Is A Midlife Career Change Possible In This Economy?
When is it time to give up on your dream of changing careers in midlife? That's the question Cynthia Hart, a former engineer, posed in a LinkedIn discussion. Hart wrote:
"I know many of you have made significant career changes.... and I know I cannot be the only one to feel I have 'failed' at trying. I was an engineer for 15 years. Very long story short, in 2007 I began an attempt at a career change towards environmental science, including obtaining a certificate, internship, and a Master's degree. However, after a lot of time, money, and heartache, I do not find myself truly any closer to my goal. After 5 years (and currently in an unrelated job that I had to take and do not enjoy) I feel about ready to 'give up'. Any words of wisdom for me? When do you know it's time to let go and move on? I'm not sure if it's best to go forward or back -- but I do know at this point in my life, a decent salary is necessary for me -- no more internships or graduate school!" First, I applaud Cynthia for deciding to make a midlife career change. I wish more people would be brave enough to do so. There's an incredible quote from author Neale Donald Walsh that speaks to the power of engaging in a midlife career change. It is, "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." The self-doubt that Cynthia feels is just part of the process. Time and time again, I see midlife career changers get to this point in the journey and say, "Oh no! What did I do?"
First, There's the Adrenaline Rush, But Then...
After people make the decision to change careers and go back to school or do an internship, most enjoy a rush of adrenaline and feel that changing careers was the right decision. But, when those experiences are over, and the next logical step doesn't occur (aka getting a full-time job in your new chosen profession), self-doubt creeps in. That's when the job search starts to suffer.
Without the Rush, Our Job Search Effectiveness Weakens
It's natural that they become fearful, and frustrated, when they don't get the jobs they want. Suddenly, the comfort and security of the old career starts to look appealing. Without even realizing it, they begin to stray from focusing on their goals as their minds wander to daydreams of safer times. This is where Cynthia is right now.
All I can say to you is: "Don't give up yet." Instead, "Get disruptive!"
Disruptive Job Search = Changing the Way You Look for Work
My guess is Cynthia (and all the other frustrated career changers) have been doing the traditional job search strategy of looking for jobs online. Well, it's time to shake things up!
The key is in creating a strategy for increasing the number of one-on-one conversations you have with people in a way that makes you memorable. In particular, what you want them to remember about you is your problem-solving abilities, your industry knowledge, and most importantly, your ability to alleviate pain for an employer. You do this by engaging people within your industry into conversation on the challenges your new chosen field is facing. You discuss the possible solutions as a way to showcase your own knowledge and experience. It doesn't matter you haven't technically worked in your new profession yet. You have years of professional experience you can draw from. When you focus on connecting with this audience in a way that makes you memorable as a solution-provider, the opportunities for positions will materialize. Here's why...
Tribes Hire Their Own Kind
Companies are groups of people who share the same ideas and goals. Your job is to identify how you relate to the group so you can reach out to as many employees as possible and try to connect with them to discuss industry trends and challenges. Not only will you find the discussion interesting, you'll be showing them what you would be like if you were part of the tribe. The idea is simple: Look at each company as a tribe of people and ask yourself, "How can I connect with these tribe members in a way that will show them I am worthy of joining their tribe?"
Your Next Step
I suggest you make a bucket list of companies that you want to work for. Then, go through LinkedIn and find as many people as you can that work at each one. Start inviting them to connect with you. While not all will say 'yes' -- you will get some. It depends on how you write the invite, so be personable. After that, you will initiate a dialog via email to engage them in a topic discussion. The goal is to slowly build their trust through dialog. The same can be done in groups online as well. Eventually, you should be able to set up an in-person informational interview with one or more of the people you've connected with. This will give you a chance to meet face-to-face and show them how committed you are to getting into the field.
And When You Feel Doubt, Remember This...
This part of the midlife career change is the uphill portion of a marathon race. It's going to take patience and persistence. It's not a sprint. When you get tired and down, hydrate with positivity. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on. Get support from those who truly want to see you succeed. Spend time finding more new job search techniques that you can try. You have to keep going. Why? Because you can! You came this far, don't give up now. The finish line might be off a bit, but you can see it in the distance. So, keep a strong mental picture in your mind at all times of what it will feel like when you finally land a job in your new profession. And someday, it will be your reality.
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J.T. O'Donnell is a career and workplace expert who founded the top-ranked career advice site, CAREEREALISM.com. In 2009, she launched CareerHMO, the first on-line career care membership site which specializes in curing chronic career pain.
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