Finances

Starting your second act

How to choose your next career


Many men and women over 50 have turned their personal passions into successful second careers.

The days when professionals would spend their entire professional lives with a single firm are largely a thing of the past. In fact, many people not only switch companies multiple times before retirement, but some even switch professions before retiring.

As exciting as it can be to pursue a new career, men and women over 50 know that such a decision is not without risk. While younger professionals with few obligations can often handle bumps in the road on their way to a second career, older professionals making a similar move often must consider the potential effects such a pursuit might have on their families, finances and futures, including their retirements. But as difficult as it may seem to pursue a second career after your fiftieth birthday, there are steps men and women over 50 can take when pursuing a new career to ensure their second act is as successful as the first.

* Decide what you want, and not just what you want to do. The desire to pursue a second career no doubt stems from more than just dissatisfaction with a current profession. Many people switch jobs or even careers because they find their current careers too demanding, leaving little time for family or hobbies that have nothing to do with work. If what you really want is more time at home or more time to pursue a particular hobby, then keep this in mind when looking for a second career, and make sure that career won't demand too much of your time. For example, if your goal in finding a new career is to get more work-life balance, then starting your own business, which can require long hours at the outset and even after the business has established itself, might not be for you. But if what you want is a more challenging career and to be your own boss, then you will likely find the cost of achieving that goal, even if that cost is more demands on your time, is worth it.

* Assess your skillset. Professionals over 50 have lots to offer, but it's still important for such men and women to make an honest assessment of their skillset and find a career in which those skills are transferable. Some men and women might want to pursue a second career that will make little to no use of their skillset, and that's perfectly alright. But extra schooling might be necessary in such situations, and going back to school oftentimes requires a considerable commitment of both time and money. For those who simply want to put their existing skills to use in a different field or environment, assess those skills and look for lines of work in which they figure to be especially valuable. If there are any particular aspects of your current job that you want to avoid in the future, consider that when assessing your skills and choosing a second career. Even if they don't know it, established professionals over 50 have many transferable skills, and such skills can be a considerable asset when pursuing a second career, especially when those skills have been assessed and can be applied to a new profession.

* Make a trial run. Nowhere does it say that professionals can't take a trial run at a second career while still fully engaged in their first career. In fact, testing the waters before you jump in is a good way to gauge your interest in a potential second career and how well your skillset applies to that field. A trial run, which can be conducted by volunteering with a nonprofit organization or through a part-time job or simply offering your services to a company free of charge in exchange for a chance to learn how the business operates, can shed light on the inner workings of a particular industry, showing you how things work behind the curtain. Testing the waters may reaffirm your belief that a certain line of work is for you, or it might send you back to the drawing board. Either way, it's valuable experience that may reassure you that whatever decision you ultimately make is the right one.

* Don't go it alone. Switching careers after 50 carries some risk, but it's certainly a risk that many before you have been willing to take. If you know any people, be it a friend, family member or former or even current colleague, who has reinvented themselves professionally, then speak with these people and ask for any advice they might have. If you know you want out of your current career but aren't quite sure of what you want to do next, those who have faced a similar fork in the road may be able to help you narrow down your options. The notion of changing careers is exciting, and you can expect your personal and professional confidantes to share your excitement and be willing to help you in any way they can.

Making a career change after 50 can be a risky yet ultimately rewarding move, especially for those men and women who take a thoughtful approach to finding their second careers.