Thinking About Making a Midlife Career Change?

What NOT to do, and how working with a career coach can help you manage stress and anxiety.

I’ve recently noticed a trend among people who end up making a midlife career change. Around the age of 50, many of these people are in career limbo. They have left their jobs, been let go, or are miserable at work.

These should be the peak earning years where real wealth is built and the need to pay school tuition kicks in.

Yet these career changers face many challenges to finding meaningful work.

Most are only five to seven years before ‘experienced’ becomes ‘older employee.’ At the same time, there are fewer opportunities at the top. This the “Highlander Situation” - there can only be one - and many in midlife are beginning to tap out regarding advancement at their current job. Finally, some are on the losing side of a merger and are in transition.

This combination of challenges of trying to balance peak earnings, age, and opportunity can cause tremendous anxiety. Left unchecked, the stress of making a midlife career change and transition affects sleep, relationships, and even health.

It is a time when careful, active career management with the help of a professional executive or career coach is required.

When people don’t use a coach to help navigate a midlife career change, they usually end up making one of the following common mistakes.

The “Bird Shot” Strategy

The Bird Shot strategy rarely hits the target

The Bird Shot strategy rarely hits the target

This person is all over the place like birdshot, applying to anything and everything he sees. This midlife career changer believes that by submitting as many applications as possible, he will increase his chances of getting hired.

Unfortunately, this approach rarely if ever, works.

This type of job search is driven by anxiety but does little to alleviate it. In fact, this approach actually increases stress and lowers confidence due to the low ‘hit’ rate.

(Ironically, executive and career coaching clients have more success narrowing their focus to one or two areas that draw upon their experience and transferable skills.)

If you're using the "Bird Shot" Strategy, you are probably responding to many different online job postings. But the internet offers false hope. With every type of job at your fingertips and the ‘only’ thing between it and you is the >send< button, discouragement quickly sets in when the only responses you receive are automated rejections.

In reality, only 20% of jobs are advertised (the other 80% are part of the ‘hidden job market’). Because of this, recruiters and talent managers rely on Applicant Tracking Systems, which screen out hundreds of candidates before a human being ever sees an application.

In short, those using the “Bird Shot” Strategy are limiting themselves to a small percentage of the job market while simultaneously trying to beat a computer algorithm.

If you have been using this strategy to help you in making a midlife career change, it is highly likely that you are driving yourself, your family, and your network crazy.

Failure to Launch

All thought, no action

All thought, no action

This mid-career changer lives in her head, where a lot of time and mental energy is spent analyzing and preparing for her next move. Books are read, podcasts are listened to, resumes are in a constant state of editing and updating. 

What looks like perfectionism is often fear of failure or rejection. Endless preparation is actually avoidance - if you never actually put yourself out there, you’ll never get rejected.

Over time, opportunities are missed, and momentum is lost. If too much time passes, ‘in transition’ becomes ‘out of work’ and it becomes increasingly difficult to get the attention of hiring managers. You also risk losing the help of your network, which is the key to the hidden job market.

The “Different is Better” Strategy

Different is just, well, different

Different is just, well, different

When someone chooses to use this approach for making a midlife career change, the pain he feels in his present situation is so overwhelming that he believes anything must be better.

In all probability, he will jump at the first bright, shiny opportunity that comes his way.

There are many reasons the current job is unbearable. However, without examining the “what” and the “why,” different is just different - not better.

The most common scenario is that you find yourself once again in the same situation six to twelve months later. This becomes dangerous as you get labeled a ‘job-hopper’ and can even age out of specific roles or opportunities.


Why settle?

Why settle?

Beware taking a role significantly below your abilities, experience, and salary. While this can be a strategy for a significant career shift (industry and/or function), it works against midlife career changers who may not have the financial resources or career runway to do so.

By under-reaching, this career changer puts herself back financially during her peak earning years. It can also be difficult for talent managers who must justify hiring someone who may move on in 12-18 months. Hiring is expensive, not just regarding salary, but also concerning turnover.

Making one of these four common errors in your search for a new career will create a process which is much more difficult and stressful than necessary, both for you and your family.

Help and Hope from a Coach

Here to help you

Here to help you

Working with a knowledgeable coach can significantly reduce the stress and anxiety of making a midlife career change.

First and foremost, the coach is an objective partner, not a significant other or relative who is unable or too frustrated to support you fully. Using a coach enables you to bring focus, clarity, and confidence to the career change process. 

How will working with an experienced coach help you navigate your career change?

The anxiety that prompts making a midlife career change is often driven by the desire to move away from something unpleasant. A coach will help you specifically articulate what you want. This gets into the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the transition and identifies what you want to move toward.

With this newfound clarity and focus the coach will help you create a detailed career roadmap that captures both the tangibles (position, title, salary) and the intangibles (time with family, flex schedule, commute) that are important to you.

For example, I have my clients list their must-haves, nice-to-haves, and deal-breakers as guardrails to keep them on track.

Once these and other parameters are set, an executive or career coach will partner with you to create a cohesive narrative and construct a job search strategy. With a focus on the type of role, company, and must-haves, the coach becomes an accountability partner through the various steps and stages of your job search.

Another significant advantage of working with a coach is that networking becomes much more comfortable and the hidden job market reveals itself!

The first question any hiring manager or executive asks when they need to fill a position is “Who do we know?” By working with a coach, your networking skills can put you at the front of the line before any job listing gets posted on the internet.

With a clear narrative and specific focus, more opportunities will appear that feel authentic to your skills and goals, and the odds of getting an interview are much higher than the online ‘post and pray’ technique of the “Bird Shot” Strategy.

Finally, a career coach provides a safe spot to land during the stress of making a midlife career change. A coach’s role is to offer support and gently challenge you, the job seeker, as you pursue making the necessary adjustments to bring you back into alignment with your ‘must-haves’ for your new position.

Working with a skilled coach can significantly reduce the stress and anxiety that many midlife career changers experience. Instead of struggling with one of the four common mistakes, a career coach will provide the expert guidance and support you need throughout your search. Your work with a career coach will also pay a lifetime of dividends in both higher income and opportunities for advancement.

So if you are considering making a midlife career change, what’s holding you back?

I’m Lindsey Honari, an executive and career coach who works with executives and upper-level managers who are ready to make a midlife career change with less stress and shorten the career transition period. If you would like to explore working with me, you can call me at 713-252-1921 or schedule a private 30-minute consultation with me.