Finishing college, starting a career and then a family, and the day-to-day struggles of running a home and balancing finances are stressful at any age, but more so when you reach your middle years. Turning 50 is a milestone, but what can you expect if you need to return to the workforce?
For women going back to work at the age of 50, a reevaluation of skills and learning about new trends or software pertaining to a former profession are crucial. Learning about a new field and branching out into a new profession can also be rewarding.
There are many variables that arise when you find yourself needing to reenter the workforce in your golden year: social and workforce discrimination, learning to rebrand yourself, updating your knowledge and skills, and deciding on what kind of job to pursue are but just a few. Read on for the ultimate guide to help you navigate this exciting but daunting new prospect.
Take a look at this video to get a brief overview of the many types of opportunities that await you in the workforce:
The Obstacles That Women Face in the Workforce
Old habits certainly die hard, but the same can be said for outdated and discriminatory points-of-view in the workforce.
Gender inequality and salary discrimination have rightfully come into the forefront of national dialogue in the last few years, but for women who find themselves re-entering the workforce at 50, sexism, ageism, and our own natural instinct that comes with learning to adapt to these perceptions can be infuriating and difficult.
For centuries, patriarchal dominance in the workforce has dominated virtually every institution that defines a society. With long overdue advancements in gender equality in the notions of liberty and representation, the workforce has been one of the slowest sectors to evolve. The thinking that women can’t perform a job that typically is associated with men is still common.
Overcoming gender stereotypes can sometimes seem like losing a battle. But we should never stop trying to break this bias. It is unfortunate that this is still an issue in the 21st-century; however, things have started to move in a positive direction. Opening a dialogue with employers or HR managers is now more welcome than it has ever been.
A recent article published by the AARP found that roughly 3 in 5 older workers have experienced or witnessed age discrimination in the workplace. This was outlawed by Congress in 1967 with the passage of The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, yet this cruel and seemingly unwavering bias still dictates hiring decisions in nearly every industry.
Workplace bias regarding age is built on the same outdated modes of thinking that fostered sexist bias regarding women in the workplace. As a woman, both factors can seem daunting to consider, and this is where you can put your skill set and professionalism into play.
The notion that younger college graduates or younger individuals in general are more dependable or able to excel at their positions is ludicrous. But the bias still persists.
It is maddening that workers who paid their dues and thrived in their careers in years past would have to work hard to even get their feet back in the door. But turning 50 will work against you even if an employer strives to be unbiased. Employers fear hiring a more mature worker, especially if there are stacks of fresh-faced 20-somethings jockeying for the same position.
You can overcome this by selling the best version of yourself and what you can bring to the table.
If you land a job, you have every right to be excited, but you will also likely be nervous about fitting back into the groove of the work environment. You will feel out of your element, and this is most probably because you have spent a long time outside of the work field.
Changing careers is bizarre for anyone, but it can feel even stranger if you had taken time off to raise a family and find yourself to be suddenly removed from that comfort zone.
You have to shut off the outside world all over again and become committed solely to the 8 hours that start when you walk through the office door. You may feel nervous or anxious longer than a few days or even wonder if you can reignite that passion for success that guided you years before. These feelings are normal but may become a hindrance that you will need to overcome.
Sadly, these feelings are rooted in real issues. A 2015 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that age discrimination against women in the workforce is very real and more prevalent than that experienced by men. What does this mean going forward? How can you possibly compete in a work environment that seems to be toxic before you even complete your first task?
It will take some positive reinforcement that you need to provide yourself–but you can also follow a winning path by focusing on your skillset, honing new techniques and programs that may have changed since you were last employed, and selling your stellar work ethic with passion and vigorous enthusiasm. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these themes.
How Can I Sell My Skill Set?
Once again, the single hardest part about going back to work at 50 is getting your feet into the door. This is worth repeating because it is so true. It does not matter if you are applying to work in an office or with a company that will let you work in your home office – acing the interview is crucial.
It is hard to know what each individual employer is looking for. Therefore, you will need to think back on past interviews you had and use your experiences to ace the interview and break down the age barriers.
Overcoming Tricky Interview Questions
Some employers may ask about your age directly in relation to the job. It’s bold and presumptuous, but it could happen – even if this directly violates Congressional law. Others will ask the standard question regarding why there is such a long gap in your work history. It is safe to assume this question is likely also related to age even though it is masked very well as a standard question.
You have to be prepared to tackle this question specifically, even if you ace all of the other job-related questions. If you resigned properly from your previous position, this will be a bit easier but not always, considering some employers are looking for years and years of commitment.
The best solution is to always be honest and upfront. If you resigned to raise children or explore other interests, just confidently explain your reasons.
You should never feel like you have to feel bad about making a life decision that led to personal fulfillment and happiness. Raising a family is also hard work. If you weren’t happy in your previous position, explain what led you to that decision to separate from that situation. It is not your responsibility to seek to change personal opinions an employer may have over your life situations.
Be yourself and be brutally honest. Always steer your explanation back to the position you are being interviewed for. If you are applying for a management position and your previous career was the same, explain how excited you are to bring your skill set and experience to the table and for the opportunity to help in the company’s success.
If you are applying for a teaching position after several years of being away from the classroom, explain how your passion for knowledge never diminished, and you cannot wait to start sharing that knowledge again with others.
Do not be afraid to mention the life experiences you gained during your absence from the workforce. Employers want to see a willingness to commit to their company or organization.
Do not say that you left the workforce because you were tired of it. Employers do not want to see what could turn out to be a regrettable choice down the road. Always focus on the positive aspects of working and not what you didn’t like about your previous job.
One sure-fire way that you can excel by selling your experience is to only apply for positions that allow you to negotiate with your years of knowledge and expertise. Age is just a number when you bring so much to the table.
If you embrace everything about yourself and all of the positive things you have learned and gained from your previous career, you can truly become a force to be reckoned with during an interview.
Seniority is also a perfect selling point in an interview. If you previously rose up the ranks in your field, you will have a great advantage to an employer who is looking for leadership. How much knowledge you have about your field is also likely to impress employers since this foundation can be passed on to younger employees as well.
It will greatly help to make your experience a huge selling point when you are preparing for your interview. Be sure to go over every single thing that you achieved in the past and how these can carry over to the new company. Be sure to highlight how you can be a source of guidance for newer employees who are still finding their way in the corporate world.
If you are trying out a new career, the same outlook still applies. Experience is a powerful bartering tool that not many college graduates get to utilize when trying to get their feet in the door. You have the upper hand in this vital factor because you have actively navigated the waters before. If you can assert this narrative to an employer, your age should not even be a second thought.
Update Your Skill Set and Learn New Dynamics
Tackling an interview and selling your experience is crucial, but you also need to make sure you are prepared for any possible changes that have arisen in your field.
If you are applying for a position that has newer technological or educational requirements than it once did, do not let this be something that changes your mind. Technology is constantly evolving, and it would help to research more about the position and what new methodologies may now be in place.
Let’s say you were a teacher in the 2000s, which was a time when educational software was still in its infancy. You may think this is a problem, but you can easily find tutorials and videos online that will guide you through the use of that technology.
Virtual classrooms are the wave of the future, and it just requires learning how to navigate the software and all of the other skills you still have.
Learning new skills or new dynamics in your former position can also go a long way in showing an employer that you have a willingness to evolve with the field. This will also show that you are dynamic and can gain new knowledge quickly and accurately.
Don’t be afraid to clean up your resume as well. Highlight your previous position and work, especially the positive aspects of that experience, and you may opt to not include other jobs that do not pertain to the position at hand.
Make your resume shine by highlighting your skills and experience. Even if this is an entirely new position you are after, your skill set is usually going to be the make or break section of your CV if you have been out of work for an extended amount of time.
Most of all, be ready to work and show your eagerness for the job to your prospective employer. It is easy for applicants to simply provide a one or two-sentence reply when asked about work ethic, but it helps to sell your commitment to the company while not going too overboard with the theme.
Take some time and research the company you are applying for, especially if it is part of an industry that is very different from your last position. Show a willingness to know the products or services and expectations of the company top to bottom. Be willing to put in the work to become a great asset to the company and its most enthusiastic employee.
Do not be afraid to show your excitement and willingness to work hard for the organization, but don’t be too overzealous. Be willing to listen to counter opinions or arguments, even if they are against your views. Focus on what really matters.
Be willing to learn and strategically think about ways to not only implement the goals of your position but also how to further work on them, later on, to help your team and company succeed.
This is a good way to get your foot in the door, but what about the actual job itself? What if you want to try something completely new? What kinds of jobs are out there when you turn 50? Let’s explore a range of fields that may be a good match.
What Job Fields Are Good Options to Try?
It is perfectly normal to wish to explore a range of careers during your lifetime. Not everybody has the passion to spend the next 40 years in the same field right after graduating from college. After all, you only get one life.
Even with this in mind, there are certain qualifications that must be met for a large range of jobs and careers. It is also essential to research jobs that may not necessarily hold age bias.
Being an educator is a wonderful career because knowledge has no age cutoff in any shape or fashion. We all continue to learn until the end of our lives, and if you have a passion for teaching, you will be happy to find that this field freely welcomes educators of all ages.
You will need to have a bachelor’s degree to teach elementary or secondary education, but your degree doesn’t necessarily have to be in education.
Teacher prep programs are available in each of the 50 states, and some will even allow you to start teaching while taking prep classes at night or online. Successful completion of the program will allow you to sit for your licensing examination.
Much like teaching, there are educational and licensing requirements that need to be met in nearly all fields within the healthcare industry. If you wish to become an RN (Registered Nurse), which is an in-demand job that does not really care about the age of an applicant, you will need to obtain a license.
Most prospective RNs can attend a two-year Associate’s program at a community college, and financial aid is available if needed. Likewise, the field of Medical Billing and Coding is also a great option to consider, and a certification course is typically all that’s needed to apply.
If you have past managerial experience and you are not having luck in certain fields, you can always consider going into service industry management. Most retail or restaurant general managers can earn a comfortable salary, and this will allow you to put your past leadership skills back into focus.
Most retail management positions will require experience. But if you have a degree and any past management experience, no matter the industry, you may be pleasantly surprised if you take an interview for one of these positions.
Do you have a knack for business or a competitive edge? If so, becoming a real estate agent is one position that immediately prioritizes your skills over any age-related bias. All it takes to become a realtor is complete any brief, educational requirements that your state may have and then successfully pass your state’s licensure examination.
Real estate is a field that consistently brings many people career fulfillment, granted that you have persuasive sales skills and an unwavering commitment to meet your sales goals.
If you have a background in finance or if you have a passion for crunching numbers and helping homeowners and families make smart financial decisions and investments, becoming a financial advisor can be a lucrative career. Financial advisors can help clients with taxes, offer accounting services, oversee investments, insurance, and even retirement options.
What’s best is that you can be entirely self-employed with this career choice; you just need to know the field and market your skills successfully. A bachelor’s degree in business administration or some type of accounting degree may be required depending on what route you take in this field.
All of these fields are great choices, but the world of self-employment and freelancing is currently reshaping the workforce at a staggering rate, and the freedom that freelancing brings with it is attractive to many people. Let’s take a look at this option and how this could be the ultimate choice for you.
Freelancing 101: The Wave of the Future
Freelancing is an opportunity to find as much or as little independent work that you can handle without the age-old restraints that come with the traditional workforce. Most freelancers are also self-employed, which means you can complete your projects right inside the comfort of your home if you wish.
You will need to develop a skill to be a successful freelancer. If you have a degree in English, start practicing content creation as a freelance writer. The more clients who like your work, the more you can attract, and you’ll be able to turn your writing into a business.
The same applies to fields such as graphic design, computer programming and coding, and even accounting or account management in a virtual setting.
If you want to change the course of your previous working life and become a freelancer, it won’t hurt to learn the ins and outs of what the work dynamic is like for professional freelancers. Project management software, communication tools, remote work templates such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs, and many more productivity tools are the current essentials for many freelancers.
One thing you can be assured of, your age is never going to come into question. Most freelancers do not necessarily have to sit for in-person or even virtual interviews. You can just submit samples of your work and communicate completely through email.
Freelancing gives you the opportunity to live your life on your terms without worrying about your wardrobe, commuting, or building your life around a set schedule.
Most freelancing work does not subtract federal and state taxes from your pay, so you will need to learn how to calculate your tax and pay quarterly taxes. But apart from that, freelancing is a great way to return to the workforce and still live your life without the undue stress that comes with navigating corporate politics.
Is 50 Too Old to Start a New Career?
When it comes right down to it, turning 50 and looking to go back into the workforce is certainly not a bad thing. The workforce is an extension of society. Therefore, we can never expect it to be completely fair and forward-thinking in its makeup. However, you do not have to let any kind of bias bring you down in your life, and the skills you mastered once are still a part of who you are.
It’s true that biology and aging are just facts of life, but they do not have to matter if you would rather choose to return to the career world, be it in your previous field or a brand new venture.
Remember to steer clear of careers that are more partial to youth and hiring employees for decades of commitment. Life shouldn’t work that way, and never feel like you have to conform to standards set out by society.
Whatever you decide to do, it is important to make sure you have a burning passion for whatever new career you wish to attain. If you feel passionate about your new career, chances are an employer will notice, and you will likely get a reply with an offer of employment.
If you are thinking of going back to work at 50, there will be some long-standing biases that you will need to contend with and rise above. There are numerous types of positions you can apply for and always be sure to master selling your previous experience and skill set to match the expectations of the job.
If all else fails, self-employment and freelancing offer great opportunities to bring in as much work and money as you want. Being self-employed allows you to live your life on your own terms.
In any case, going back to work at 50 can certainly be achieved.
- AARP: Workplace Age Discrimination Still Flourishes in America
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Forbes: How Does Sexism Influence Workplaces Today?
- National Bureau of Economic Research: Is It Harder for Older Workers to Find Jobs? New and Improved Evidence from a Field Experiment
- Teacher Certification Degrees: Better Teachers Brighter Futures: Teaching Certification and Licensure Guide
- Nurse.com: Is 51 Too Old to Become a Nurse?
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Personal Financial Advisors
- BusinessLine on Campus: Are you ready to catch the Post-Covid-19 freelance wave?