How to Make a Career Change in Your 50s

career change

We asked talent recruiter Chandra Turner about making a career swap

Who says you can’t mix things up in your 50s? We talked to talent recruiter and career coach Chandra Turner about how to identify a new career path and pivot to a new industry. “What I see in my 50+ clients is an energized desire to be a part of a team and make a tangible impact with their work,” Chandra told us. “Chances are, after 20+ years working in any industry, you have plenty of transferable skills.” Chandra, who runs the Ed2010 and the Talent Fairy, shares how to get started. 

Katie Couric Media: What steps should a career-changer take to determine that the new career will be a good fit? 

Chandra Turner: The first step is to take a deep breath. This is a process. You’re not going to jump into a new career overnight. You need time to reflect on your skills and home in on your passions: What are you skilled at that can also make you happy? Then it’s about filling in any skill gaps (with classes or training), building a personal brand story, and finally creating your brand marketing, aka, your resume, your LinkedIn, your “Zoom” pitch (FKA: elevator pitch!). 

Start talking to people. I hate to use the term “networking” because that stresses people out. Instead, think of it as reconnection and research. You are reaching out to people who have roles or are in industries you are interested in pivoting to — and asking questions about what they do, what skills are needed in those roles. Take notes! Start a spreadsheet! I also recommend reaching out to industry organizations; many like the one I am a board member of, Women’s Media Group, allow non-members to listen in on workshops, industry speaker talks, and more. It’s a great way to embed yourself in your new career before you are officially in it. 

How should people identify transferable skills when going through this process? 

Chances are after 20+ years working in any industry, you have plenty of transferable skills. The key is focusing on which ones are relevant for your next move. But first, what is your next move? Focus is important or you can go crazy! When I work with my career-pivoting clients I start with your passion points: 

  • What do you want to do next that you aren’t doing now? 
  • What makes you happy outside of work that you wish you could get paid for? 
  • What companies, brands, products, services, or organizations do you naturally use, follow or engage with as a consumer? As a human? 

Then we work backward to determine what skills you need that are transferable for these roles — and fill in any gaps you may have with specific training, online courses, or even going back to school. 

What kind of career changes are you seeing these days for clients 50+? 

I have yet to have someone over 50 tell me, I just want a job, any job. That’s something younger people say. People with 25+ years of experience tell me they want a job that matters. They want to make a positive impact on the world, they want to work for a sustainable company, or they’re looking for a labor of love — one that can still pay for their kids’ college and contribute to their retirement fund. 

What are some examples of successful career-changes that you’ve seen recently in your clients? 

My specialty is working with people in communications, writing, editing, and marketing. Most of them want to move out of traditional or print media to social and digital media, video, podcasts, or brand marketing. Some want to transition to the nonprofit world to use their skills for good. Many took time off to have children or worked as a freelancer for a decade and want to move back into a full-time role, with health insurance and a 401k. 

A recent client was a freelance writer and part-time home organization specialist for 20+ years; I helped her land a position as a staff editor at a booming startup. Another is going back to school to be a social worker after years as a digital media exec. Another transitioned from a nutritionist and freelance food writer to working as a content marketing strategist at a health-technology company. 

Should you expect to start in an entry-level job when you change careers? Or is there a way to skip this step? 

You absolutely do not need to go back to being someone’s assistant scheduling their Zoom calls or throwing the staff baby showers. But you will likely have to step back a few squares on the Life game board. Of course it depends on what you’re pivoting to — and what you’re coming from. It’s one thing to become a doctor. But if you want to parlay your current skills and experience into an adjacent or complementary industry, you can move over at a rung or two below where you are now. In my experience, it only takes a couple of years to get back up to your title and income level before your pivot.

How can a career counselor help with this process? 

A good career coach can articulate the skills you have, what’s missing, and where you might thrive in your next role. They will also help you market yourself (something that pretty much no one is good at doing!), which includes helping you hone a personal brand, write a modern resume, optimize your LinkedIn profile, and pitch yourself to potential employers.

Do you recommend going back to school? Getting certified in new skills? Working as an apprentice to gain experience? 

It depends on your goal. Most people don’t want to start from scratch. They want to transition into a role using the same basic skill set. For instance, a former magazine editor now runs the literacy nonprofit where she once volunteered.  Or the journalist who now uses her reporting skills as a fraud investigator for the City of New York. They fill in the gaps with online training or an outside course, so easy to do these days; I recommend classes with General Assembly or Coursera to my clients. Often you can do the job, but you may need help talking the talk in the job interview or learning basic technical skills. 

Of course, some people do start from scratch! After 20+ years as a writer and YA novelist, my best friend earned an EMT certificate. She used to write teenage love scenes and now she’s driving an ambulance through traffic, literally saving people’s lives, and loving every minute of it. So you never know! 

Chandra Turner is the founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in editorial and content roles. She also offers personalized career coaching for editors and content creators at all stages of their careers.