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Why Older Workers Are Switching Jobs Now

With so many companies hiring, it could be the right time to change careers

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Monica Parker needed a change. She turned 50 during the pandemic and had a comfortable job on the leadership team of a nonprofit. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the job, but there was a nagging feeling that it was time for something different. And, in the labor market of the early 2020s, there is plenty of opportunity for workers to pick and choose what they want to do. ​​“I'm a lawyer by trade, but more recently worked for an education nonprofit as its associate executive director. After turning 50, I decided to move into the diversity and inclusion space,” she recalls.

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Parker calls herself “something of a career change expert” and has reinvented her career before. And she’s not the only one who feels the need for something new. A 2021 Bankrate study found that 55 percent of adults are looking to change jobs within the next 12 months, and a recent survey from Resume Builder found that 40 percent of workers age 54 and older have considered switching jobs because of the new opportunities available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that roughly 4.2 million people voluntarily left their jobs in October, a decline from the previous month but still continuing a string of exceptionally high quit rates that have been dubbed “the Great Resignation.”

Fewer workers, more opportunity

Where are all of these workers going? While some older adults have been pushed out of the labor force because of ageism, others are using the pandemic-fueled need for workers as an opportunity to find a new job or switch careers. Some are starting businesses, according to an analysis by the Economic Innovation Group that found that 2021 would be a record-breaking year for new business filings. As AARP has previously reported, roughly half of boomers think it’s a good time to look for a new job.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase in people of all ages wanting to find a new job or switch careers entirely. This includes workers aged 55-plus,” says career expert Amanda Augustine with TopResume, a career and résumé-writing consultancy that works with AARP on its Resume Advisor service. “In addition, we’ve seen a growing number of mature workers not only leaving their jobs in search of new opportunities, but also interested in finding more flexible roles or opting out of the workforce altogether for retirement.”

Joe Mullings, chairman and CEO of search firm the Mullings Group, says that older workers may have a number of advantages that allow them to find new opportunities. They may have accumulated assets that give them the financial stability to devote time and resources to a new career path. They may also have the deep experience and transferrable skills that take time to develop. “Get an inventory of what you’re really good at,” he says. “Experience — what you have seen — is not anything that can be accelerated along the way.”

Shifting gears

If you’re thinking of making a change while the labor market is tight, there are a few things to think about first, Mullings says. First, analyze the reasons you want to make a change. Do you truly want a new job or career shift — or do you simply need a break? Changing your livelihood is a serious decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, he says.

“I always ask people [certain questions] before they make this big career switch,” Mullings says. “I want to find out if you’re unhappy in your relationship, and you’re unhappy in your job, and you’re unhappy in your social life. You know what those three things have in common? You. So, you need to examine that before you start making radical shifts in life.”

If you truly are ready, the next step is to think carefully about what you want next. Parker felt that she had achieved her career goals and was looking for a way to give back to her community. After the civil unrest in the summer of 2020, she felt like helping companies become more diverse and inclusive was her next goal. Through her contacts and an informational interviews, she was able to land the role she wanted. But that wasn’t all. Parker has also structured her time to launch her own venture, Perimenopause Nation, which focuses on women who are in perimenopause. She feels she has been able to capture the best of both worlds: a fulfilling job and a taste of entrepreneurship.

Even though you may be starting over, especially if you’re opting to change careers, don’t undervalue yourself. Augustine says it’s wise to look for “bridges” — transferrable skills or common points between your recent work experience and your new career goal. “For example, do both deal with the same customer profile? Do they cover the same territory? Ideally, you want to pivot to a new role where your previous experience would be considered a benefit to the employer, rather than a drawback,” she says.

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Mullings adds that, if you need new skills, specific training or additional education — or if you simply need to get up to speed on new technology — working on “upskilling” or gaining some experience in the new field before you jump in can help facilitate the change. Augustine says that being up to date on technology skills, especially using videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and collaboration platforms like Slack and Trello, is important for more mature workers. One option you might consider is AARP Skills Builder for Work, which offers self-paced online courses on topics such as mastering remote work and learning Microsoft Office tools.

Facing realities about what it takes

If you were thinking about a career switch prior to the pandemic, now might be a good time to pursue those goals. For example, Dawn Anderson began preparing for her career shift roughly a decade ago. She knew that a career change from clinical research to dietetics would require an undergraduate degree, acceptance into and completion of a rigorous unpaid internship program, and a passing score on a national board exam. But the science of nutrition fascinated her and would also integrate her research experience, culinary training and other interests. She’s currently employed as a registered dietitian with Virginia’s behavioral health system.

Anderson says that many people will cheer on older workers who want to make a change and call them brave or courageous, but it’s also important to prepare for what happens next. “Really do the internal work to ensure you are ready to be a novice again,” she says. “It can get very real and challenging once you’re actually in the new career or new role especially if, like me, you’re going from an experienced position to one of a new graduate,” she says.

Mullings adds that it’s a good idea to look at the financial impact your move will have. While some older workers have financial stability that allows them to earn less, others are still saving for retirement or have other expenses to meet. Will you need to adjust your lifestyle or spending if you change careers? Or are you thinking about making a change to a new company where you could potentially earn more money, but which may affect your seniority or financial benefits, such as retirement savings accounts or equity compensation? It’s also important to discuss the plan with your partner or spouse, as the change will affect them, too, Mullings says.

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As you start to plan a change, look to your networks for guidance, Augustine says. “Regardless of whether you want to entirely change careers or simply find a new job, don’t discount the value of your personal and professional networks. Your chances of landing a job — not an interview, but an actual job offer — increase tenfold when your application is accompanied by a referral,” she says. Parker advises looking for informational interview opportunities within your network. After she found a job opportunity online, she was able to use her LinkedIn network to facilitate an introduction to someone at the company who offered to forward her résumé to the internal recruiter. After a rigorous interview process, she got the job.

Augustine also recommends checking new companies and opportunities to avoid ageist environments. “So many companies are in desperate need of workers, so you’d assume that age discrimination would be less prevalent than it has been previously. However, the fact remains that some employers are still hesitant to hire older workers,” she says. One resource for finding companies that are committed to age diversity is the AARP Employer Pledge Program, which includes more than 1,000 companies that have agreed to value older workers and not discriminate on the basis of age.

With millions more job openings than workers to fill them now, opportunities abound for those in search of a new job or career. The key to making the best next step is to evaluate your current situation, make a solid plan and strike while the labor market is hot.

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