Last year was one of those milestone birthdays which, for me, precipitated a mini existential career/life crisis.
I turned 50 and overnight became the invisible woman in my industry (marketing). I’d recently been made redundant and found when I got back on the job-seeker merry-go-round, I was pushed aside in favour of young grads with digital marketing degrees.
Sure, I could’ve gone back to uni and upskilled, but I’m just not interested in learning about algorithms and the like.
While I back myself as a copywriter and a creative, employers these days are looking for more than a one (or perhaps two) trick pony. I was in serious need of a career makeover.
Fortunately for me, inspiration struck in the most ordinary of places. While shopping at Woolies, I noticed Blue Care women taking their elderly clients grocery shopping and having coffee.
I thought, ‘I could do that’. Helping people in need seemed to me to be a rewarding career, which also offered the perks of flexible part-time work.
And being a journalist for the past 20-plus years, I certainly thought my listening and communication skills would be an asset in aged care.
So, I researched what qualifications I needed and embarked on a Certificate III in Aged Care and Disability. I’m now a part-time community support worker and I love my new vocation.
Another pivotal moment in becoming a mid-life career-changer was the first Queensland COVID-19 lockdown (2020). Perhaps like many housebound parents, I was bored and frustrated with homeschooling. One seminal day, my Primary school-aged son convinced me to so some drawings he didn’t want to do.
So, I picked up a graphite pencil and began sketching. Quickly, I lost track of time. I was no longer stressed out about home schooling. I was in the zone.
I made a promise to myself that day to follow my bliss and start art classes once the lockdown was over. I now attend a weekly art studio class. It’s my happy place.
Working part-time is now a need rather than a want. So, I can continue to ‘art’ and enjoy downtime with my family.
In researching this story, I realised I was a stereotype. While people are making career changes at any age for all sorts of reasons, it’s when we hit 40 (and older) that we enter a new psychosocial development stage, which gives rise to a sense of ‘carpe diem’ or urgency.
Reaching mid-life makes us think about what legacy we want to leave behind. Our kids grow up, our parents grow old and our priorities shift.
Top tips for career-changers
- Do what you love, not what you know.
- Seek an expert opinion, such as a career consultant, because they can hold the mirror up to you and help you see what you cannot.
- Make sure your resume is tailored towards the job you’re going for and not just everything that you’ve ever done. Make sure it’s strategically written.
- Be on a hunt for a boss and a company, not simply a job hunt.
- Interview your potential employer as much as they interview you.
I related my career change story to Kate Langford, CEO and founder of Kate Langford Careers Consulting.
Ms Langford agrees that when you hit 50, you reach a point where you ask yourself: ‘Is this what I really want to do for the rest of my career?’.
“People want to do something they love, not just what they’re good at,” she says.
“It’s not like it used to be when you’d go to work and do a job you didn’t love but just did it to get paid.
“There’s a real shift of mindset around mental health and work/life balance, which is why career changes are happening, and earlier than 40, too.”
Ms Langford says the reason women, in particular, are changing careers earlier than 40 is cost-of-living pressures and mortgage interest rate hikes, which is forcing mums to go back to work sooner.
And sometimes returning to work can mean this cohort has to pivot and reinvent themselves career-wise.
With the average retirement age in Australia now 65, at 40 you still have 25 years left in the workforce.
Ms Langford’s advice is to do what you love rather than what you know or what you’re good at, because if you stick to what you’re good at, nothing will ever change.
Unicorn jobs may be rare, but they are out there if you pursue them with passion.
Ms Langford says she helped a 50-ish former male teacher achieve his dream job as a question writer on The Chase, a popular TV quiz show. This gentleman had a passion for game shows and had been a game show participant himself and loved it.
The Great Resignation was coined in early 2021 when workers in the US voluntarily resigned from their jobs in droves in the wake of the pandemic.
The most cited reasons for resigning were wage stagnation, the rising cost of living, limited opportunity for career advancement, hostile work environments, lack of benefits, inflexible remote-work policies and long-lasting job dissatisfaction.
Ms Langford says The Great Resignation is huge in Australia.
“With high inflation and low unemployment, people aren’t really changing jobs because of the economy,” she says.
“They’re changing jobs because of their mental health and because of toxic bosses and workplace cultures and not being heard and seen and not enjoying their work anymore.
“People are also realising they can work from home more.
“Lack of employer flexibility is also causing people to leave their jobs.”
About 30 per cent of Ms Langford’s clientele are teachers she has helped completely change industries or start their own business.
She believes the Sunshine Coast is becoming the entrepreneur capital of Australia because locals, mainly aged 45-55, are starting their own businesses so they don’t have to leave the area.
“People starting their own businesses are wanting to get out of the rat race and have flexibility and escape toxic work cultures,” Ms Langford says.
East Coast Human Resources Group managing director Michalle Faulkner says the current climate was the most unusual labour market she’s seen in 25 years, but therein lies opportunity.
Covid has changed our perception of what is acceptable, such as working from home online or hybrid (home and office) work arrangements.
She says professionals are more reluctant to change jobs post-COVID than before, so the pool of candidates who are passively looking is shallower than in the past.
Ms Faulkner says allied health professionals (such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists) are in huge demand on the Coast, as well as professional service providers such as accountants and solicitors.
While embarking on a four-year university degree might seem daunting, Ms Faulkner asserts that some employers are prepared to invest in employment training and support growth if that means they’re getting a stable employee who’s reliable, with a demonstrated work history and lived experience that aligns with the business. Obviously, though, if a career-changer has transferable skills and capability, then it’s a lot easier to transition to something new.
Ms Faulkner recommends doing an audit of what transferable skills you already have, as well as what your skills gaps are, which could necessitate obtaining new qualifications.
“The most successful are those who seek training with training providers which have direct connections to employers,” she says.
Ms Faulkner concedes ageism is a potential barrier for career-changers.
However, she says she tells candidates that it’s all about the attitude you bring.
“It’s not necessarily about hiding age, it’s about demonstrating and articulating the skills and capabilities that you’re bringing to the role and that maturity and responsibility you have developed to be able to add value,” Ms Faulkner says.
“If a job candidate goes into an interview with a negative attitude, then they’ve already failed because they will exude negativity and lack of confidence to the interviewer.”
Ms Faulkner believes the most successful work group is the one which celebrates diversity and inclusion.
“We need energetic, youthful millennials who are typically our innovators and we need our mature, responsible, dedicated professionals who bring a lot of lived experience,” Ms Faulkner says.
“There are employers out there that value diversity and inclusion and embrace it, so I would encourage people to seek out those employers.”