Career Planning For Age 50s, 60s And Beyond—5 Ways To Adapt Your Late-Career Strategy
Columbia Career Coaches Network's Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC shares five tips she would prioritize 30+ years into a career in the following article.
How do I stay hired at age 56?
– Craig, Product Manager
There are certain career best practices that are evergreen at any age, like staying up to date on your market, cultivating a unique value proposition, and nurturing a supportive community. Research, personal branding, and networking are critical for any role, in any industry, and at every level of your career. That said, professionals at the start of their career journey have different priorities and face different obstacles than those decades into an established career.
The best career plan is always customized to your individual strengths and weaknesses, good and bad work habits, and priorities for your career and life. Generalized advice for a specific age group (or other aspect of one’s background) will be watered down in its utility. However, based on concerns and mistakes that I see more frequently in late-career professionals, here are five things I would prioritize 30+ years into a career:
1 – Surround yourself with success stories of older employees
General news about older workers is discouraging. The pandemic hit harder for older workers. Salaries peak earlier than you think (as early as 40 for women!). It takes longer to land a job when you’re older. If you just focus on the news in front of you, you may get discouraged and settle too quickly for a sub-optimal career.
Instead, actively look for success stories to stay inspired and get ideas for what works. For example, this career changer pivoted from educator to watchmaker at age 50. This legal professional changed roles, industries, and salary levels (higher!) at age 50 and after a layoff. Sure, I hear more career stories than most because I’m a career blogger, but I also actively listen for them. Even among my personal network, I can easily think of examples of people in their 50s and 60s making bold career moves and landing big roles – e.g., a traditional banker who moved into fintech at 55, a head of talent who was restructured out of one tech job and landed another (also head of talent, also tech) at age 60, an editor who pivoted in her 50’s from media into non-profit and an executive director title.
2 – Anticipate objections and develop a portfolio of proof
The success stories will keep you going, but inspiration alone is insufficient. Age discrimination is real, of course, and you may encounter employers and recruiters who start with negative assumptions about older workers. Don’t let these paralyze you, but don’t ignore them either. Anticipate potential objections and have specific work examples, professional references, and other forms of proof in your work portfolio.
For example, with decades of experience, employers may assume that you are only interested in senior roles or that you are less familiar with current technology. Peppering your conversation with examples of how hands-on you are with your work or elaborating on your experience in small, even one-person projects can preempt objections that you’re too senior for the job. Highlighting the software, data systems, and other technology that you have used firsthand can eliminate hesitations about being out-of-date.
3 – Double down on networking
Of course, being able to counter potential objections presumes that you get a chance to make your case firsthand. This won’t happen if you get eliminated by a resume screen or a junior recruiter filtering candidates out with simple check-the-box criteria. Networking to gain access to influencers and decision-makers helps job seekers at all levels, but is particularly powerful later in your career when you have decades’ worth of contacts.
Do not overlook more junior contacts! That coordinator you worked with years ago may now be in senior management. Some of my best consulting projects have come from people that I managed in the past or hired into entry-level roles.
4 – Pursue freelance, consulting, and entrepreneurial ventures
Even if your first choice is a permanent, in-house role, a temporary arrangement can provide a foot-in-the-door and an easier Yes for the employer. Starting a consulting business or other entrepreneurial venture expands the potential work you can go after. It also gives you extra practice with targeted networking and pitching yourself. Landing project work keeps money coming in if you’re in-between jobs.
You might even find that working for yourself suits you better. If your goal is the C-level and you’re stuck in middle management, creating a company is a surefire way to land the top job. Build a strong enough team, and you might land jobs for yourself and others – acqui-hiring happens.
5 – Build capacity for staying positive
Even if you do all of the above, you will experience ups and downs in your career journey. This is true at all levels, but I have seen too many late-career professionals jump too quickly from losing out on one job to assuming that they’ll never get a job. If you’re anxious or angry while you’re networking or interviewing, that will be evident to the people you meet, and they’ll take it personally and assume you don’t like them specifically.
One effective way to stay positive is to track both your results and your process. Too many people only fixate on results – i.e., did I get the job or callback or exploratory meeting. Results are important because you want to identify problems early enough to course-correct. But, tracking your process is equally important because a good, consistent process leads to good results eventually. Process metrics include how much time you’re working on your career goal, how many people you reached out to, how many companies or roles you researched, how many meetings you took, etc.
Bonus tip: Target emerging and growing fields
You can find success even in industries under siege. For example, a former media colleague in her 60s recently landed a department head role for an international media company growing their US presence. Media has been hard hit in the analog/ print to digital transition, but there are still meaty opportunities. However, one way to grab a tailwind for your search is to target emerging and growing fields – e.g., blockchain, AI, data science, alternative energy, telehealth, etc. These industries don’t just need engineers and other technical roles, but sales, operations, finance, HR, and other business roles that translate across industries.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a longtime recruiter turned career coach and media expert on the job market. She has coached executives from Amazon, American Express, Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, Tesla, and other leading firms. She has been a repeat TV guest on CBS, CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business and has been quoted in major media outlets, including BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, NPR, and Success Magazine. Ceniza-Levine is a career columnist for Forbes and formerly wrote for Money.com, Time.com, CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of three books, including Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career.