I’m in my fifties. How do I switch careers?

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

I’m in my fifties. How do I switch careers?

The Globe and Mail, Sep. 10 2013 


I am an engineer and have been practising for 25 years. I want to keep working but preferably doing something else. I am in my 50s and could tolerate a moderate cut in pay to achieve happiness in my work, but I haven’t a clue where to start. Can you advise me on some first steps to get me moving in the right direction?


When I work with clients in your age category, the idea of a career change can be overwhelming and seem unrealistic.

My mind goes straight to my father. At the tender age of 50, he was forced into doing a career 180 and started a new business during the recession of the early nineties. An entrepreneur, he went from owning his own production studio that produced television commercials, to renovating and building homes. Today, at 77, he continues to build some of the most beautiful homes I have walked into – because it continues to be a passion for him. To be clear, this transition did not occur without a lot of blood, sweat and tears. No transition is easy. It takes a lot of commitment, perseverance and belief in yourself. And guts.

I always go back to the same three things: What are you passionate about? What are your strengths and skills, or transferable skills? What of the above can translate into a viable career?

What is your passion?

In the story above, my father moved into a field where he already had an interest. He grew up interested in architecture and building, and when he was heading to university, architecture was one of the fields he considered.

So it was not a complete stretch to move into building homes. It drew him in. He had already dabbled in it, renovating several of our family homes over the years. He loved reading about building homes, loved things like renovation magazines and loved the opportunties for learning that came with it.

So, what about you? What else do you have a passion for that could translate into a career? In your 50-plus years on this planet, what other interests have you pursued? What keeps drawing your attention? What interests you?

What are your skills?

What skills have you mastered that are transferable? What are you really good at? If I go back to the example of my father, he knew how to run a business, lead others, and negotiate with banks and suppliers. He was also incredibly creative. All of these skills could be transferred into a new business. He had also renovated a few homes over the years, slowly learning the skills needed. So what skills have you learned through your field of engineering over the past 25 years?

How can you earn a living?

Let’s face it, not all our interests can turn into viable careers. To think that you can jump from one area to another and simply continue to earn the same amount of money without a lot of hard work would be naive. But many interests can translate into other careers. What are you great at and passionate about, where there is a real living to be made? One client I worked with had years of experience in software sales. So it was not a stretch to look at buying a software franchise and running his own business.

Another client had worked with large organizations in real estate development. Today, he runs his own real estate marketing company. Not the career 180s of my father’s example, but doing something new nonetheless.

A leap of faith

A friend of mine just bought a vending machine business in Whistler, B.C. He’s fortysomething, with no previous experience in this field, but he wanted to own a business. This is a complete departure from what he has done in the past. But he has the guts to go for it and try something brand new. And with the right amount of commitment, determination and effort, he has the ability to make it work.

Sometimes, it just takes a leap of faith.

Katie Bennett is an executive coach and speaker and is head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.