Changing Careers at 50 - Are You Crazy?

 


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It was all just too much fun. Really. I moved to Portland, Oregon last year after living and working in Europe for 23 years. I was on a self-induced sabbatical and I thought I’d get an office job to earn a modest living while there. I just assumed that this would be easy to do, like mowing lawns in the summertime for pocket money was back in high school.

Wrong.

A steady succession of unanswered emails and letters, false leads, depressing conversations with directors of personnel, multi-page application forms with questions like, “If you were to be hired for this position (which is already filled anyway, but let’s pretend), how many parentless children from Burkina Faso would you be willing to adopt?" left me, after several months of earnest searching and at 48 years old, feeling like those last dinosaurs on earth before the Great Cataclysm turned them into theme park material.

Changing my career in mid-life! Prospective employers saw red flags all over me and logically assumed that I’d lost touch with ground control. When a friend of mine asked a colleague in his marketing department about job possibilities for me, the response was, “The market’s terrible for “creative types". If I didn’t have this job, I’d probably be pumping gas. " The message: no openings, and I’m hanging on to my job with all ten fingers and toes.

But the serious fun came from reading all those helpful bits of advice delivered by “Job Market Experts". Websites and newspapers were full of them, those savvy career coaches who dispense tips from heavily fortified office buildings that keep the Unemployed Living Dead from breaking in and stealing THEIR jobs. They were offering advice in everything from what not to wear to an interview (large, fuzzy dice earrings are a no-no) to how to create a 30 second sales pitch about yourself and handle objections (“Now, I know you’re thinking ‘This guy’s too old’, but wait – I can get younger. I promise, with a little work, I can shed 20 years. ").

For mid-life career changers such as me though, there was really precious little useful advice out there. So, since nothing I read from the experts was any good, I stayed unemployed and then went back to my job in Europe. Here then are a few useful nuggets of wisdom for other desperate job seekers like me whose expiration date has also passed:

Shamelessly lie about your age
Never admit to being over 30 years old, no matter how old you really are. If you are 50 or over, this could be a tough sell, but a little nip and tuck around the old jowls will do wonders to remove that “out to pasture" look that so often kills your prospects.

Start Networking
The great thing about being out of work is that you have more time to spend at your local bar. Bartenders are notorious gossips and a fantastic source for gathering names and contacts of people who actually have jobs. Also, large quantities of beer and spirits will help loosen the tongues of your bar mates; this could be a good opportunity to discover their secrets and blackmail them into giving you their jobs.

Overqualified, Smoverqualified
Whenever you are told that your background and vast experience over-qualify you for the job, don’t buy it. Stick your thumbs in either ear, wave your free fingers and start singing “Sticks and Stones". This will shame them into hiring you.

Attitude is everything
If you are one of the lucky few to get an actual face-to-face interview, don’t be afraid to show a little personality. Without going overboard, do let your prospective employers know that you are far smarter than they are (you will probably be older). Drop references to Heidegger’s Being and Time, throw in a Latin non sequitur or two, and demonstrate your knowledge of the Fubini theorem. This should carry you into the next round of interviews.

Never, never, never give up
When Winston Churchill said this, London was being bombed. A touch of siege mentality won’t hurt. You need a job. Let people know you are desperate without actually begging. If a prospective employer has rejected you, call him back under an assumed identity, like Bill Gates or Charlize Theron. Remember, you want them to keep you at top-of-mind when there is an opening.

Don’t do it
OK – so your job is mind-numbingly boring, your boss is an evil tyrant whose idea of fun is to wave pink slips in your face, and the recycled air in your office reeks of sulfur from the fumes escaping out of Hell just below you. Get over it. Hey, it’s a job, and your prospects of finding another, better, more glamorous one are not good. Take that bird you’ve got in hand and roast it over those flames coming out of the office vents. Kurt Stewart (copyright)10/2005

I have been living in Europe for the last 25 years. I worked for USA Today as a stringer in Paris, writing mostly general interest stories. I was an assistant editor at Passion Magazine, a trendy, city beat English language magazine covering the Paris beat. I currently live in Porto, Portugal, where I lecture at the Universidade Catolica Portuguesa in English, Writing and Communications in the Film and Television department. I run my own business, a language institute. I have a blog at http://www.expatstew.blogspot.com , where I leave up some of my impressions of life abroad. I can write general topic material, tourism related stories, golf/tourism stories, and life aborad stories.

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