Career Transition Middle-Aged Professionals

Career Transition For Middle-Aged Professionals

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Career transition for middle-aged professionals poses particular challenges and hazards we’ve become all too familiar with. “I’m too old,” “they’ll want someone younger,” “I’ve become too expensive,” and “They might see me as past my prime or otherwise burned out” are all common and fairly logical assumptions that 50-somethings have made since the Great Recession of 2008 reared its ugly head and produced a jobless recovery.

Yet we all know more experienced contributors and leaders offer a great deal more insight and wisdom than many of their younger peers. There’s certainly no perception that mature adults suffer from an entitlement mentality or lack of appreciation for work and career, which might otherwise vex their earlier-career counterparts. So, how do you reinvent a paradigm that may be real or imagined (probably both) and stands in the way of helping you land your next role?

While this isn’t necessarily simple or easy, remember to think opposite of the herd. Informed candidacy is the key to standing out among your peers. There’s no reason you can’t become your own headhunter; branding this “candidate” you’re representing and developing a strategic marketing campaign that focuses on exploiting opportunities within the hidden job market.

It all starts with research because, as they say, “knowledge is power,” and because you’ll have a tremendous added benefit that other headhunter-represented candidates won’t have: there’ll be no fee attached to your scalp!

Think in terms of answering the magic question, “What criteria are you using in selecting your next role or ideal employer?” Structure your response in terms of industries, companies, and role titles that make most sense for you, even if they entail a twist or transition from what you’ve been doing.

Start with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you’ll find at www.bls.gov/ooh/. What are the highest paying and fastest growing industries out there right now? From 2010 – 2020, U.S. job growth will average 14%, or roughly 1.4% per year. However, travel agents will only grow 1% within this ten-year time period, while pharmacists will grow 30%+ in that same window.

If you’re in a professional field that’s not linked to a particular industry (e.g., human resources, IT, finance, legal, and the like), then the Handbook will show you very clearly what industries have the greatest demand for your profession in terms of an attached spreadsheet on the “Job Outlook” tab, labeled “Employment by Industry.xls.”

For example, if you look up the role “Human Resources Managers,” you’ll find that HR job growth by industry over the next ten years stacks up as follows:

  • 72% Home healthcare services
  •  41% Social assistance
  •  -9% Motion picture industry
  • -27% Postal service

Now, those are some interesting insights!

So, now you can answer the question, “What industries hold the most interest for you?” Even if you don’t have prior exact industry experience, your research and knowledge will certainly give you a leg up on the competition. Oh, and don’t forget to offer to share your findings with the interviewer!

Next, prepare to answer the question, “What companies hold the most interest for you?” Once again, the library and Internet can be your best friends when it comes to giving yourself a leg up on the competition in the job search process.

Every month, Forbes, Fortune, Inc. Magazine, and Business Week publish listings of the fastest growing and most successful companies by various criteria – publicly vs. privately held, large vs. small, global vs. domestic, manufacturing vs. service, and the list goes on. These are the very resources that retained search executives use to identify the dominant and growth-oriented companies that will likely pay a middleman (AKA headhunter) a fee to source scarce talent.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t be fishing in those same waters! You could quickly develop target company listings either by industry (e.g., medical device, bio-pharmaceutical, and/or biotech) or geography (e.g., top companies in the Dallas-Metroplex area) that focus as a laser in marketing yourself.  The following resources are a good place to start:

Fortune: America’s Most Admired Companies

You could customize this list to identify the companies that you most admire according to your own criteria, including social responsibility, financial soundness, and quality of management.

Forbes: America’s Best 200 Small Companies

The list is then broken down even further in terms of “Best of the Best,” “Fastest Growing,” “Best Newcomers,” and “Safe Bets.”

Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500:  The Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America

You’ll also find the Inc. 5000, American’s fastest growing organizations that span all states, industries, and sizes (by revenue as well as by number of employees). You can then target-select your search by querying on industry, metro area, diversity, and size criteria.

There are plenty of other corporate scoreboards, Global 500 listings, best-places-to-work entries, and the like.  Before you know it, you’ll have 50 – 100 companies in your research portfolio that you can pursue as an “informed candidate.” There you have it—a refined and targeted job search strategy that bespeaks a mature, aware, and business-savvy candidate who stands out as a rarity among her peers.


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Paul Falcone

Paul Falcone is a senior HR executive and best-selling author of nine books, including 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire (AMACOM Books, 2009).

6 comments

  1. Well thought out piece with good advice.

    I might add that reinventing yourself after age 45 is unrealistic for many. Millions of the long term unemployed simply don’t have the skills – much less the means – to launch a new career. They’re struggling to get by. Living on food stamps; savings gone.

    This country is in the midst of an unemployment crisis that has no end in sight. Finding a job these days isn’t at all like it was 10 or 20 years ago. Today, it’s all about marketing yourself, developing your brand and staying current. I run a non-profit called Operation Boomerang that sponsors resume makeovers for unemployed midlife workers. Having a resume that’s a sell-piece has helped our people get hired.

    Finally, I believe employers need to take responsibility for much of this crisis. Were companies to start hiring on the basis of ability instead of preconceived notions about what constitutes an ideal candidate, we might get past this economic downturn.

  2. As a “seasoned” worker considering a transition, I would add that I’m not looking to re-locate for a new job. I can research top companies and national employment trends, but in the end, I want to find employment close to home.

    It’s helpful to know that healthcare is adding jobs because I may be able to apply my talents at the local community hospital, but it’s not so beneficial to spend time learning about America’s fastest growing companies…unless one of them happens to be in my own backyard.

    Many of us don’t want to admit that aging changes the job search game, but it’s reality. I agree with others: At this stage, I know what I’m passionate about, what I’m good at AND the geographic region where I want to work. This article misses the mark in that regard…how to localize a job search.

  3. This article is helpful in that it points to the value of experience. As we “mature” we are learning what works and what does not. We build a sense of best practices subconsciously that we carry with us.
    Since this “best practices” mentality is so much a part of us, it can be easily missed as an asset, or not even recognized by the prospective employee, so this does not get communicated.
    In short, we need to know what we have to offer, and better communicate how we can use what we bring (skills and experience) for better realized competitive advantage.

  4. Valerie Baldowski

    That all sounds nice, but choosing a profession based solely on growth potential and what it pays is missing the mark. You may be making a lot of money in one of these professions, but what if you hate it? Seeking employment in a profession you love and are passionate about makes it easier to go to work every day.

  5. I’m all for transitions, no matter what age. One of the biggest regrets people have in their career is that they didn’t follow their desire or passion out of fear of losing security (or what they thought was secure).

    At the same time, I don’t agree with starting with Labor Statistics. By the time we are in our seasoned age, we have a pretty good sense about what we love, what we’re naturally good at, we have a network of people who trust us and can recommend us for various skills. Focus on what you really want to do. Where do you want to make an impact, what do you want to leave behind? You only have one life, so go for THAT thing you always wanted to go for. Make it happen.

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