Ever since she was in high school, Yashika Mailey has wanted to be a nurse. She put that dream on hold, however, when she started a family at the age of 17. Now that she’s 55 and her three children are adults, she’s finally working to turn that dream into a reality.
“I’m a full time student and I’m working full-time in medical billing,” she said. “I’m starting by becoming an LPN (licensed practical nurse) first and then we’ll see what happens.”
Whether changing careers to fulfill a dream, re-entering the workforce out of financial necessity or getting a job to stay socially connected, many Americans of retirement age still want to be employed. In fact, a recent Harris survey of workers in the U.S. between the ages of 54 to 72 showed that almost a quarter said that they plan to work in retirement.
“Obviously, a career change or a job search after 50 will require a different approach than it would if you were just out of college,” said Hope Navolio, a career coach and former human resources executive in Alexandria. “It’s not hopeless in the way that some people might think, but there are factors that you have to consider.”
Age bias is a fear that Navolio hears often, but she advises clients to use age to their advantage. “The thought of competing for a job with people who are young enough to be their grandchildren can be intimidating for some older workers,” she said. “But I think people can view their age as an asset and present themselves that way. There’s a level of maturity and insight that only comes with age. Many employees are looking for someone who’s stable, dependable and who won’t get involved in petty office squabbling or office politics.”
“One of the first things that I would say is to make sure you’re web and tech savvy,” said Bethesda headhunter Mara Rappaport. “That might mean that you have to take a few classes, but you need to be able to use social media to your advantage. I would think anyone looking for a job today needs to have a LinkedIn page and cultivate a professional network, even if the jobs you’re looking for aren’t considered professional in the traditional sense. You could even start a blog and write about things that interest you or that are related to the type of job that interests you. For example, if you want to be a fitness coach, blog about current fitness trends. That would demonstrate that you’re both tech savvy and aware of what is going on in your field.”
Modernizing one’s appearance is another suggestion that Rappaport offers to those who are concerned about being too old to get a particular job. “It might sound shallow, but getting a makeover can breathe a breath of youthful air into your appearance and make a world of difference in a potential employers’ first impression of you,” she said. “I tell people to add a few trendy items into their wardrobe. That doesn’t mean you need to dress like a 20-year old, but I think you do need to show that you’re at least aware of current trends, even if you don’t follow all of them.”
Not limiting oneself of traditional options when contemplating a career change can increase the chances of finding meaningful work, says Navolio. “Don’t think of a career change as moving from one boring job to another,” she said. “If there’s something that you enjoy doing as a hobby, consider making a career out of it. If you’ve always practiced yoga, train to become a yoga teacher. If you love being around young children, a job at a preschool might interest you.”
Ronald Potts, a former attorney with a knack for numbers and one of Navolio’s clients, began working as a seasonal tax preparer in January. After becoming bored and isolated in retirement, he decided to look for a job, but he wanted one that required fewer hours and offered more flexibility than he had in his law career. “When I retired, I didn’t really have a plan for how I was going to fill my time and I got bored within a few weeks,” he said. “I thought about all of the things could do and I’ve always been good with math. Now I just do straightforward tax returns, so the work is still somewhat challenging, but don’t have the long days and all the pressure that I had when I was at my firm.”