How older employees can change their careers


As the old saying goes, it's better late than never. And older employees are taking this advice to heart when it comes to their careers.

Younger employees between the ages of 18 and 24 will change their careers 5.7 times over their lifetime, compared to just 1.9 times for workers 45-52 years old. Would those older workers feel more empowered to make a switch if it was more widely accepted for them to do so? 

"COVID was a period where many people reevaluated what they wanted from life, what they wanted from their job at all ages," says Connor Campbell, business finance expert at personal finance company NerdWallet. "That caused a lot of career upheaval across many different sectors as those people asked themselves, 'What do I want? Do I want to be unhappy in this job?'" 

Older employees may not always act on it, but they're not immune from the want to pursue something more passion-driven, like their younger colleagues. Indeed found that 58% of U.S. workers are willing to take a pay cut in order to completely change industries, and 49% have already made a dramatic career shift, like moving from marketing to engineering or from teaching to finance. 

For older workers in particular, a job switch could be due to feeling overlooked in their current role.  A 2021 survey from software company Workwise found that 27% of over-45s said that employers do not value their years of experience, and 52% said less-experienced younger colleagues were promoted over them. This same line of thinking could also be preventing employers from hiring those older workers, too. 

"Because of the way the workforce has become increasingly qualification-based, there's definitely a stigma around older employees switching careers," Campbell says. "Older employees normally started working when going to university wasn't the norm — that has changed quite significantly in the last 20 to 30 years. If employers don't see that degree, there might be a certain perception that on paper they might not have the qualifications that could match younger people." 

While younger employees may join the workforce with more technical training and a fresh perspective, there will always be an experience gap that no amount of schooling can make up for. That, Campbell says, is what older employees can take advantage of and where they can market themselves. 

"I've spoken to a number of recruiters this year and they've said that there is a trench of workers missing with the experience needed to help businesses take themselves to the next level," he says. "Think of the wealth of stories or achievements or challenges older employees have faced, compared to someone that's 25. They should articulate how many more obstacles they've faced and discuss how they overcame them." 

The way they achieve that is no different than the average job seeker, Campbell says. Older employees should make sure their resumes are up to date and that their transferable skills are communicated clearly. Their interviews should include specific examples of the challenges they've faced and how their years of experience have prepared them. As for employers, they're going to have to be open and receptive when recruiting and ensure that their companies share the same values.

"When older employees are hired, employers should make it clear to the team the experience this person has come in with," Campbell says. "There also has to be a lot of patience. If you're an older person that has spent their life in offices and you change careers to one that is remote the onboarding process takes that into consideration and that there is extra time given." 

Whether it's for financial reasons or to pursue the career of their dreams, older employees will continue to re-enter the workforce and it's in companies' best interest to accommodate them and welcome the trend, rather than miss out on a growing demographic of potential talent. 

"It's a courageous thing to switch your career when you're older," Campbell says. "Older employees should bear that in mind. All the things they might be worried about lacking, they have to remember all the things that they have that will make them stand out."

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