienced more layoffs than most industries, all industries will downsize workers and reduce salaries and expenses in response to a need to improve the bottom line.

For example, a financially healthy company preparing for a merger or acquisition may reduce its workforce and expenses to appear more desirable to a potential suitor or to have more money to purchase another company. The difference between a financially healthy industry and one that is experiencing mass layoffs is that in financially healthy industries such as healthcare or education, layoffs are unusual, not the order of the day.

Based on my research and career-transition experience, I encourage you to seek a career in industries that are forecasted to be financially healthy, hiring, and age-diverse: healthcare, education, residential services, products and services for the aging population, and business too- business services. These industries do not have a history of current or mass layoffs. They often cut expenses, but rarely reduce their workforce.

You may need to switch jobs in order to find employers that meet these criteria because of dramatic changes in the job market. Two million factory jobs have migrated to countries such as India and China since 2001, and 3.3 million service-industry jobs will move offshore within the next 15 years. Numerous management and white-collar jobs will also be eliminated because of advances in technology and more efficient management.

Demographics and the Aging Population Present New Career Opportunities

The good news for you is that growth in other industry sectors is offsetting the decline in technology and manufacturing jobs. Baby boomers’ needs have added 225,000 jobs to healthcare and social assistance in the past year. The baby boomer generation made up of 76 million people born in 1945 and later, is just beginning to enter early retirement years. The future needs of the baby boomers for healthcare and health-related services will be intensive and expensive.

They are health-conscious, are projected to live longer than their parents, and, on average, are financially better off than the preceding generation. And baby boomers historically are trendsetters and voracious consumers, willing to spend money on the upper-end products and services they desire, such as anti-aging creams and fitness training.

In addition to baby boomers, another 47 million people 58 and over also need healthcare and health-related services and are potential product and service consumers. A recent American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey of workers 50 to 70 years old found that the majority of this age group never expects to fully retire. Their reasons for working reach far beyond economic need, exacerbated by declining 401(k)s, longer life spans, and medical expenses.

They want to continue to work to stay mentally and physically fit, to be productive, and to enjoy themselves. Even more surprising are the revealing statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, which projects that by 2012, nearly 20 percent of the labor force will be age 55 or older. And workers of all ages, including those over 70, will contribute to this mix.

The Future of Healthcare

My mother, Frances, outlived two husbands; fell in love with a handsome older man, my stepfather, Warren, who was 86 at the time; and married him when she was 82 years old. They sold his house and moved into hers, building their dream bedroom and bath, equipped with a Jacuzzi with handrails and a wheelchair ramp off their deck. We all reveled in their happiness and expected their good times to last until they died.

This past year has seen a dramatic decline in their health, and as their primary caregiver, I have become acutely aware of the upcoming healthcare needs of the aging population that all of us will be a part of. Demographics are definitely in favor of those of you who continue in or develop a new career in the healthcare field.

You may be thinking to yourself, “How can I be employed in the healthcare industry when I need or will need these services myself?” Or, “How can I transfer my current education and professional experience in this industry?” These are excellent questions. As you approach 50, 60, and 70, you will not necessarily begin a new career as a surgeon or operating nurse, but there are many other new careers in healthcare that you need to be open to.

Acquire Inexpensive Skill and Credential Updates

As a mature worker, your career transition shares a common thread with that of a recent high school or college graduate in that you too may be asking yourself, “What do I want to do for the rest of my life?” or “What’s next?” But here the similarity ends. You hold the trump card because of your work experience and life wisdom.

Voluntary or involuntary career transition is an opportunity for you to choose the work you love and then to update or acquire the required skills and credentials to be gainfully employed. Based on my experience as a career counselor, the majority of my clients do not want to go back to school for a four-year degree or take out a home-equity loan to pay for additional education, but they are very open to inexpensive skill and credential updates that do not take a lot of time.

In creating a career for yourself, you can choose to stay in the same position within the same or a different industry, take a different position within the same industry, or make a complete change by seeking a different position within a different industry. This chapter looks at skill and credential updates you can get to help you reach all of these choices.

Refresh Your Skills and Earn Credentials in a Different Industry

Jana was a business analyst in the transportation (airline) industry with more than 20 years of successful experience. She was part of the mass downsizing occurring at major airlines after 9/11. For three months, Jana searched for a similar position in the airline industry, but no one was hiring.

Jana could have beaten her head against the wall, looking for the same position in a currently financially unhealthy industry. Instead, she enrolled in a series of management courses at a local university and obtained a certificate in supervisory management. This educational update, along with her fluency in French and Italian, led her to a management position with the convention and visitors bureau in her state. There are many reasons why you may want or need to change industries.

Like Jana, you may find that changes in the economy have caused your former industry to be financially unhealthy and not hiring. Your position may have been rendered obsolete through advances in automation. Or, you may no longer be interested in your former position or former industry for your own reasons: interest, values, and so on. You may be ready to seek a different position in a different industry.

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