How to Make a Career Change at 50

What You Need to Know Before You Take Your Next Step

50-year-old worker
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At 50 years old, you are much closer to retirement age than you are to the age you were when you first started out. If you plan to retire at 67, when you can collect your full U.S. Social Security benefits, you have about 17 years left of your career. Depending on how you feel about what you do to make a living, that can seem like a very short time or an eternity. Since you are reading an article about how to make a career change at 50, it is more likely the latter is true.

Your occupation may no longer bring you the satisfaction it once did. Perhaps you were never happy with it and finally feel ready to explore other options. At this point in your life, you may wonder if the effort it will take to make a career change is even worthwhile. Whether you are 30 or 50, you shouldn't spend time working in a career in which you are unhappy. Your age, though, will play a role in how you go about making your transition and your decision about what career to pursue next. 

The Pros and Cons of Changing Careers at 50

You may feel confident, at age 50, that you can take on any challenge that comes your way. Or, you may question whether you want to start over at this point in your life. With retirement on the horizon, you may wonder if it makes sense to stir things up. Ask yourself if it's better to spend every day looking forward to being close to two decades older.

Rushing your life away, as you eagerly anticipate not having to go to work every day is not the best way to live.

While there are no guarantees that a new career will make you love work, it unlikely you will become more satisfied with your current one over time. Making a career change now is much simpler than doing it later on.

Career satisfaction will have a positive effect on your health, relationships, and life in general.

Being in the wrong career is stressful, and who needs that? No, it won't be easy to make the transition, but if you go about it in the right way, it doesn't have to be so hard. You just have to decide what you want to do next and whether your choice is realistic. Then you have to figure out how to make it all happen. Easy? Not really. But it is doable.

What's Hard About Changing Careers at 50?

At age 50, there's a good chance you have quite a few expenses. You may be putting children through college, while also paying off a mortgage. At the very least, you may be responsible for rent and possibly car loans and other debt you may have accumulated over the years.

The good news is, you may also have some savings put away. Anything that is liquid could be used to help get you through a career change. Don't dip into your retirement account though. There will be a penalty, and besides, you will need that money later on.

Breaking into a new field becomes more difficult with age. This is particularly true if you have to compete with younger workers for entry-level jobs. You may face age bias from some employers, but many equate age with experience. Highlighting your transferable skills on your resume will help.

How to Make a Career Change at 50

You are more likely to be satisfied with a particular career if it is a good match for your personality type, aptitudes, work-related values, and interests. Therefore, before you go any further, you should learn about yourself by doing a self-assessment. You can hire a career counselor or other career development professional to help you with this step. Find out if your local public library offers this service for free. Many do. Another option is to contact the career services office. Check with a local college or the one you attended, which may provide career services free to alumni. Completing a self assessment will leave you with a list of occupations that are a good fit for you based on your characteristics.

Next, explore the occupations on your list. Although an occupation seems suitable, you have other things to consider at age 50.

With just slightly less than two decades ahead of you to settle into a new career, the time you will spend preparing for it is a more important factor than it would have been if you had done this earlier. You should avoid choosing occupations that require many years of education or training. While you may occasionally see a story about someone who made a late midlife career change and became a doctor or lawyer while in their 50s, that could be an unrealistic choice for several reasons. By the time you finish your education, you would have few years left to work so your investment won't pay off. You might also face age bias both in admissions and in getting a job when you graduate.

It is much more practical to choose an occupation that takes advantage of your transferable skills and doesn't require too much additional education and training. With that said, if it's your heart's desire to pursue a career that requires multiple years of education and training, and you have the financial resources to do it, don't let anything stop you.

Also make sure to learn about job duties, employment outlook, and median earnings. Evaluate this data to help you pick the most suitable occupations from your list. Think about which job duties you like and which you don't. While you don't have to love every task you would have, you must at least be willing to do all of them regularly. If any job duty is a deal breaker, take that occupation out of the running.

Earning a lot of money is nice, but it won't make you any happier with a career that has few other redeeming qualities. Instead of choosing the occupation with the highest earnings, make sure the salary will cover your expenses, let you save money, and allow you to take part in the leisure activities you enjoy. Consider the employment outlook as well. If you can't get a job, there is no point in choosing this occupation.