5 Ways Older Workers Can Combat Ageism When Switching Careers

“It’s never too late to find out that you’re doing something you don’t like…Then you’ve got to take hold of yourself and decide what you would like to be doing most and then do it...”- David Ogilvy


In 2017, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which stipulates that businesses can’t discriminate against workers 40 and older, celebrated its 50th birthday. While the law was passed half a century ago, the problems it was created to address unfortunately still exist: ageism is still much too common in the workplace.


Ageism unfairly hinders older workers’ ability to stay competitive in a rapidly changing job market. Gone are the days where people could stay at the same job their whole working life; a recent survey found that people born in the latter years of the Baby Boom generation held an average of 12 jobs from ages 18 to 50. While many are eligible to retire at the age of 65, today nearly half of Americans 55 or older don’t have enough money saved to retire. Others find happiness and fulfillment in continuing to work past retirement age.


Whatever the reason for continued work past 65, older workers are at a disadvantage compared to their younger counterparts: an AARP study found that approximately two-thirds of older workers aged 45 to 74 say they have seen or experienced discrimination in the workforce.


If you’re looking to continue working in a new field, we’ve outlined the following steps to facilitate a career switch for workers over 50:


1. Research

The first step towards a new career is research. Consider taking an aptitude test. Hubspot created this list of seven free aptitude tests you can take online. An aptitude test can help you discover your skills and abilities and can also help you figure out what jobs you are best suited for. Once you know your strengths, these resources can expose you to different career possibilities. Websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics can help you obtain an overview of different professions; here you can find out what a role entails, education requirements, job outlook, work experience, and other helpful information about the role you are considering.

Once you know what profession you are looking to join, sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster allow you to apply for positions, help you find available jobs, salary information, and company overviews. On LinkedIn, a Skillful partner, you can apply for positions, find available jobs, and also connect with people that are already working for the companies you are interested in. Networking and connecting to current employees are great ways to land some informational interviews so you can find out about the company culture, the job itself, and the interview process. A decision as important as your future work should not be taken lightly, and the more you research your options the better you will feel about your choice.

2. Learn new skills

One of the biggest barriers for people looking to switch careers is the narrative that a four-year degree is the only way to obtain a good-paying job. While four-year degrees offer many people access to good jobs, many in-demand, high-paying jobs don’t require a bachelor’s. Trade schools, online courses, coding bootcamps, and community colleges are all examples of alternatives to a four-year degree. If your new career requires a degree, the good news is that all 50 states offer discounted prices or free tuition for older adults. The AARP offers tuition help for older workers looking to train for a new career. Some employers have begun offering “returnships,” a kind of internship for older adults and for those seeking to return to the workforce to give people the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to fill their open positions.

3. Emphasize your skills when marketing yourself

Remember to update your resume, delete any jobs that go back more than 10 -15 years, and omit any graduation dates. Dates and jobs going further than 10 years let an employer know your age, which can make you subject to biases in the hiring process. Focus your resume on your skills and experience, instead of on how long you’ve been in the workforce, because in today’s tight labor market, employers increasingly put a premium on the skills you bring to the table. If you want more information on how you can emphasize your skills and market yourself to an employer here are 7 strategies AARP gives its workers over 50 when re-entering the workforce.

If you are interested in finding a Back to Work 50+ program near you, call this toll- free number 1-855-850-2525. 

4. Visit a Job Center

If you’re struggling to find a new job or return to the workforce, help is available. Job Centers are a great resource that is often underused by jobseekers. These centers are opened to everyone and offer a wide variety of services that can help facilitate a career switch. You can find a Job Center near you here. One of the services many Job Centers offer is the assistance of a career coach. While Job Centers are a great resource, they are not the only one available to older workers; the AARP Foundation offers a local assistance database, where people can find local organizations that offer housing, transit, education, and work assistance.

5. Don’t give up

Of the 2.9 million new jobs recorded by a labor survey of households in 2018, 1.4 million were filled by people 55 and over. Looking for a job can be discouraging and tedious, especially for older Americans. But don’t give up—older workers have a unique set of skills that employers find valuable. It might be worthwhile to note that older job seekers should not shy away from applying to jobs when they are not the “perfect candidate,” so long as they have some of the skills an employer needs. And as Michael Smith from Mesa County Workforce Center and graduate of the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps has noted:
“[Older job seekers] can receive one-on-one job search assistance from a professional career coach, resume review, and tailored mock interviews. Also, there are different programs and potential funds to help the older job seeker become more marketable in the competitive job market  through certifications, special licenses, on-the-job training, paid work experience, etc.”