Claire Rosati, 56
West Bloomfield, Mich.
New job: Family office adviser, Greenleaf Trust
Old job: Private banker, Citibank
Reason for change: She wanted to live near family.
Her advice: Stay connected with friends and former coworkers.
The last thing Claire Rosati expected was to get an unsolicited job offer from Detroit — 28 years after she had left that city — when a previous boss passed along her name to an associate. But that's what brought her back to the Motor City, still home to her mother, brother and sister, after she'd been away for nearly three decades.
Rosati, 56, was a private banker at Citibank in Chicago, working with ultrahigh–net worth clients, in the $25 million-and-up range. But she missed Detroit and had stayed in contact with a former boss, an attorney whose firm she had worked for right after finishing law school.
"It was kismet," says Rosati. "I wasn't even looking for a job." She does, however, remain connected to friends and former work associates. "I develop meaningful relationships with those I work with, and I stay in touch with them," she adds. She is now an adviser at Greenleaf Trust, a privately held trust-only bank in Birmingham, Mich.: "You'd be surprised about the connections you can make and all the wonderful things that can happen in your life."
New job: Test development specialist, PSI Services
Old job: Retired salesman, FedEx
Reason for change: He was bored.
His advice: Learn new skills, such as computer programs.
Hard work is second nature to Carl "Danny" Williams. He cringes as he recalls the wrenching midnight-to-8 a.m. shift when he worked at an Akron, Ohio–area foundry as a young man. He sighs when he remembers his combat stint in Vietnam, which soon followed. And years later, when he became a salesman for FedEx — handling accounts such as IBM and Random House — the on-the-job pressure was intense.
At one point, he was responsible for regional deliveries of embargoed Harry Potter books. "Everything had to be kept under wraps, and all the trucks were under lock and key," he says. "There were a lot of 16-hour days."
So about 10 years ago, at 57, following a serious illness, Williams retired from FedEx, he says, "to become a full-time babysitter to my grandkids." But grandkids grow up, and he soon found himself among the community of stay-at-home retirees.
Williams got back into job-hunt mode. He contacted Mature Services Inc., a nonprofit that helps older Americans stay active in their communities. The organization helped him with a résumé and mock interviews. He also taught himself new computer skills. "I didn't want to become a greeter at Walmart, so I learned Excel," the speadsheet program, he says. He also became savvy at using LinkedIn to network. He landed a job as a test development specialist at PSI Services. He serves as a proctor for job candidates taking tests for government and private employers. He's bored no more. He credits his computer skills: "Older people are scared to death of computers. But you need to learn as much as you can, because the new jobs are all online."
Angel Herrera, 56
New job: COO of student housing, Valeo Groupe
Old job: COO of student housing, Campus Crest
Reason for change: His employer wanted him to relocate.
His advice: Stay tech savvy; network.
Happily settled in Plano, Texas, Angel Herrera wasn't at all interested in moving to Charlotte, N.C., but his employer wanted him to do this.
So, at 56, Herrera quit his high-profile post as executive vice president of Campus Crest, one of the largest publicly traded real estate investment trusts in the student-housing segment. He then updated his online LinkedIn profile and, through networking, soon heard from Valeo Groupe, which develops student housing in Europe and the Middle East. He's now the company's chief operating officer.
Herrera thought nothing of changing jobs, he says, because he embraces new challenges: "I'm stronger, more driven and better connected in my 50s than I ever was in my 40s."
Change is the one constant in Herrera's life. He was just a year old when his family left Cuba for San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he was raised in what he describes as a humble neighborhood. But he and his siblings received quality educations, and one of his first jobs out of college was as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble. Herrera went on to work nationally and internationally for Yum! Brands, Burger King and Aramark.
The keys to his success? First,"you have to exercise and constantly update your tech expertise." But even more important, network, network, network, before you lose or decide to change your job. "Most people invest in networking only when they're out of a job, but then it's too late," he says. Attend as many conferences as possible, he suggests, which not only helps with networking but also gives insight into who is hiring and in what areas: "Stay connected, even if you've been with a company for 20 years."
Robert Ennis, 60
New job: Director, Wheel of Fortune
Old job: Technical director, Wheel of Fortune
Reason for change: He replaced the retiring director.
His advice: Learn new skills to make yourself attractive.
Robert Ennis can trace back to the exact moment when he knew he wanted to be a TV director. He was a little kid — nearly a half century ago — sitting in front of the TV with his family, watching The Andy Williams Show. When Williams ran out onto the stage, the camera panned and showed several other cameras as part of the wider shot. "That instant made me realize that was the part of the industry I wanted to get into," says Ennis. He loves that his job allows him to be creative and technical at the same time.
Last May, after 38 years in the industry, including 24 years working on Wheel of Fortune, his childhood dream became a reality: He was tapped to become the show's director after the previous director retired.
But the job wasn't handed to him. In fact, when the same job opened up nearly two years ago, after a veteran director died, he competed with another colleague and did not get the position. Still, Ennis says, he kept improving his skills, especially at coordinating camera angles with the pacing of the game. "Always be open to learning something else," he says. Even people in their 50s need to take the time to watch and learn the jobs that others do around them — in case one of those positions opens up. "That's exactly what happened to me," he says. "I've worked with dozens of directors over their careers and tried to learn from the best things they taught me — and to avoid the worst things."
Jennifer Melton saw the writing on the wall. After eight years as a full-time employee in the human relations department, she was converted into an independent contractor by the company she worked for. "It was a little bit of a shock," says Melton, 55. "My mom and dad each had one job for their entire careers. You never expect, after 50, to be looking for a job."
The divorced mother of two teenage girls speaks conversational Spanish, German and Japanese. She thought she could use her language skills — and 25 years of human resources experience — to find another position. She quickly updated her résumé. A recruiter advised her to remove the information that bragged about her "25 years of experience" immediately. Why, the recruiter asked, let them know you're in your 50s? So Melton revamped her résumé to mask all those years of experience.
She also created what she calls a 30-second elevator speech that best describes her talents. It wasn't her résumé or elevator speech that led to her next job, though; it was her incessant networking. She was at one of her daughter's volleyball games when she heard about a job opportunity at Kimberly-Clark. She applied — and three interviews later, got the job.
"Remain confident in yourself, and don't be discouraged by rejections," she says. "And don't forget, networking can occur anywhere at any time."
William Epps, 67
New job: Library employee
Old job: Retired respiratory-care therapist
Reason for change: He needed income and was lonely.
His advice: Use job-search resources; be willing to learn and to mix with people.
William Epps used to hit the library to check out a book or video. Now he heads to the library for work.
Shortly after Epps retired, he found he needed more income. But the former respiratory-care therapist didn't want to return to the same field he'd worked in for nearly 35 years. In addition, Epps, a divorced father of three grown sons, was starting to feel lonely at home. "I had to kick my own behind to get moving," he says. "Winners don't quit, and quitters don't win."
An Air Force veteran, he started attending gatherings sponsored by the Veterans Administration, figuring he might get a job lead. It was at one of those meetings that he learned about a program, Maintaining Active Citizens (MAC), which helps link older people to jobs at nonprofits. Even if the job is initially to volunteer, MAC often helps underwrite paychecks for its clients.
During Epps' first year at the library, he was a volunteer, but he received payments from MAC. Over the summer, though, he was hired as a full-time circulation-department employee. Being around all the books seems to have rubbed off. He's now writing poetry — and occasionally writes articles for the newspaper.
The key, he says, was taking action instead of moping alone at home: "Finding a new job in your 60s is all about networking and asking questions."
Traci Blackstock, 51
New job: Tool-rental associate, Home Depot
Old job: Office manager for a dog-training company
Reason for change: She wanted a new challenge.
Her advice: Be persistent, and don't underestimate your talents.
When Traci Blackstock was a kid, if an appliance broke, no one phoned for a repairman. The family figured out how to fix things themselves — and Blackstock got to be pretty handy.
So it's no surprise, perhaps, that decades later she has just taken what she hopes will be her last job, as a tool-rental associate at Home Depot. "If a customer wants to know how to dig a trench or replace a floor, I can show them how," she boasts.
Getting the job wasn't easy. Blackstock had been working seven days a week as an office manager for a dog-training company. It was too time-consuming and stressful, so she researched companies, including Home Depot, which has a store nearer than three miles from her home. She put together a résumé, applied to several companies and participated in multiple interviews. She even followed up with handwritten thank-you notes. Eventually, she landed a part-time gig at Home Depot and performed well. When a full-time slot opened up in the tool-rental department, her bosses offered it to her.
Sure, she was scared to compete for a job with candidates who were much younger. But then she realized that her life experience — beyond her work experience — gave her a great advantage. "Don't sell yourself short," she says. "Decide what you want to do and go for it."
It took Blackstock six months to find, and land, the job she wanted. But her persistence paid off: "For the first time in my life, I love what I'm doing."
Jeff DeVonde, 57
New job: VP of original equipment and fleet sales, Tire Group International
Old job: Director of sales, Alabama Motor Express
Reason for change: He was approached by a headhunter.
His advice: Use your contacts and experience to your advantage; keep your LinkedIn profile up to date.
At 57, Jeff DeVonde is a rarity. He works in an industry where his age — and the contacts he's amassed through the years — helps him.
He now works for one of the biggest tire wholesalers in the world. As vice president of the company's newest divisions, it's the estimated 5,000 contacts he's amassed over some 25 years in the business that have made him so valuable. "What comes with me are the things people need most in trucking: contacts and relationships," he says.
He wasn't actively job hunting when he was approached by a recruiter. But he was semi-actively keeping the door open by making sure his LinkedIn profile was current. And, indeed, a search firm found him via LinkedIn.
"You have to constantly market yourself," he says. That's why he always keeps extra business cards in his pocket — and he's never hesitant to pass them out: "Even if you go to the gas station to fill up the car, when you go to pay someone for it, you're selling yourself."
Freelance writer Bruce Horovitz is a former USA Today reporter and a former Los Angeles Times marketing columnist.