Preparing for a Midlife Career Change

| Posted in Leadership Blog

Donna and I prepared the following notes for Katherine Dorsett of on Friday, January 21, 2010 and I thought some of you might find them helpful…

1. It’s no secret that many Americans are not happy with their current careers. What are some of the first steps a person should take when deciding to change career paths? Please describe in detail. With almost 10% un-employment and another 84% discontent and actively seeking a new position (12/13/2010 survey by Right Management a Man Power Company), virtually the entire American workforce has decided that the grass may be greener elsewhere. In my experience this is because too many companies have perpetuated the attitude of “you’re lucky to have a job” for the past decade, rather than having a sound strategic talent plan, and investing in their current bench of employees. Regardless, Donna Cooper, my lead career coach specialist always asks a potential career changer to consider the following:

  1. Identify reasons (symptoms and sources) for current unhappiness. Is the unhappiness really about the job, or are there other circumstances contributing to the unhappiness, for example a change in your priorities? Or does it directly relate to the values or corporate culture, pay, hours, and responsibilities associated with the job? Identifying these reasons will direct the next step.
  2. Next, consider the potential for making changes in the current position…are there opportunities for flex hours, additional training, or jobs in another division that would meet your needs. If, so, we can co-create a plan to take the client there.
  3. If changing the current situation is not an option, then it’s time to consider an external move – often clients know exactly what they want, and we simply help them create a job search marketing plan and support/hold them accountable for execution. Others need additional insights, career aptitude assessments and the like to gather more data. Ultimately, we want to make sure the client is absolutely clear about their vision for a career change …making sure it is a “conscious choice” rather than “knee jerk reaction.”

2. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck or do not have a lot of money in savings. What advice would you give to a person like this who wants to make a career change, but does not have a lot of financial wiggle room? We find that most people can save an additional 20% by comparing insurance premiums and making very minor adjustments to spending habits. However, we are hearing that a lot of people landing new jobs in this market are doing so making about 1/3 less than they did before…this is especially true for well seasoned professionals and executives in an over-crowded marketplace. Therefore, finances definitely need to be a part of the overall consideration — we would recommend that they spend some time assessing their budget to determine if there are areas which can be adjusted. It is surprising how something as simple as reading the newspaper online and carrying your lunch a couple of days each week can add to your piggy bank. Plus, it’s important to remember that sometimes we spend money to compensate for unhappiness, including frustrations on the job.

3. In the story I am writing, I am profiling a 42 year old former executive who quit his job (he’s married with no kids) and has returned to college to get his credentials to teach high school social studies. He and his wife are financially sound.

A. How common is this man’s story? Very common. With the changes in the economy, colleges and universities are one of the big winners…many people are returning to school in search of a more satisfying dream, to add credentials or in search of a career path with presumably added stability. Plus a majority are determining that their anticipated retirement date is going to be further away than they had planned. They have then looked at where they are currently working and have said, “If I have to work longer, then I want to do work that makes me happier and feels more purposeful.” This also brings up an opportunity for companies and leaders in our organizations… people who know their work has purpose and makes a difference and are regularly engaged and recognized for a job well done tend to be more loyal and resilient. (See Quint Studer’s Hardwiring Excellence)

B. If you do not have money saved away like this man/wife, are you limited in your career changing options in our current economy? Perhaps – you may not be able to return to school full time for example, or be able to leave your current job before other employment is secured. It’s more a matter of finding a more creative approach that allows you to accomplish your longer term goals. Some may consider seeking employment in a more desirable field where the next job will send you for the training you need or they may be able to work (one or more) part-time jobs or consult while pursuing longer range career management goals.

4. Can a person really make a decent living “doing what they love”? Or is this just a fantasy? We know many people who love what they do and make a great living at it…but part of our job as executive and career coaches is to constantly challenge clients to look at how they stack up against their desired results…the key is to turn the potential fantasy into an achievable a dream with a solid, executable action plan while understanding how your interests/talents and dreams can be leveraged in the marketplace.

5. What are some of the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to switch careers?

  1. Focusing too much on “escaping” the current situation rather than having a clear and realistic picture of what they want and need to be successful
  2. Not having a strategy or plan for leaving current employment situation, or giving up if the next step is not evident or immediate.
  3. Not knowing themselves or being able to language their strengths, teaming ability, or value they bring to a prospective employer

6. What are some of the most successful moves people make when trying to switch careers?

  1. Being patient and understanding that results take time
  2. Focus on the basics like updating their resume, reaching out to their support group and networks
  3. Build a plan based on specific goals, reality and self-knowledge
  4. Ask for help – family, friends, counselors, coaches, and other experts are there to help when you need it!

7. How long have you been a career coach/counselor? At the workplace coach, we have executive, leadership, life, career and health coaches that partner to provide our clients with a holistic team approach to achieving their aspirations. Donna Cooper, my lead Career Coach Specialist has been a Career Counselor for 20 years and Coaching with us for the past 5 years. I have been coaching professionals, leaders and executives since March of 1999.

  • What is your official title? Donna Cooper, Career Coach Specialist and Mickey Parsons, Founder and Master Certified Coach

8. What drove you to become a career coach/counselor? Our Vision is that all managers and leaders would have the support, tools and training necessary to thrive professionally and personally…career management is a natural part of helping them and their companies achieve success. Both Donna and I have share a passion for people and business development and find coaching to be an excellent blend of the two.

9. For you, what is the most rewarding part of your profession? Watching a client succeed and achieve their goals – when they say “I can do this”…and they do! It creates a ripple effect and has a terrific impact on them, their families and their organizations.

10. What is the most frustrating part of your profession? When someone lets fear paralyze them or they cannot find the inner strength to discover or pursue their own destiny

11. Do you have any statistics on how many Americans switch careers each year? Or any other kind of data that could help support the story I am writing??