PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: Whether you are contemplating a career change just to get a new fresh start or maybe you’re one of the many Americans who have had a career change decided for them by a past employer, you’ll want to listen to today’s show. Sandra Block, a senior associate editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, is our guest with 20 years of experience covering personal financial issues. She’s recently did research on how people have handled midlife career changes. Welcome Sandra.
SANDRA: Great to be here!
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: We’re really looking forward to today’s topic. I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t sit down with clients where one of the spouses at least is not happy at the job. They’re not ready to retire and they’re thinking of a career change. I know that’s something you’ve been through and you’ve been talking and writing about this quite a bit. Tell our audience a little bit about your circumstance or your situation.
SANDRA: I was a daily newspaper reporter for 17 years for USA Today and then about a year and a half ago, I went to work for Kiplinger’s. Although it’s not a radical change, I went from working for a daily newspaper and a daily website to much longer deadlines and longer stories. A very different approach to the subject that I was writing about. I’m 54 years old and I found the change very invigorating. My mother, who was a longtime newspaper editor, went to work for a community college when she was in her 50s and I’ve sort of been inspired by what she did and that she was willing to try something new at that point in her life.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: Sandra, then tell us about from your perspective with our experience and writing about this topic, if you’re pursuing a midlife career change, how do you avoid the stereotypes about older workers?
SANDRA: First of all, you have to acknowledge them but not be defeated by them. There are a lot of surveys out there that show that age discrimination is real. You are going to encounter employers who think they can’t afford you, who think that you are stuck in your ways and that sort of thing. Some of the career experts I’ve talked to say it’s not as pervasive as some people believe. The one advantage you have as an older worker is that you know a lot of people and networking is really the key to getting a job at any age but it’s probably more important than ever when you’re older because people who know you, know what you’re life and know your energy, know your willingness to work and try new things. You really have to take advantage and this is kind of old-school advice, just to take advantage of networking. Where you sort of ramp it up to the next level is get yourself on LinkedIn. Create a LinkedIn profile and use LinkedIn to find out what demands are, what jobs in the field that you’re interested in are out there and what employers who are advertising these jobs are looking for. What kind of skills do they want and so if you don’t have those skills, you can get them.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: We’ve had a past guest on, Wayne Breitbarth who wrote a book on LinkedIn and us as middle-aged folks and Baby Boomers, when it gets to computers, a lot of us feel intimidated or maybe challenged by that but a lot of us have kids that they’re a wiz on that and we sometimes get intimidated that kids know how to get on the LinkedIn and the Facebook. They can navigate through there and I know some people make the mistake of thinking that can’t work for them because they don’t know the computers. The best thing you can probably do is get your kids to help you with that. I’ll tell you, I’ve talked to so many clients about this and what you talked about on the networking, LinkedIn is probably one of the best tools from a business to business standpoint. Learning how to use that tool really can put networking on steroids.
SANDRA: I really agree with that. In the course of writing this story, I had a LinkedIn profile but hadn’t paid that much attention to it and just as sort of part of my research and just part of my interest, I really started spending a lot of time there and the way that it works is as you build more contacts, you find more contacts. It’s not like Facebook where you have some qualms about putting personal information. This is purely professional. You might hesitate about who you want to be your Facebook friends but with LinkedIn, anyone that you could have contact with and that you’ve worked with and that you’ve known throughout your professional career, you can reach out to and to me a very sort of non-threatening way and create this huge network. It’s a great way to connect with people maybe that you worked for a long time ago and who know you. What I’m finding and what people are telling me is that employers look at LinkedIn. When you apply for a job, they go there and look and one of the things they look at is to see how many connections you have. They look to see where you’ve worked and that sort of thing. It’s really important to have that profile and keep it updated. I think there are probably ways to use it that I haven’t explored but it really is a very useful tool and you don’t need to be a computer genius to use it.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: What about just helping people get past that feeling of maybe imposing on other people as far as if you’re putting it out there, that you’re available, people know you and your skills and talents, and like you said, take advantage of that; but that’s actually a positive way to put it. It’s not take advantage of someone, it’s taking advantage of the fact that they know your skillset and so you’re not a stranger as an applicant because today I’m guessing if there’s a good job out there, there’s lots of people in line.
SANDRA: There are lots of people in line but I think if you have a former colleague or friend who respects you and they recommend you for a job, it makes them look good if you get the job and you succeed. I think that it’s not a totally altruistic thing to help someone get a job. At the same time, I think there is a pay it forward aspect to this and you have to be actively helping other people as well using your connections and your networking to help other people find jobs or make contact with folks who could be helpful to them. It works in a circle that way. As I said, I find that LinkedIn is pretty unobtrusive. You’re not sending people personal emails all day long asking them for advice. You’re reaching out to them in this way and sort of making it known maybe that you are looking for a job and looking for advice and that sort of thing.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: The last person that we employed, we used LinkedIn. We were looking for a bookkeeper and I just put it out to my network. I said, “Hey, we’re looking for a bookkeeper. Does anybody have anybody in mind?” and got a response right away. It really shortened that putting an ad in the paper and spending weeks and weeks interviewing people. We got a recommendation right away and were able to make a decision and it saved us a ton of time and knowing that person came recommended from someone I know and respect made that hiring decision so much easier.
SANDRA: That’s a really good story and I think that’s how older workers in particular can sort of overcome some of the barriers that are out there. Not just the fact that there are some many people for every job, but that if you come at it cold and an employer has never heard of it, looks and figures out that maybe you’re over 50 and might start having some hesitations. I think the fact that you reached them through another way sort of helps you get over those problems.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: What have you found with your experience of course and researching this is people making transitions at midlife, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve changed employers. This is really about career change. Can you site some examples from your writings as far as people going from one industry to another and kind of how they made that jump?
SANDRA: Some people as you said might approach a different division within their company, that’s to me the ideal situation if you could find something new and interesting without having to leave your employer but I think that is not always easy to do. More and more people are just not staying with the same employer their whole lives. There’s not that much of an incentive to do it anymore since very people get a pension. I think what I found in people that I interviewed is very often they had a particular passion or interest that had sort of been out there for years and they pursued that in their second careers. Teaching was something that came up a lot in the people I talked to. I talked to one woman and she’s not in the story but she was so interesting. She had spent a good part of her career as a disability advocate at a big Ivy League school. She went through some personal problems and wanted a change and she’s now working for Boston’s Public Transit Commission and she is still advocating for disabled people and that is still her area but she is working for an entirely different organization than a university and that has been a challenge for her. She’s really enjoyed sort of just the different environment that she is in now.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: That’s neat. Like you said it’s really being driven by your passion. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the exact same job description, it’s just a new opportunity and a fresh new look and I have to believe that if you finally pursue something that you really enjoy. I mean we counsel people all the time in their workplace that they’re not happy but they have to work because they need to pay their bills. If you have that opportunity to transition to something that involves your passion, well that’s pretty fulfilling.
SANDRA: You as financial advisors, I’m sure, are very often having to sort of gently tell people that they can’t really afford to retire at 60 or 62 and the idea that you could make this career switch at midlife and add some years to your career. To be honest, some of the people that I interviewed, one in particular, a corporate lawyer who is now a tour guide for students. He clearly took a big pay cut when he changed careers. He’s 62 and so by continuing to work even at a reduced income, he is going to be able to delay taking social security. We all know how valuable that is in terms of increasing your lifetime benefits. Even though he’s not making as much money as he was when he was a corporate lawyer, he is making an income and as a result his savings and his social security can continue to build for the time when he really does stop working.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: Exactly. That was a great story. I remember reading that. It was very good. Listen, we’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, let’s talk about some of those characteristics of successful midlife career changers. Tell us a little bit more about what you found in your interview process. Please stay tuned.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: Welcome back as we continue to discuss with Sandra Block today the topic of off to a fresh start and just kind of midlife career change and all of the aspects of that. Sandra is a senior associate editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and you’ve got more than 20 years of experience covering personal finance issues and an expert in taxes and saving for retirement and student loans, and all of those things. We appreciate your expertise today related to this particular issue. Would you share with us what are some of the characteristics of successful midlife career-changers.
SANDRA: I think one thing is they certainly have to be willing to learn new skills and learn new strategies because willingness to learn some basic computer skills is probably pretty key to embarking on any career even if it’s one that pays less than the job that you have now. Some of the people I interviewed took risks. A lot of older workers are finding that if they want to keep working, they really need to work for themselves. That sort of speaks to the lack of jobs and also their own desire to be independent, to control their own destiny. One couple I interviewed and who is really not that much older, they’re still in their early 50s and 40s, they wanted to spend more time together. They bought a franchise called Mosquito Joe. They kill mosquitos in people’s yards but part of their motivation was that they wanted to sort of control their hours. They wanted to spend more time together. In order to do that they had to dip into some savings. It’s going to be awhile before they start making a lot of money and so they took some risks. They think it’s worth it for their marriage, for their life and just what they see as a better opportunity than their previous jobs offered.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: I’ve talked to a lot of people and I think one thing that people need to be aware of, you talk about maybe dipping into savings a little bit or taking a cut in pay, a lot of times people will be extremely unhappy at their current position but they’re afraid to explore and they a lot of times make the assumption that they can’t afford to do it. This is something you can sit down with a financial planner and go through your cash flow needs, go through your retirement goals. You might have this idea of retirement where you just stop working altogether at age 62 or 65 but if you find the job that you really enjoy, you might continue to do that just for the love of it through retirement. The fact that you might be earning less money, it might be enough that you don’t have to dip in more to your savings in retirement. As you mentioned with his corporate attorney, I think there is a lot of planning opportunities that can be done that might free people from their current position and allow them in their minds to go to that next better thing.
SANDRA: That’s right. Planning I think is key. One of the people I interviewed for this story is a woman who had a very lucrative career as a copywriter for a pharmaceutical advertising company. She sort of reached an epiphany a few years ago that she wasn’t happy with it and decided she wanted to teach in inner city schools. She went back to school to get her teaching degree and while she was studying, she continued to work and continued to earn this high salary and save as her plan for this time when she knew that she was going to take a cut in income. For her, one of the advantages was that now she is making a lot less money but she does get better benefits. As you said, she is in her 50s now, she could conceivably teach another 15 years or so and postpone retirement. Taking a salary cut isn’t always a bad thing. What we see so often and some of the people I interviewed had very successful lucrative careers and had been laid off or bought out because a lot of companies have downsized. When downsizing comes, oftentimes it’s the highly paid executives who are the first to go.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: I’ve had that certainly happen with my clients and I will say it’s amazing. It depends on how you go into it and with what attitude because change can be for the better. It’s really what you make of it. If you go into it thinking “woe is me” and “I’ve got to start over”, that’s not going to probably lead off to good opportunities. First of course, a positive attitude, using technology today, networking. I just wonder why do you think maybe, Sandra, so many people are embarking on so-called second acts at this time.
SANDRA: I think it just speaks to Baby Boomers who are constantly reinventing themselves. I think that we have a generation of people who grew up with higher expectations for their jobs than just supporting a family. They expect their work to be fulfilling and if you reach your 40s, 50s, even early 60s, and it’s not, then you start thinking about, well, what am I going to do for the rest of my life. A second career is one way that people are addressing that and the second is just the economic reality that we are all going to have to work longer. If you’re going to work longer, you should at least enjoy yourself while you’re doing it.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: Speaking of the economic reality, we’re in a time right now where there is very high unemployment, so where do people go to look for the jobs? Where are they?
SANDRA: As I said, one place I think LinkedIn does offer some pretty good clues as to you can look and see what is out there, what they want. I would suggest then and then as we mentioned networking, professional organizations. Volunteering can be a really good entrée particularly if you have a desire to work in non-profits or something like that. That can be one way to sort of meet people and try things out. Older people too may have more flexibility to pursue contract or temporary or freelance work than young people. I’m assuming maybe your kids are already out of college and you don’t have as many demands as you did. Maybe you have a little more flexibility and that’s something employers really value.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: That’s a good point because certainly with the discussion today of benefits and health care, some employers are having to transition people away from full-time employment. We’ve had a lot of clients that have gone from full-time employment with full-time benefits to consulting and in some cases, it’s quite lucrative and it might even be with the same employer. It’s just restructuring the arrangement which for most of my clients who have done that successful will share that it’s kind of nice not to have to be on the clock every minute of the day. Now I have time to do my own pursuits, spend time with my grandkids but I still have an income stream. It’s amazing how many people we counsel today that are so-called technically retired or at retirement age but are still working and actually still contributing to their retirement plans. Roth IRAs, things like that, even Traditional IRAs, you can still make contributions to. The key is you just have to have that earned income and it’s not that significant today with IRA contribution limits. Just staying active, avoiding drawing from your savings, and delaying the social security issue just again further secures that your money will last longer than you.
SANDRA: That’s right. Employers have been really reluctant to hire full-time employees ever since 2008 but they do have work that needs to be done and to the extent that you can offer yourself up as someone who is available for contract and for temporary and for consulting work, that could be the answer to their prayers and a good situation for you too. As you said, maybe you don’t want to get back on the 9 to 5 commute. You want some time to travel. You want more time but you also want to work some. It could work out really well for both sides.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: We certainly find when we’re counseling people to do that, it’s sometimes easy to be comfortable with where you’re at because where you want to be is uncertain and uncomfortable as far as what would that be like to make a change. From your discussions and interviews, just again maybe share as we close our topic today, inspire those who might be on the fence as far as exploring that opportunity and that passion that’s always driven them. I think sometimes nothing that is more inspiring than other people who had been through the process and that it’s been positive for them. Where should somebody start if they’re kind of unhappy where they’re at and they’re contemplating a change?
SANDRA: If your change is involving perhaps working for yourself, I would say start doing that while you are still working. Experiment with starting your own business or going after some business while you still have a job and so you sort of have that security and you can try that. If you think that you need more skills or there’s just a particular area that you’re passionate about, I would say look into going back to school. Community colleges are offering a lot of programs geared at older workers looking to change jobs. One of good segue is to start taking some classes and the additional advantage of that is by taking the classes, you may do some important networking and you may actually meet people who could help you get a job. I would say consider furthering your education. Try it out on your own. As I mentioned before, volunteer if your passion is giving back. There are a lot of really interesting opportunities out there for people who maybe want to do something in the non-profit sector. You could start out by volunteering and that may lead to an actual job there too.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: That’s definitely another form of personal networking. Now you’re dealing with a person face-to-face and they can see your skills, they can see your passion that drives you. That is certainly great counsel. Sandra, we could probably talk for a long time. This is great information for our listeners, especially those who are just kind of on the fence or those that might be forcing a midlife change simply because their employer has made that decision for them. Regardless, you go into this with a positive attitude, know that others have been through it, and certainly know that it’s what you make of it. Sandra, you’ve been great today. We appreciate it and look forward to maybe chatting with you in the future.
SANDRA: Thank you very much for having me.
PRISM INSURANCE AGENCY: Thanks for joining us this week and tune in again next week as we explore another phase of the Real Wealth Process. Remember, if anything you heard in today’s show you would like to get more information about, contact your Real Wealth Advisor. Also, if you feel that any of this information will be helpful to a friend or family member, just click the Forward to a Friend button.
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