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If you are changing careers after age 40, you should know something about the late Dr. Paul Burgett, the beloved former vice president and provost of my alma mater, the University of Rochester. During a visit to the university in 2016, he shared,
“You are only limited by your imagination.”
In other words, if you can imagine it, you can have it. Far from an empty platitude, Burgett shared this wisdom as he pondered his career that began in his twenties and spanned more than 50 years.
Notably, Burgett enjoyed a 54-year career at the University of Rochester. He arrived at a time when Blacks were not accepted at most institutions of higher learning, yet he went on to earn three degrees from the university’s Eastman School of Music. Burgett later became a dean of students at Eastman, a dean for the university, a provost, vice president and adviser to four University of Rochester presidents.
While these titles are admirable, historians will record Burgett’s greatest accomplishment as becoming an icon emblazoned in the psyches of tens of thousands of university alumni and Rochester community members. By all intents and purposes, Burgett knew something about imagination. He also knew something about defying expectations.
If you are reading this article, you are likely considering a job change after considerable time in a specific industry. Experience brings comfort, and if you are upending a pattern, you are likely facing discomfort and uncertainty. However, as you focus on your next chapter, I hope you will also hone your ability to imagine.
If you believe your age is a barrier and you focus your energy on that versus the wonderful skills you have accumulated over your vibrant career, you will stifle your imagination. To unleash your imagination about the future, here’s how to get a job after 40:
There is something in our culture that leaves many of us reluctant or unwilling to ask for help. As Lifehack Founder and CEO Leon Ho put it,
“Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
In fact, most people are rather generous in their willingness to offer guidance and coaching. If you are in the job market at any stage in your career, but especially after 40, ask for help:
Afraid to Ask for Help? Change Your Outlook to Aim High!
Ask for help from friends and colleagues who have made a career change after 40. Ask for help from millennials to get a sense of the technology they are using and find most helpful.
Ask millennials for their perspective on the most and least helpful qualities about colleagues who are north of 40 so you can be mindful of what to and what not to do. Reach out to hiring managers and request informational coffees.
These are low-stakes meetings that will give you insight on how you could approach interviewing and launching a new career.
Finally, consult a career coach to learn everything from how to craft a resume to how to identify technical mentors to how to enter a new field. If you ask for help, you are bound to get it.
My day job is in public relations and strategic communications, but before I became an author of a public relations book, I was once a recruiter for the software development company MindLeaders.
My experience recruiting has helped me as a hiring manager. Many of the skills I learned as a recruiter – clear communication, tips to narrow the applicant pool, the ability to sell a company or a position, etc. – are transferrable.
If you are changing jobs, think about the underlying skills that could be helpful in a variety of settings. I will admit that it is often easier to point out someone else’s transferable skills than to recognize your own skills that may serve multiple industries.
If you are struggling to identify your strengths, ask family members, friends and colleagues what they see as your transferable skills.
When you are making a career change, getting an interview is only part of the equation. Once you land the interview, you obviously must make a positive impression and stand out from other candidates. To do this, focus less on what you can’t do and more on what you can do by being laser-focused on transferrable skills.
When I was interviewing with the software development company, I knew very little about software. My answer to every question was some variation of “I have never done that specifically, but I would love to learn” or “I did something similar when I worked as a ….” I left the interview confident that I would not only be passed over for the position but that I wasted both mine and the interviewer’s time.
To my surprise, the company called me a few days later and offered me the position. Sure, I had a learning curve, but I also was committed to learning and applying transferable skills. That experience remains a standout in terms of memorable interviews.
It is impossible to know what you do not know. To ensure you are learning and meeting metrics that make you a valuable contributor, consider getting a technical coach who is well-versed in the industry you wish to enter.
The coach can serve as a connector to other people who can assist you, and the coach can also support your understanding of the technical aspects of your role.
In our digital age, there is a host of information available to support learning. As you think about breaking into a new industry, carefully research the industry.
You can do this by downloading and listening to podcasts on the industry, reading industry-specific articles and reports, and watching industry-related videos. This will allow you to know what’s happening in the industry. It will also help you have informed conversations with hiring managers, coaches and other people connected with the field you wish to enter.
If you are contemplating a job switch after age 40, meet with people in the industry you wish to enter, and ask them specifically what technology they rely on to do their job. You will also want to determine which social media platforms they find useful for their work and for staying up to speed on their industry.
Research indicates that millennials tend to use Instagram and Snapchat to a higher degree than Generation X, but both millennials and Generation Xers are similar in terms of their Facebook usage. Generation Xers also tend to use LinkedIn and Twitter to a higher degree than millennials. Baby Boomers tend to use social media to a lesser degree that younger generations, and the Pew Research Center has data that suggest their technology adoption is increasing rapidly.
I am sharing this information because social media is more than personal preference; if you are entering a company whose target audience is millennials, you will need to be versed in the best platforms and technologies to reach this demographic.
Also, research the communications platforms (such as Slack or EverNote) people in your desired industry are using to stay in relationship with one another. This will signal to hiring managers that you are proactive. It also suggests that age will not be an impediment to you adopting technology.
One of the best ways to gain information about a new industry is to volunteer in that arena. Volunteering is a win-win as volunteers gain insight and employers receive additional help.
If you are unable to work full time without pay, look for opportunities that allow you to contribute a few hours each week. This ensures you are able to continue working full time and volunteering without a major schedule disruption.
When interviewing, be careful not to volunteer your age. Your age has absolutely no bearing on your ability to perform well, especially if you do your research and thoroughly understand and adopt in-demand skills for the position you are applying.
Since your age holds little weight, think twice about freely disclosing it. If you do talk about your age, be careful not to be too self-deprecating or in any way suggest that you are anything less than proud of the experience your age has afforded you. You do not want to involuntarily give hiring managers reason for pause.
If you are changing careers after 40, you will need to pay careful attention to not only the employee benefits package, but also the vesting schedule.
Since retirement and estate planning is likely top of mind, you will want to learn as much as you can about how the company will support your financial and benefits needs. This is also the place where you can apply the negotiating skills you have acquired over your career.
Just because a benefit is not voluntarily included does not mean you should not acquire about it. For instance, I always negotiate more than the standard vacation package. Even if an employer offers new hires two weeks for the first year, I almost always ask for more and I use my years of experience as a negotiating tool.
In the end, the weight of Burgett’s words still speak volumes. The people who defy expectations, are the people who have courage and insight to imagine that great things are possible. They also have the fortitude to implement a plan to reach their goals.
So as you contemplate your next move, adopt the tips outlined in this article, and be sure to pass on what you are learning to others you meet along the way.
Keyword: finding a new job after 40