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Career change at 50: Tips to do it right

4.15.31 Woman smiling at another person with computer and phone in hand
Maskot/Getty Images/Maskot

Switching careers at any age can be a challenge. But when you make a career change at 50 or later, you have some strengths to draw upon for your next move. People in their 50s tend to have strong networks, valuable career expertise and a sense of purpose and self-confidence to help chart their path forward.

Let's take a closer look at how you can make a big career move after age 50 while keeping your personal finances in check.

Transitioning careers in your 50s

No matter what industry you're in or what role you want to pursue next, some key strategies can help you make the move to a new job a smooth one:

1. Identify your career goals

What do you want to do next in your work life? You might already have a well-defined goal, but if not, work on clarifying your target. Consider using a career coach to help you evaluate your strengths and intentions to hone in on the best next steps going forward.

2. Update your resume

If you've been in the same job a while, your resume may be stale. Take a fresh look at concisely describing your most relevant career and life experiences. Use that network you've built up to have friends or colleagues with good writing skills or HR experience to help define and refine your best selling points. You might consider hiring a freelance resume writer or editor to make sure it's flawless.

3. Get active on social media

Social media-based services like LinkedIn can be an essential resource for people looking for a new job, especially if you've spent decades building up personal and work connections. It's even possible your next job will find you instead if people know that you're open to offers. As with your resume, make sure your profile is refreshed and relevant. Particularly on LinkedIn, you can check out premium features that give you a job-hunting boost, such as getting your full profile in front of people and seeing who's looked at it so you can follow up.

4. Work your network

As a mid-career professional, you likely have a healthy network of both new and longtime colleagues and friends. You can use this to your advantage and set targeted goals, such as having coffee or lunch with someone different every day or calling 10 people per month to check in or reconnect. Doing this can create opportunities for informational interviews and asking people you know well and trust for their advice and contacts. Here are some things you could ask:

  • How can I get into this field?
  • What role at your organization might be a good fit for me?
  • Who can you introduce me to at your company?
  • Would you put in a good word for me?

5. Upgrade your skill set

Whether you're looking to get into a new field or industry, advance into leadership or make a lateral move within your current organization, you might need to refresh or upgrade your professional skills. Some areas that are often good starts:

  • Public speaking: Shining up your presentation skills can be a great way to enhance your image and raise you up as a leader. Taking a class or joining an organization can help you become a more confident, impactful speaker.
  • Coding: If you're diving anew into any field even casually related to programming, it won't hurt to learn or brush up on your coding skills and the latest computer languages. Several boot camps exist to offer a quick way to catch up.
  • Executive education: Whether you already have an MBA or want to enhance your employability as a leader, you might consider earning a certificate. Many business schools offer short-term programs in fields like project management or marketing.

Investing in your professional education can help you qualify for a wider range of jobs while also demonstrating your initiative. It can signal to your next employer that you're thinking ahead and constantly learning. Having a savings account is particularly important during this phase, it could give you the cushion needed to take some time between jobs to further your education.

Ways to protect your finances during a job change in your 50s

Making a career change at 50 or later can be personally satisfying but also scary when it comes to your financial realities. A venture like starting over in a new field or opening your own business might create a gap or dip in your pay while you get up to speed. You might also lose certain benefits or retirement contributions if you're leaving an employer.

You can be financially prepared for a career change. Here are some key strategies for 50-somethings making a job transition:

1. Keep saving for retirement

Even if you're losing the employer match from your job, keep saving for retirement. If you get a new job, make sure to max out your retirement savings contributions to a 401(k) or other tax-advantaged retirement savings account that you receive at work. If your new job doesn't have a retirement savings plan, you might consider opening a traditional or Roth individual retirement account (IRA) depending on your income. As someone who is older than 50, you can make additional catch-up contributions to your IRA every year.

2. Decide what to do with your old job's 401(k)

If you're leaving a job, think carefully about what you want to do with your 401(k) or other retirement savings account with your employer. You often can leave your money in the employer's plan, or you may want to transfer it to a rollover IRA account with a different investment manager.

3. Plan for health insurance

If you're leaving a job, your health insurance situation might be about to change significantly. Take stock of all your options. If you had employer-provided coverage, it may be a good choice to extend it as long as possible under COBRA. But you may also want to price out the costs of switching to your spouse's employer-provided health insurance coverage—if possible—or look at health insurance plans at HealthCare.gov.

4. Figure out what happens to your HSA or FSA

Separate from health insurance, you might have access through your employer's benefits to tax-advantaged accounts for health care expenses, such as a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA). If you use these, read the company policies or ask HR about what happens to any unused money when you leave your job. With an HSA, it's likely any unused money in the account is yours to keep and that you can continue to use it for qualified expenses in the future. But an FSA might require you to spend the money before leaving. Each employer handles these differently.

5. Keep saving for family goals

Being in your 50s, you might have children who are still living at home or other family and loved ones you take care of. You might have financial goals that involve them, such as college savings, a family vehicle, a dream vacation or early retirement. When you make a career change, don't lose sight of these, but you'll want to look at your family's overall financial picture. Make sure you're still prioritizing how your dollars are directed based on what's important to you. If you build up your emergency savings over time, you can stay prepared for anything.

Consider meeting with a local Thrivent financial advisor to create an actionable plan to manage your finances. With Thrivent advice and the support of your family, friends, and professional network, you can pursue your career ambitions while also staying on track for your long-term financial goals.

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