Career Change at 50: Entering Your Next Career Phase

Written by Coursera • Updated on

One benefit of changing your career later in life is that no matter what you’ve been doing throughout your adult life, you have decades of experience, and you can use that experience to inform your priorities moving forward.

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Pursuing a career change over the age of 50 is much like pursuing a career change at any other stage in life. It typically comes down to five key steps:

  1. Assessing your current career

  2. Clarifying your career goals

  3. Researching potential careers

  4. Researching job listings

  5. Defining your course of action

For additional guidance on these five steps, read more about how to prepare for a career change.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the specific factors that correlate with a person’s success in transitioning into a new career after the age of 50, including highlighting transferable skills and building confidence through your support system.

Starting a new career at 50

At a certain point in life, making any change may not feel as easy as it might have felt when you look back on your earlier years. Regardless of the change you’re considering or your age when you’re trying to make it, change typically requires some work, and you can benefit from the wisdom you’ve gained as you move toward your next steps.

In fact, older workers who aim to make a career change tend to be overwhelmingly successful. One study from the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) found that 83 percent of people over the age of 47 who pursued a career change were successful. Of those success stories, people largely felt happier, less stressed, more passionate, and “emotionally, like a new person” after switching careers. Most people saw their income remain steady or increase [1].

Decide what's next.

One benefit of changing your career later in life is that no matter what you’ve been doing throughout your adult life, you have decades of experience, and you can use that experience to inform your priorities moving forward.

As you decide what you’d like to do next, consider what you’d like to keep doing, what you’d like to do more of, and what you’d rather not continue doing. Also, think about your lifestyle needs—how much money you’d like to make, how many hours you want to work, where you want to work, and the types of employee benefits you want to prioritize.

You may not be able to find a perfect job, but knowing what you’re looking for will enable you to get as close to perfect as possible.

Embrace your accomplishments.

Although you’re looking to move away from your current career, embracing your accomplishments can help reflect your key values and skills as they pertain to your workplace, and you’ll likely want to carry those values and skills into your new phase.

Your values often show up in the accomplishments you feel proud of: what was it about your accomplishments that felt rewarding? Meanwhile, your skills will typically reveal themselves in the steps you took to succeed: how did you overcome the challenge?

Embracing and noting your accomplishments can be helpful in both deciding what’s next and determining how you’ll get there.

Consider transferable skills.

Transferable skills are crucial in attaining any new job. However for older career changers, transferable skills were shown to be a distinguishing factor between those who were successful in their change, and those who were not.

According to the AIER study, people who were successful in their career changes on average recognized more skills between their two careers than those who were not successful. Of the 14 skills asked about, people who successfully changed careers reported using an average of 8.4 skills used in their prior job, 8.5 skills expected in their new job, and 7 skills used in both; whereas people who were not successful in their career change identified an average of 5.5 skills used, 4.9 skills expected, and 2 skills used in both [1].

Honing in on your transferable skills may help you strategically approach your career change. Start building your list from the transferable skills the majority of successful career changers identified in the survey. These included problem solving; interpersonal communication; public communication; reading comprehension; customer service; basic computer; mentoring, managing, or teaching; math and quantitative analysis; and business or management [1].

Build your confidence.

Both successful and unsuccessful career changers largely agreed that it’s difficult and it takes courage to switch careers late in life. However, those who were successful in their career changes had stronger peer support systems and fewer nerves as they moved toward their new phase [1].

As you move toward your new career, it may help to avoid discouraging factors and give more weight to the positive ones. For example, seek out the input of coworkers who you know will be supportive of your desire to change. Or if you’d feel more confident heading into your career change if you knew more about your desired role, seek opportunities to learn.

About 20 percent of people who successfully changed careers participated in job training or education prior to making their change, and 34 percent earned a professional certificate. However, it may not be necessary to pursue additional formal education at this stage. In fact, those who were unsuccessful in their career change pursued professional certificates and skill-building courses at higher rates than those who were successful, which suggests that you should only pursue additional education if it will enhance your confidence levels, and instead focus on your proven transferable skills [1].

Career change at 50 with no degree

Certain careers require a specific level of education in order to get started, such as becoming a medical doctor or a lawyer. However, many older workers who changed careers found that they did not need to pursue a new degree in order to successfully begin their new roles [1].

As you research your desired new role, take note of the qualifications. Instead of focusing on the one credential you lack, consider the skills you have relied on throughout your career so far that will show up in your new role. If it becomes apparent that additional education would benefit your career change, it’s more common for older career changers to pursue a professional certificate rather than a new degree [1]. Professional certificates tend to be quicker and cheaper options and will often focus on the specific skills you need in order to succeed in your desired path.

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Navigate signs of ageism.

While it’s illegal in the United States to discriminate against workers based on their age, ageism is still a phenomenon that may show up during the interview process or at a new workplace, either in glaring or subtle ways [2]. Only you can decide how you want to combat signs of ageism, however, noticing any red flags that show up during the interview process is an important part of deciding where you want to work.

Some experts are hopeful that the shift to remote work will benefit older workers, as it can enable their colleagues to judge their performance in a way that’s more removed from their physical appearance. Additionally, remote work may make older workers more comfortable, as they can have more control over their working environment.

If you’re interested in seeking remote work, take a look at these 10 remote jobs that pay well.

Next steps

Build your confidence and get job-ready for roles in project management, social media marketing, data analytics, and more with a Professional Certificate from world-class companies like Google, Meta, and IBM on Coursera. Start exploring the next phase of your career today!

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Article sources

1. American Institute for Economic Research. “New Careers for Older Workers,  https://www.aier.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/newcareersolderworkers-aier.pdf." Accessed May 11, 2022.

2. US EEOC. “Age Discrimination,  https://www.eeoc.gov/age-discrimination." Accessed May 11, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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