Career Change at 50: Tips for Pursuing a New Path

Published January 4, 2022
Women looking at the computer at work

If you're thinking about a mid-life career change, you are definitely not alone. It's not at all unusual for people to seek new careers at (or after) the age of 50. Keep the following tips in mind as you explore options and seek new opportunities to take your career in a new direction.

Define Your Current Career Needs

Before you start applying for jobs, stop and consider what you really need in a job at this point in your career. Be realistic about what will work well for you now and in the future. Consider things like location, schedule, flexibility, physical demands, level of responsibility, and other relevant factors.

  • Do you want to travel a lot or plan to split time between homes in different areas? If so, it's a good idea for you to look for a fully remote job.
  • Do you need a predictable schedule? Look for an hourly job with a set schedule and avoid exempt positions where you're expected to work well beyond a traditional workday.
  • Do you want a position that you can leave at work when you're off the clock? Don't seek high-level professional or managerial roles.
  • Do you need to move away from a production job or other physically demanding work? Seek a behind-the-scenes role that requires expertise without manual labor.

Identify Career Paths Related to Your Experience

Spend some time thinking about how you can leverage the experience you already have into a new career. Think about jobs that meet your needs where your background and expertise will be an asset to employers. If you can find a new opportunity where your background uniquely qualifies you to do the type of job you want now, you may be able to make a lateral move (in terms of pay) rather than having to start over.

  • If you are an experienced truck driver who no longer wants or is able to be on the road all the time, you may want to consider becoming a dispatcher or working in HR or billing for a trucking company.
  • If you're a financial services representative looking for a more flexible schedule than is allowed by a traditional bank branch, seek opportunities with bank call centers or online financial service providers.
  • If you have strong writing skills in addition to experience in your career field, you may be able to transition to a career that involves writing about topics of interest to people in the field you are leaving.

Consider Fresh Start Mid-Career Options

You don't have to limit yourself to a mid-career change that is related to the field you have already been working in. If there is a career field that you always wished you had pursued but did not, this might be the perfect time to go after your dream, even if you may need to further your education. You also need to be aware that employers may view you as an entry-level employee when you change to a completely new field. This means you may have to start at or near the bottom of the pay scale.

Two health care providers
  • Many people decide to leave corporate jobs and become teachers at 50 or beyond. Many states have streamlined paths for people who already have a degree in another field to become certified teachers.
  • There is a lot of demand for nurses, which makes this field a good one to consider. Nursing requires a degree and license, but you may be able to leverage a degree in another field to become qualified to work as a nurse.
  • Do you have a hobby or interest that you'd like to leverage into a career? It just might be the right time to become an entrepreneur and launch the small business of your dreams.

Create a List of Transferable Skills

Whether you're planning to transition to a job related to what you have experience in, or you're looking to start over in a new occupation, it's a good idea to create a list of the skills you have that are relevant to the type of job you hope to get. This will help you gather information to update your resume. It will also help you make a wise decision about whether you need to strengthen your current skills (or develop new ones) to prepare for your mid-career change.

  • Create a list of the specific software programs you know how to use and note if your skills are at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level.
  • Consider what relevant skills you have developed throughout your career, regardless of job title, and create a list of them.
  • Include skills beyond job-specific skills, such as project management, effective communication, leadership, organizational skills, and more.

Seek Education or Training to Pursue a New Path

As you start to make up your mind about the direction you'd like to move in, and you've taken stock of your transferable skills, spend some time reflecting on what kind of education or training you may need in order to be considered for the type of work you'd like to pursue as you move into your sixth decade of life.

People in an adult class having a conversation
  • If the field you are in requires skills that you currently don't have at an appropriate level, complete the training you need to become marketable to employers.
  • If you're seeking to move into a role that requires a degree in a specific field of study, enroll in school and start working toward the credential that you need.
  • Look for a job that you can do now with an employer that offers extensive training or tuition reimbursement. This type of job can help you prepare for what you want to do next.

Update Your Resume and Cover Letter

When you're ready to make a career change, you will probably need to update your resume and cover letter significantly. The resume that you have now is probably tailored to the type of work you have been doing for years. It needs to be overhauled to highlight what makes you a good candidate for the type of work you want to do now. You may even want several versions of your resume, each customized to a particular occupation.

  • If you want to move from an administrative role to being a database specialist, pull your database experience into a special section that is at the top of your resume. Put your other work experience in a special section.
  • Remove skills that are not relevant to the new field from your resume, and focus your skill list to convey what you know how to do that is relevant to the type of job for which you are now applying.
  • Consider adjusting the education section of your resume so that it doesn't list the specific year you earned your degree(s) or diploma. Instead, list the school you attended, your field of study, and the credential awarded.
  • Write a cover letter that states that you are seeking to transition into the new occupation you have chosen, and explain how your background uniquely qualifies you to do so. Customize it for each job.
  • You may even want to use a letter of interest to reach out to employers that don't currently have any openings advertised. This bold approach just might help you stand out over many early-career individuals.

Be Proactive in Seeking Employment Opportunities

When you're looking to change careers, it's very important to be proactive in applying for jobs. You're most likely to be successful if you use a combination of online resources, staffing services, and business networking. Get in the habit of searching for opportunities and submitting applications on a regular basis.

  • Do online research to identify companies that have the types of positions you are interested in, and apply for relevant roles that they post on their careers page or advertise elsewhere.
  • Check the jobs board on AARP.com to find opportunities advertised by employers who are actively recruiting individuals who are over age 50 to work for their companies.
  • Search Indeed.com for relevant jobs. Set up alerts so that you will receive an email notification when jobs that meet your search criteria are posted. Use other job search websites based on your career goals.
  • Register as a job seeker with a few staffing agencies in your community, especially if you are seeking a job in that geographic area. Or, look for nationwide employment agencies that specialize in the type of work you want to do.
  • Reach out to people you have met throughout your professional life. Let them know you are looking to make a career change, and ask them to share any leads they come across.

Making a Career Change at Age 50 or Beyond

Changing careers late in life poses unique challenges, but it's definitely not impossible. It's not even uncommon. If you want to change careers, there is no better time to get started than right now. Whether you're looking to take a step toward retirement by seeking a job with better hours or that's less physically demanding or stressful, or you're just ready to try something new, it's absolutely possible to pursue a new career path at 50 or beyond.

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Career Change at 50: Tips for Pursuing a New Path