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The fundamentals of a midlife career search

People are living and working longer than ever before. While some might believe that’s a bad thing, why not let it empower you instead?

The fundamentals of a midlife career search
[NDABCREATIVITY / Adobe Stock]

The days of landing a job for life are long gone. For some people, knowing they can no longer rely on their employer for steady income, perks, and a good pension package is a terrifying prospect—but for others, it’s an exciting opportunity to try something new.

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Whether you’re after a complete career change or just want to search for a similar role at a new company, it can be daunting to begin your job search in midlife—especially if you haven’t found yourself in this position in 10+ years. But fear not, you can get to where you need to be if you’re armed with the right knowledge.

FIRST, LOOK WITHIN

If you’re anything like the average person, you’ve probably been working almost nonstop since you graduated, with just a couple of weeks’ holiday each year to relax. That doesn’t leave much room for introspection. As a result, many of us are left with an inkling that we should be doing something else with our lives but have no idea what that would look like.

The biggest favor you can do yourself is to take some time to explore your strengths, skills, and motivations so you can figure out the kind of career you’d excel at. Here’s how.

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PROFESSIONAL TESTING

A professional aptitude test can be a great way to learn about your aptitudes from an objective third party. To find a testing provider near you, try looking for local colleges and universities.

Even if you think you know yourself pretty well already, this can be a good way to discover your “ancillary aptitudes”—things you have a certain level of ability for but may have overlooked at first due to a stronger aptitude for a different skill.

Besides, even if you learn nothing new from a test, having your gut instinct confirmed can act as that final shove to make a big decision.

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SIMPLE EXERCISES

Testing can seem like an attractive option if you can afford it and you feel you’d benefit from a second opinion. But for many people, getting a professional on board to assess their strengths and weaknesses simply isn’t necessary—after all, most people have a pretty clear idea of what they can and can’t do by the time they reach middle age.

So, brainstorm your greatest skills and try keeping a journal to track when you enter a flow state (otherwise known as being “in the zone”).

Alternatively, you could ask friends and family what they think your greatest strengths are. Sometimes we take our strengths for granted to the extent that we overlook them completely.

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MULTITALENTED?

A common hurdle many people face (especially in midlife) is feeling pulled in multiple directions—maybe your leadership skills are second-to-none and you’re also a talented designer. In fact, this is a common motivator for people to pursue a second career.

But don’t spend too long trying to figure out what your “true calling” is—there’s no right or wrong answer. Just choose whatever resonates the most with you, and don’t be afraid to explore something that you’d neglected entirely up to now.

CAREER SEARCH STRATEGIES

There’s only so much time you can spend weighing up your options and theorizing over whether you’d make a better teacher or scientist. Sooner or later, you need to begin the search. Here are some strategies you might find helpful.

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NETWORKING

Have you ever heard that at least 70% of jobs are never even advertised? To get them, you need to tap into your network to get hired before human resources even has time to write out the job requirements.

When students and new graduates hear this advice, they usually despair over their lack of network and wonder how they’ll ever get hired. That’s where you, as a midlifer, have the advantage—you almost certainly have an impressive network just dying to be tapped into.

So, don’t be afraid to tell friends and acquaintances that you’re searching for a new position, and consider posting on LinkedIn (assuming you’ve left your current position). Your dream job could come from the place you least expect.

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If you know anyone who works in the sector you’re interested in, arranging to meet them is a no-brainer. Let them know you’re interested in finding out more about what they do and they might just offer you a referral the next time there’s an opening.

APPROACH EMPLOYERS DIRECTLY

Networking isn’t always the solution, so don’t be afraid to take matters into your own hands by taking a more direct approach. Even if you don’t have any contacts somewhere, you can still send a cold email or make a telephone call.

Which is best? We advise playing to your strengths. If you have an impressive resume but a less-than-stellar telephone voice, go for a short-but-sweet email with your CV attached that highlights your experience.

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But if you’re most proud of your charisma and communication skills, give them a call. Introduce yourself, let them know you’re looking for work in the industry, and ask if you can arrange a meeting to find out more.

Remember, this is going to be a numbers game, so don’t let a few rejections get you down.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE

People are living and working longer than ever before. While some might believe that’s a bad thing, why not let it empower you instead? A career change or search isn’t just about the money; it’s also a great way to explore your identity and hidden talents.

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Tim Madden is an Executive Coach and former Headhunter. Founder of Executive Career Upgrades, he’s on a mission to help accelerate careers.

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