Get ready for Act 2 with these job change strategies.
By: Maryalene Laponsie
At the end of 2008, the pulp and paper plant where Tina Wixon worked was bought out, and the new owners brought with them a series of temporary layoffs. Wixon, now 52, says that was the push she needed to finally follow her dream of becoming a nurse.
The Kelso, Washington resident spent two years at Lower Columbia College to complete prerequisite work, before earning her bachelor’s degree through Western Governors University in Utah. She enjoys her new career so much that she’s considering a master’s degree in nursing informatics.
Known as encore careers or re-careering, second careers may be particularly appealing to older workers who are either ready for a change or find themselves unemployed and with few options in their current field. About 4.5 million US workers between ages 50 and 70 have second careers and another 21 million are expected to join them within the next five years, according to Encore.org.
If you, too, are ready for a change of pace, here are seven tips to get started.
Decide whether to get a job or a business.
A second career may take one of two forms. Some, like Wixon’s, involve changing fields and finding a new job. Others choose to start a business as their second career.
Joni Petty, owner and president of Jepco Recycling Resources in Phoenix, chose the second route. A former human resources professional, Petty was looking for something more meaningful in her life. Thanks to a connection through her local chamber of commerce, she discovered businesses had a need for recycling consulting services.
“It was an unmet need,” Petty says. “You can’t imagine the waste that goes on.”
It was also a business that dovetailed with her passion for the environment. At age 50, she started Jepco in 2012, and it is now a full-service recycling resource for large and small industries.
The decision to pursue a new job or start a business is highly personal. It may be quicker to land a new job, but once established, a business could provide more stability. Consider your personal goals, skills and preferences when deciding which option is right for you.
Get an inside look at the career.
Whether you decide to go with a job or a business, career and finance experts say workers need to do their homework before jumping into a new field.
“The most important thing is to talk to people in that career,” says Jean Wilczynski, a financial advisor with Exencial Wealth Advisors in Old Lyme, Connecticut. “Do some volunteer work. See if it’s what you think it is.”
Understanding a career from the inside can also be beneficial when it comes time to apply for a job, says John Krautzel, vice president of marketing and member experience for career network Beyond.com.
“Read what the professionals in your prospective field are reading, and learn to talk the talk,” he says. “More familiarity will better prepare you to speak confidently and reassure an employer that you’re the right candidate for the job.”
Update your skills.
Once you feel confident you’ve chosen the right second career path, Krautzel says it’s time to consider whether you have the skills and knowledge needed for your new job or business. Sometimes, an internship or a few classes to fine-tune technology skills may be all that’s needed.
However, if you need to go back to school, consider all your options and don’t rule out nontraditional ways of earning a degree.
“The nice thing about Western Governors is that it is an online program,” Wixon says. “I actually spent quite a few of my [work] lunch breaks reviewing coursework.”
Call upon your network.
Older workers may have a large store of personal and professional contacts, and they should tap into that network when transitioning to a new career.
“Don’t be afraid to seek advice from friends and colleagues that have experience in the field you are hoping to enter,” Krautzel says. “Hopefully you can capture one or two pieces of advice that will lead to success in your new career.”
If you don’t have any contacts in that particular field, Wilczynski recommends looking for other sources of information. For example, the nonprofit Score connects retired executives with new business owners for free consulting services.
Know where your finances stand.
Wilczynski notes career changers often underestimate the time it takes to begin making money in their new venture.
“Do you need additional training or education? What will that cost be?” she asks. “How long before you make the money you think you’re going to make?”
Rather than quit a current, reliable job, Wilczynski suggests working part time while getting any training you need.
Petty echoes the need to be on solid financial ground before launching into a business. “Crunch the numbers,” she says. “Be smart about it.”
Be realistic about the money you’ll make.
Wilczynski cautions against overestimating how much money you might make in a new job or business. Careful salary research and profit potential may avoid a disappointing career change, Krautzel adds.
“You should arm yourself with as much information as possible before selecting a new career,” he says. “Are workers in this field in demand? What type of salary should you expect? Are there typically travel requirements that you need to consider?”
Older workers, in particular, should be prepared for unexpected events such as an illness, disability or the need to care for an elderly relative which could disrupt income-earning potential.
Don’t raid your retirement fund.
Finally, going back to school or starting a business can be an expensive proposition. It may be tempting to dip into retirement savings, but experts warn to think long and hard before depleting those accounts.
“Be careful about using those funds for starting a business,” says Wilczynski, adding that those who feel they have no choice should try to minimize their withdrawals. “Be careful about how long you’re drawing down those balances.”
While changing careers requires work, both Wixon and Petty say it was worth it to have a job they love.
“Definitely follow your passion,” Petty advises others. “If you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work.”