How to switch career at any age – and why being older can be a real advantage

It’s a worrying time for many of us work-wise – but it could be the cue to strike out on a new career path. What’s more, discovers Eimear O’Hagan, being older can be a real advantage.

Starting a new job at any age can be intimidating: whether it’s the idea of having to learn new skills, adjusting to a new workplace environment or potentially taking a salary cut. And the effects of Covid-19 mean that many people are already finding themselves in the position of having to change careers: between March and June this year in the UK almost 650,000 fewer employees were paying tax, with a large number expected to lose their jobs when the Government’s furlough scheme ends in October.

changing careers
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But age is no barrier to striking out on new employment paths, says career coach Joanna Booty of Metier Career Growth. ‘The prospect of change – whether it’s of your choosing or because it’s been forced on you by redundancy – can be scary. If you’re in your 40s or 50s, there’s a worry it’s too late to try something new. It is a big decision, but experience, maturity and transferable skills are going to be very valuable in the jobs market going forward.’

The notion that once you’re in a particular profession you’re in it for life is outdated, adds Joanna. Now, being open-minded is key. ‘Whether it’s switching to a job in a completely different industry, retraining or launching a “portfolio career” – where you have several roles – it’s essential that women take a flexible approach to ensure not only employment, but also satisfaction in what they do.’

Overleaf three women reveal how they forged successful new midlife career paths – and have never looked back.

‘I was never ambitious – until I was made redundant’

Sophie Rahim, 41, qualified as a social worker after being made redundant. She’s single and lives in Luton, Bedfordshire, with her two sons.

Sophie RahimWhen I lost my job four years ago, I panicked. As a single mum of two, the most obvious course of action would have been to get another job – any job – to keep a wage coming in. Instead, for the first time in my life, I stopped and thought about what I really wanted to do.

I dropped out of university in my early 20s when I became pregnant with my eldest son. After that I was always employed, but income was more important than ambition and I did everything from work in a coffee shop to being an admin assistant.

In 2016, I was made redundant from my job as a learning and development trainer at a local authority. For the first few weeks I was unsure what to do, but I realised that I didn’t want to look for yet another job that I didn’t love. I also believed that having a formal qualification was the key to a more secure future.

I’m adopted and so social work had always interested me, plus I’d done some safeguarding work at the local authority. I knew there was a shortage of social workers, and felt a degree would lead to employment – it was vital for there to be a good job at the end of my studies.

I applied for a student loan to live off and pay my tuition fees and also took on several part-time jobs in retail and in a pub. My course was a mixture of lectures, workshops and studying at home. I was one of the oldest students in my year but that didn’t bother me. When other students were out partying, I was happy at home in the evening with my books. My confidence and self-belief really blossomed as I studied and my graduation – with a first-class degree – was a day I’ll never forget.

Today, I work as a social worker for a private outdoor education company, overseeing safeguarding and staff wellbeing. I’m pragmatic enough to realise that every industry is going to feel the effects of Covid-19, but I’m not frightened. Now I have my qualification, I’m confident that whatever happens, there will be a job for me.

If you find yourself redundant…

Career Coach Joanna Booty says: Start looking for another job online.,, and all have job boards spanning multiple industries. I also cannot emphasise enough the power of using LinkedIn; it has a job board with a huge number of roles and is a great way to connect with people from industries you are interested in, as well as recruiters. If you proactively manage your account you could find out about opportunities that haven’t been advertised. I would also advise looking for industry-specific or career-specific job boards, as well as working with a recruiter who specialises in your career sector.

‘I walked away from a 20-year career to be my own boss’

Geraldine Joaquim, 50, is a clinical hypnotherapist and stress management consultant. She lives in Petworth, West Sussex, with her husband and two children.

Geraldine JoaquimBy the time I left my career in international marketing nearly three years ago, I’d describe myself as ‘walking wounded’. I was doing everything I needed to at work and home, but I can see now I was on the fringes of depression.

For a long time, I loved my old career. I travelled the world, earned a good salary and relished having a working identity separate to being a mother. But over time the shine began to wear off and my tipping point came in September 2017 when, after spending my 25th wedding anniversary working in Germany, I was informed my contract was changing – less money for more work. I realised I wanted something different from my working life, and soon after that I handed in my notice.

The year before, in 2016, I’d spent £3,000 studying to become a hypnotherapist, attending a weekend course in Guildford every month for ten months, as well as gaining practical experience. At that point I’d no plans to turn it into a career – it was just something that had interested me since I’d had hypnotherapy in my 20s after an injury.

However, once I’d decided I wanted to strike out on my own, it made sense to fuse that qualification with the corporate skills I already had and create a new career for myself. I had years of experience giving presentations, which, when added to my new knowledge about the brain, neuroscience and the impact of stress, resulted in my company Mind Your Business. Today, I offer training on stress management and mental wellbeing to employees and their managers, because happy staff make a more productive business. I also do one-to-one hypnotherapy sessions.

I feel so fulfilled now and love working for myself after years of being a small part of a bigger organisation. I have no regrets about stepping off the corporate treadmill and taking my skills with me to become my own boss.

If you’re planning to strike out on your own…

Joanna says: It’s essential to acquire practical knowledge on how to run a business – everything from budgeting in order to pay your tax bill, managing your accounts and having a business plan. There are lots of regional business support organisations, so research what expert help is available in your area and utilise it.

‘I took a leap of faith and now I have my dream job’

Jeanette Dean, 52, is a midwife and lives in Liverpool with her husband. She has three children.

Jeanette DeanThere is no better feeling in the world than seeing a happy mum with a healthy baby in her arms. Ten years after I qualified as a midwife, I’m thankful I had the courage to leave my uninspiring job in the Civil Service and retrain in a new career. There were definitely moments when I thought, ‘What on earth have I done?’, but now I have an amazing sense of job satisfaction.

I joined the Civil Service in 1988, and went on to have my three children. With each pregnancy, my fascination with midwifery grew and I’d daydream about being one myself. I knew I’d found my vocation, but the thought of leaving a secure job and income to retrain when I had three young children and was approaching my 40th birthday was daunting.

My husband Barry encouraged me, assuring me we’d manage financially and telling me I’d be setting an example to the children to always follow their dreams. I knew that if I didn’t do it I would spend my life regretting it, so while I was on maternity leave with my youngest daughter Rebecca in 2005, I resigned from the Civil Service. Over the next two years I took an Access to Health course (which helps people lacking A-Levels to access higher education in medicine and healthcare), and also volunteered at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, filling jugs of water, making tea and toast and restocking supplies.

In September 2007, I enrolled at Liverpool John Moores University on a three-year, full-time midwifery degree. The course was a 50/50 mixture of academic studies and practical experience in the community and hospital. I loved it but it also meant a lot of sacrifices – missing school plays and studying instead of reading bedtime stories. But I knew it would all be worth it and that kept me going when I felt overwhelmed. After graduating in 2010, aged 42, I worked for the NHS for five years, before joining a private midwifery service.

Now I split my time between that role and my own business Positive Pregnancy & Parenthood, offering hypnobirthing and antenatal courses. No two days are the same, and I feel privileged to share in my patients’ journey to motherhood. It’s my perfect job.

If you want to follow your dream

Joanna says: Look before you leap. If you’re considering investing time and money in training or a qualification to move into a new industry, do your research. Speak to people who work in that field: are there opportunities and will they give you the working life you want? What skills do you already have that you can take with you? What do you need and will the training or studies you’re contemplating deliver those?

changing careers
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You’re hired! Joanna’s five CV golden rules

Remove unnecessary dates: Leave off your date of birth and the dates of any qualifications older than about 15 years. There is no need to include a photo. Your CV showcases your skills and achievements to demonstrate you are a great candidate for the job. What you look like and your age are irrelevant.

Make your profile fit for the 2020s: Set up a LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one, and include a link to it on your CV. It shows you’re familiar with current methods of networking and will improve your chances of finding more opportunities. Remove your landline number and your physical address, and include a mobile number and your email address.

Keep it relevant: Detail the last ten to 15 years – these are the most relevant – and highlight key achievements for each role. As an older applicant, your advantage is you should have plenty to choose from. Consolidate experience older than 15 years in one section without dates and just list companies and job titles. Only include up-to-date skills that are advantageous to the role you’re applying for.

Tailor your content: Tweak the content of your CV for each job, as many recruiters will use databases that automatically search for relevant CVs. Use key words that are included in the job advert as this means your CV is more likely to be picked up. Once someone looks at your CV, they will also be gauging how relevant it is for the job, so ensure it highlights the skills and experience that match those advertised for each role.

Pay attention to the layout: Make yours easy to read so the important bits don’t get lost in the detail. Use a simple layout – a combination of brief paragraphs and bullet points – with a modern, clear font such as Calibri, and make sure the pages don’t look cluttered. Keep it short – ideally two pages.

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