Have you ever seriously considered making a career change? I would guess that many of us have, but the thought of actually doing it can make us feel completely overwhelmed.
Trust me I know. I made a career change earlier in 2017, and it was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. It’s nothing to take lightly, and I don’t think there’s any one right way to go about it.
In this article, Anne Fisher offers five key questions for anyone considering making a career change in the second half of your life.
1. Have you written down a wish list?
Here’s where you get to do some blue-sky thinking. “Stretch your imagination,” suggests Robert Dilenschneider, author of 50 Plus!: Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself as a ‘marketing person’ or a ‘finance person.’ Instead, think hard about what really matters to you. What makes you get out of bed in the morning?”
“People often want to start with their resume,” says Nancy Friedberg, president of coaching firm Career Leverage. She uses a step-by-step method called “Now What?”, developed by Laura Berman Fortgang (whose TED talk on getting started is a must-see for career changers). “But what’s on your resume will not help you make a real change. You have to begin with a deeper dive into not just what you’ve done, but who you are.”
Putting it all down on paper helps. Robert Hellmann, head of Hellmann Consulting and a coach with the Five O’Clock Club’s national career-counseling network, encourages people to make a spreadsheet with columns listing the pros and cons of each possible move they’re weighing. “Once all your ideas aren’t just floating around in your head, it’s much easier to see your way forward,” says Hellmann. “One thing I suggest that people ask themselves is, ‘What will I regret most in 10 years if I don’t do it now?’”
2. Have you looked around your own company for fresh challenges?
Many people itching to make a leap to something new “completely overlook the chance to stay with the same employer, but in a very different job,” says Friedberg. One of her clients, for instance, was a U.S. bank executive who yearned to quit his job so he could travel more. Friedberg suggested he ask around in-house first. He did, and ended up moving to a new position with the same bank. He’s now based in Hong Kong, and often on the road throughout Asia.
Some companies have launched “phased retirement” programs that help longtime employees go into teaching or community-development work. IBM, for instance, started Transition to Teaching in 2008, preparing hundreds of former IBMers to teach math and science in public schools. Intel sponsors Intel Encore Fellowships, which connect employees to new careers with nonprofits. Your employer may not offer anything similar, but it’s worth asking.
3. When did you stop doing what you loved?
Maybe you really wanted to be a photographer, but you took a job 30 years ago in accounting to pay the bills and relegated photography to the weekends. Or you went into sales because you got a kick out of solving problems for customers, but you’ve spent the past 20 years managing salespeople who do what you used to enjoy.
“After age 50, so many people have been promoted beyond what first appealed to them about their fields,” notes Dilenschneider. If that sounds familiar, he suggests, “think about how you could go back to what you loved. Knowing what you know now, how can you use that passion in your next career?”
This can lead in surprising directions. About eight years ago, Terry Harlow decided it was time for a second act after 25 years at Citibank, Marsh & McLennan, and AIG. So she moved back to the rural community where she grew up and signed on with a local real estate firm. Harlow had earned her real estate license way back in her twenties, but didn’t yet have savings and investments to draw on while she built a customer base. “Living on 100% commissions,” she says, “is tougher when you’re young.”
4. Would you be happier living somewhere else?
If you’ve been longing to move to a completely different place, a second-act career might be the perfect time to do it. In 2013, when Alix Pelletier Paul relocated to Gulfport, Fla., near St. Petersburg, she had put in almost 30 years as a manager at the New York Times Co., and she’d had more than enough of her three-and-a-half-hour daily commute to and from New Jersey.
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