I’ve noticed a big trend among people who make a midlife career change (MCC). Around the age of 40-50, many of these GenX’ers are in career limbo. They are miserable at work, in a declining industry, been let go, or desperately want to change careers.
These should be the peak earning years when real wealth is built and school tuition kicks in.
Yet these career changers face many challenges to finding meaningful work.
Most MCC’s 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.
Some are on the losing side of a merger or reorganization.
The challenges of trying to balance peak earnings, age, and opportunity causes tremendous anxiety. Left unchecked, the stress of a midlife career change affects sleep, relationships, and even health.
It is a time when careful, active career management is the difference between relief and agony.
Below is what NOT to do. Unless, of course, you want to bang your head against the wall in frustration.
The “Bird Shot” Strategy
This person is all over the place like birdshot, applying to anything and everything he sees. This mid-life career changer believes that submitting as many applications as possible will increase his chance of getting hired.
Unfortunately this approach rarely, if ever, works.
This type of MCC-er 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.
People who narrow their focus to one or two areas based on skills and interest increase their hiring chances.
If you're using the "Bird Shot" Strategy, you are responding to many different online job postings. But the internet is a deep, dark pit of false hope. With every type of job at your fingertips and the ‘only’ thing between it and you is the send button, despair and 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 the pot of gold that is the Hidden Job Market). Because recruiters receive hundreds of resumes from ‘post and pray’ job applicants, they rely on Applicant Tracking Systems to screen out candidates before a human eye 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
This mid-career changer lives in her head, where all of her 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. But nothing ever happens.
What looks like perfectionism is often fear of failure or rejection. Endless preparation is actually avoidance - you never get rejected if you never put yourself out there.
Opportunities are missed. Momentum is lost. If too much time passes, ‘in transition’ becomes ‘out of work.’ It becomes increasingly difficult to get the attention of hiring managers.
You also risk losing the help of your personal monopoly - your network - which is the Golden Key to the Hidden Job Market.
The “Different is Better” Strategy
For people who choose this strategy the pain of the present is so overwhelming that they believe anything else must be better.
If you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
You will jump ship for the first bright, shiny opportunity that comes your way.
There are many reasons why your job is unbearable - what specifically is making yours a living hell?
It could be you are in the wrong department or you are secretly a creative in a traditional role. The right opportunity could be in a different part of the same company. Or reporting to a different boss.
Without examining the “what” and the “why,” you could wind up in the same situation. What happens in six to twelve months once the afterglow of the new job wears off?
Different is just different - not better. Don’t get labeled a ‘job-hopper.’ You risk turning off recruiters and worse, damaging your network.
Beware taking a role significantly below your abilities, experience, and pay grade. 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 MCC’er puts herself back financially during her peak earning years. It is difficult for talent managers to justify the precious time and expense of hiring someone who may move on in 12-18 months.
Hiring is expensive. Turnover is really expensive.
Help and Hope from a Coach
Working with a knowledgeable coach can turn despair into elation.
First and foremost, the coach is an objective partner, not a significant other or relative who is too frustrated to support you in the way you need.
Using a coach enables you to bring focus, clarity, and confidence to the career change process.
So what’cha what’cha what’cha want?
A midlife career change is often driven by the desperate desire to move away from something unpleasant. A coach will help you articulate specifically what you want and why (this is critical) so that you have something to move towards that energizes and excites you.
This newfound clarity and focus 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.
Once these critical guardrails are set, a coach partners with you to create an air-tight narrative and construct a winning job search strategy. The coach then becomes your accountability partner to ensure action and avoid failure to launch-ism.
Working with a coach helps you strike networking gold.
The first question always asked is “Who do we know?” By working with a coach, your networking skills will put you at the front of the line, often before the job is listed (take that, LinkedIn and Indeed!).
With your clear narrative and specific focus, more opportunities will appear that feel authentic to your skills and goals. The odds are increasingly in your favor to get the interview. Forget the old ‘post and pray’ strategy that everyone else uses.
Working with a skilled coach significantly reduces the anxiety and stress of a midlife career change. The coach creates an environment where you can explore options and see what really is behind the career change. They support you as you make the adjustments to bring you back into career alignment.
Working with a great coach will pay a lifetime of dividends in both higher income, opportunities for advancement, and fulfillment. The question is not whether to work with a coach, but why not?
If you are considering 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.