Reinventing Your Career Over 50

By Alan Vitello - September 4th, 2017

If you’ve read my earlier blog posts, you’ll know I’m a recent retiree from a large telecommunications company. I also spent 30-plus years as a freelance editorial cartoonist.

In late 2016, after seeing so many changes in my parallel careers, I decided that the time had come to make a really big life change.

My first couple posts dealt with both the courage I had to muster and the nearly debilitating fear that I have felt since I made the decision to begin a career transition, starting with CSU-Global.

Let’s take a look at just how this transition is progressing. I’ve been at it for several months, and so far, my main takeaway is that to move myself forward, the first thing that I must do is know what it is that I do not know.

And lemme tell ya…it’s A LOT.

When I applied for my first job, the application was printed on a paper tray liner at my local McDonald’s. That was 40 years ago (I got the job!).

The first time I applied for a full-time, 40-hour a week job that was more than just an after school or summer gig, I walked into the phone-company employment office in downtown Denver, filled out a paper application, took a typing test (scored a whopping 29-words per minute!), had a three-minute interview…and BOOM! I was hired, just like that. That was in the mid-1980s…a while ago, to be sure.

Fast forward to 2017 – I am now in my mid-50s and have just retired from that phone company, which, after thirty years, is anything BUT a phone company. I am now faced with looking for a new job, in a new career, in an employment landscape that bears no resemblance to any environment that I’ve previously experienced.

Talk about being a stranger in a strange land.

That’s me, all over.

So there’s this wonderful thing called “The American Job Center,” run by my local county government, as part of its division of employment and training. Perusing their website, I saw a host of workshops that appeared to be aimed directly at guys like me: career transitioners, who’ve been…uh…let’s call it…“out of the loop” for the past few years.

I signed up for several workshops: resume writing, interview skills, how to conduct an informational interview (what is that?), practice interview lab, effective cover letter writing, networking, how to Use LinkedIn to look for a job, and a few more. They’re free, so why not? Your tax dollars at work.

I might as well have signed up for conversational Archi, because that’s what many of these workshops sounded like to me (Archi is a real language spoken in Russia, in the area around the Caspian Sea).

For starters, I had absolutely no idea how to write a resume. I never really needed one. Well, I actually did have one, but it was only pertinent to the telecom job from which I had just retired. That didn’t count. Transferrable skills? What are those? Translating tasks to accomplishments? What?

STAR Accomplishments (Situation, Task, Action, Result)?

I showed up for work, almost every day for 30 years. I did my job. That was my task. I accomplished it. Great! But not so great on a resume.

I tried hiring a resume writer (at least her brochure said she was one). It didn’t work out. My wife read the resume that was written for me, and she said, “I can’t hear your voice in this.”

‘Nuf said. This is something I have to do on my own, I thought.

Creating a brand for myself? What? A brand, for gosh sakes? Now I have to be a brand? What in the world does that mean? I’m supposed to be Nike or something?

Networking? I had just spent 30 years as a non-management telecommunications employee – a blue-collar, lunch-pail kind of guy. I was in the midst of transitioning to a brand new career field where I didn’t know a single working professional. Networking? At least that’s what I thought, initially. Turns out that I did know people…who know people…who know people. The hard part for me is getting up the gumption to ask them for what I want and need. That’s harder than it sounds (and, to me, it sounds pretty darn hard).

It dawned on me fairly quickly that the mountain I had set out to climb might be taller and steeper, and it just might take a little bit longer to climb than I had first imagined.

This would be a daunting task for a 22-year-old, let alone a guy in his mid-fifties – but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.

Here’s the thing: It’s highly unlikely that I am the only 50-something that has gone through this. In fact, most of my fellow American Job Center workshop-mates appeared to be my age or older.

Peter Capelli, management professor at the Wharton School of Business, has identified many advantages of hiring “older” workers. “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age”, he says. He has found that older workers are more motivated by causes like community and mission, and much less likely than younger workers to be only concerned with money and promotion.

He’s right. I realize that the bulk of my work life is in my rearview mirror. Been there. Done that. Now I want a job that means something.

Lucas Select, a sales professional recruiting organization, has identified a short list of strengths that older workers bring to a company’s table: We’re good problem solvers, we make great role models and mentors, we’re dependable, we’re flexible, and we’re ethical.

Hey! That sounds like me!

Check. Check. Check. Check and double check!

Patricia Hochkins, another late-blooming career shifter, said in a US News article, “Fifty is the perfect age. You still have the energy of your youth, but you have so much more experience.”

Soooooo true!

In addition to my CSU-Global coursework in communications, it also occurred to me that I would need a skillset that I did not yet possess – the same skillset now possessed by most fifth-graders: I had to learn “multimedia skills” if I was going to have a legitimate shot at a career in communications. So I’ve signed up at a local community college to learn the Adobe Creative Suite: Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

And, based on the recommendation of a friend, I also hired a career coach. We’ve been working to drill down to my basic personality strengths and what the possible best job matches might be (and, just as importantly, how to avoid potential job situations that wouldn’t fit my strengths).

It doesn’t really matter that the mountain is higher than I thought it was going to be. The point is, I’m climbing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s also much slower than I thought it would be. The point is, I’m still moving forward.

I might be huffing and puffing, but I’m climbing!

I have four classes until I finish my CSU-Global degree. Looks like I’m on target for a spring 2018 graduation. I’ll be 56 years old. Wait…I mean 56 years young…and ready to take on the world!

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