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Switching careers later in life: What you need to know

·Senior Producer/Reporter

Getting laid off can be devastating, especially when it happens in your 60s. But for 72-year-old Alice Longworth, her layoff 10 years ago was the best thing that ever happened to her.
“When I was laid off, I felt like jumping in the air and clicking my heels together,” Longworth says. Even though she loved her colleagues at the nonprofit where she worked as a fundraising associate, she craved a more creative role and knew she couldn’t go back to the same type of data-driven work.

After some self reflection, she recalled a time when she enjoyed her work as a typesetter, combining images and texts on a page, and decided it was time to build up her skills in graphic design.

Join us Tues, Jan 19, 1PM ET.
Join us Tues, Jan 19, 1PM ET.

“I knew I would have to work until I dropped. I wanted to be doing something I really enjoyed,” says Longworth. It was then, at the age of 62, that she decided to make the leap and start over.

After taking courses at The School of Visual Arts in New York, she went on to get a professional certificate in graphic design from NYU’s School of Continuing Education.

Longworth’s experience is increasingly common among workers who are forging new career paths later in life. According to a new AARP career survey to be released next week, four out of 10 experienced workers said they’ll be looking for a new job this year, and in many cases, considering a complete career change. Among those looking for new jobs, only a third of workers between the ages of 35 and 64 said they would remain in their current field. Meanwhile, 66% said they were either planning to move to a completely different field (24%) or were unsure of where they’d end up (42%).  

“The economy may be doing better these days,” says AARP Senior Vice President Jean Setzfand. “But a lot of workers are still worried about their paychecks. While our survey, which included many baby boomers and Gen Xers, found most people looking want more money, we also found a wide variety of reasons for their job search rationale.”

In addition to an income boost as the main motivation to find a new job (74%), respondents wanted more enjoyable work (30%), better benefits (28%), job flexibility (25%) and opportunities for career advancement (21%).

For those making the leap into an entirely new field, New York-based career coach Roy Cohen says to make sure you have a realistic plan based on a rigorous assessment of your talents, interests, experiences, likes and dislikes, as well as successes and failures. “Be honest with yourself. There is no benefit to anyone, most of all you, to pursue a goal that has no tie to reality. You will fail or, perhaps even more damaging, you will lose precious time that could have been devoted to advancing your career,” says Cohen.

For experienced, older workers, time is of the essence. Not only does it take a great deal of effort to learn what’s necessary to start all over again, it also takes time to get your foot in the door.

Doing everything she could to find a job -- including an internship at the age of 66 -- Longworth volunteered, networked both online through LinkedIn and in-person through countless informational interviews.  

Like Longworth, nearly half of AARP’s survey respondents said a temporary or part-time position was the most effective form of networking.  To those who have yet to build up an online presence, Cohen advises: “If you have neglected LinkedIn, now is the time to build your community online to enhance your visibility.”

Not surprisingly, fear of age discrimination is an overwhelming obstacle workers expect to face, particularly among those older than 55. Despite that it's against the law to discriminate against anyone 40 or older, 64% of workers say they have seen or experienced it in the workplace. To help experienced jobseekers seeking new work, AARP launched their new career site www.aarp.org/work this year to help people find the tips and resources they need.

Fearing people wouldn’t be able to get past her age, Longworth, too, was concerned she would never work again. But she found two rewarding part-time positions in the New York City suburbs as a communications coordinator for a Baptist Church as well as a graphic designer for a Jewish community service center.

“I found that there are many people out there who don’t discriminate. You need to find them and go out there, keep a sense of humor and just keep looking,” says Longworth.

Are you considering a new career and need advice? Email us your questions for our Facebook live chat next Tuesday, January 19, at 1 p.m. ET.


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