En español | Midlife is often when career dreams are coming true. It's often a worker's peak earning period — a time when all of that hard work has paid off. But it can also be the time when ageism rears its ugly head. An online survey conducted by AARP Research in late 2020 found that 61 percent of respondents (people age 40 to 65) thought age bias may contribute to them losing their jobs this year.
But there are some things you can do to keep yourself marketable and accelerate your career as you get closer to preparing for retirement — whatever that looks like for you. Try these 10 moves.
1. Shift to a consultant mindset
Workers of all ages can bolster their job security by always adding value and finding solutions, says executive and career transition coach John Tarnoff, founder of Reinvention Group LLC and author of Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50. And that's also the way consultants think.
"You always want to be thinking of your job from the point of view of a consultant providing value to a client, versus being an employee, working under the direction of a supervisor,” he says. “It's a really key paradigm shift. That is difficult to make for people who have been employed for most of their career.”
While making that shift to a consultant mindset can be tricky at first, midcareer workers have years of experience and knowledge to rely on. By constantly adding value, you can become a more crucial asset, he says.
2. Never stop upskilling
New technologies, automation, and other innovations are changing jobs at a rapid clip. The World Economic Forum estimates that half of jobs will be changed by automation over the next decade. And it's essential for employees to keep up with new technologies and practices to remain marketable, says executive coach Bonnie Marcus, author of Not Done Yet! How Women Over 50 Regain Their Confidence and Claim Workplace Power.
"It's important to be proactive — not only to make sure you're current, but to research what some of the future trends are and be ahead of the game,” she says. Look to industry groups, seminars and publications to get a sense of what's to come. LinkedIn Learning and edX offer free courses in everything from coding and computer science to teamwork and strategic thinking.
3. Give your LinkedIn profile a makeover
Even if you dislike social media, LinkedIn is an essential part of job hunting and networking, says Wendy Braitman, senior transition coach with Randstad RiseSmart.
"I understand that people have aversion to social media. And when I have those kinds of conversations with my clients, I encourage them to get over it,” she says. From recruiters to hiring managers, LinkedIn is a primary tool of career decision makers. You can make new networking connections, find former colleagues and classmates, and help people find you for offers and connection, she says.
Be sure to add a photo, write about your successes in your summary, and ensure that your LinkedIn profile dates and job titles match your resume, she says.
4. Focus on your network
When you're new to your job and trying to make your way forward, networking is a priority. However, as job responsibilities increase and time is scarcer, you may have neglected to nurture your network, Tarnoff says.
Devote some time each week to reaching out to contacts and reconnecting with former colleagues. Having a strong network can help you perform better in your current role and also ensure that you have access to up-to-date information and resources about your industry when you need it, he adds.
5. Tap the hidden job market
Another reason to focus on your network is that it's one of the best ways to access the “hidden job market.” While there are no hard numbers when it comes to all of the jobs that are available but never publicly posted or advertised, there is a sizable number, Tarnoff says. And when people know you and your work, they're less likely to judge you because of your age, he says. That's important because when you're more advanced in your career, it can be tougher to find a good fit on a job board.
"If you've got 20 or 30 years’ experience, you're going to be applying to jobs that are designed to attract much younger, much less experienced people,” Tarnoff says. “The only way you're going to find the position that truly befits you is through the hidden job market through referrals, connections and personal networking.”
6. Raise your profile
Another way to showcase your expertise and value is to position yourself as a thought leader. If you have insights about key challenges in your industry or insights into what the future of the sector holds, focus on those issues to showcase your valuable knowledge, Tarnoff suggests.
Some ways to do so include:
- Sharing or creating content on LinkedIn
- Writing a guest post or bylined article for an industry blog or publication
- Joining or leading professional association committees
- Speaking at events and conferences
- Starting your own blog
By making yourself and your ideas more widely known, you make yourself a more attractive candidate for employers looking for that insight.
7. Check out new companies
If you do decide to make a move to a new company, do your homework first, Marcus says. Look for a company that truly values diversity in all of its forms, including age. Are there older people throughout different levels of the company?
While it may be hard to get firm answers when you ask your network about the company's culture and age demographics, she suggests that you still do so. “Ask if they promote from within and, especially from a woman's point of view, are there [women] in leadership positions,” Marcus says.
8. Start a side-hustle or business
This is also a good time to look at starting a business or side-hustle, Marcus suggests. You've got experience in your field or maybe you want to try your hand at something new. Starting your own venture can benefit you in a few ways. First, it allows you to diversify your income, she says. As long as the business doesn't violate any employment agreement you have, it's an opportunity to build something for the future.
Tarnoff agrees. Having a small business is also a good way to ensure that you're “never unemployed,” he says. If you do experience a job loss, you can do consulting or other work through your own business.
9. Focus on retirement
This is also a time in your career where you may be looking ahead to your retirement plan. So, if you move to a new employer, it's a smart idea to make sure the company has a good, employer-sponsored retirement plan, health insurance and other benefits that are important to you, Marcus says. (But do not ask these questions in a job interview. Save them for negotiations if you're offered the job.)
And starting a small business also gives you the ability to open one of a handful of self-employed retirement accounts like a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) individual retirement account (IRA), Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA, or others, which often have higher contribution thresholds than typical IRAs, allowing you to save more for retirement depending on the business income. Plus, if you build your business now and find a steady base of clients, the business may provide an additional source of income in retirement.
10. Keep going!
If you do experience a job loss or have to make big career changes that you may not really want to make, Braitman says it's important to take a moment and realize your value. “You have intrinsic value that is not tied to your work,” she says. You have options to continue building a career you love — don't worry that others will judge you. Braitman's job loss when she was in her 50s was the catalyst to her launching a new career as a coach.
Whatever next move you're planning, get support, she says. “It's really worth being in touch and sharing your stories,” she says. Even if it's not a job loss, but you're contemplating a pivot, get out there and talk about it. People want to help you, she says. But they can't help if they don't know what your plans are.
Gwen Moran is a contributing writer for AARP who specializes in business and finance. Her work has appeared in many leading business publications and websites, including Entrepreneur, Kiplinger.com, Newsweek.com, and The Los Angeles Times Magazine.