More Americans than ever are starting to make a decision that few in previous generations contemplated.
Do I change my career in my 50s?
"Regardless of which phase of life you're in, I strongly believe that a job switch is always a good idea if you believe you do not have an ideal work/life balance," said Jason Hill, founder of the job seeker advising firm Sound Advice. "We all want to find the right job. The one that supports the lifestyle we want. One that fulfills and satisfies us. You can find that dream career in your 20s, but you can also find it in your 50s."
Workers in their 50s now are more likely to switch jobs voluntarily than previous generations, according to a new paper from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The research suggests job changes lengthen careers — with those who switch jobs being much more likely to still be in the labor force at age 65 than those who stay put. The paper also finds career change is somewhat larger for better-educated workers than for less-educated workers.
Hill said the single biggest thing you have to consider when switching jobs is what he calls the "personal equation" — with each person having different criteria that matters to him, his career and the life he wants.
"When it comes to the job search, some people care about their title, while others care about salary," he said. "Everyone has a unique set of preferences that make up how well we do or do not fit a certain role. Determining and going after what you actually value and want, not just what you've been told you should value and think you want, will undoubtedly result in that work/life satisfaction we're all after."
Changing jobs also can be financially rewarding.
Job seekers in general can expect an almost 10% increase in salary opposed to a one percent raise at a current job, said Tam Nguyen with ZipRecruiter.
"This increase in salary can supplement existing retirement savings," Nguyen said. "Over 50 individuals are attractive to a company as these job seekers usually have the industry knowledge and contacts that an organization may find valuable opposed to a younger new hire."
Patrick Michael Plummer was one of those over age 50 who decided it was time for a career change. Wanting to give something back to the next generation, Plummer finished his doctorate in business and started in academia, becoming a professor-in-charge at Penn State University. The 53-year-old former chief operating officer of a healthcare analytics firm said before delving into new waters, make sure you can handle the risk involved.
"There are risks in making a late-life job switch," he said. "These obviously include lower compensation, but it also includes implicit changes that aren't obvious, such as leaving a job being higher on the totem pole, to now on the lowest rung. There is a meaningful adjustment that can 'hurt' your psyche."
However, he adds previous leadership skills will re-emerge, and a new career challenge is an excellent chance to re-energize with additional training.
"If you have changed careers, you likely had to go back to get some training somewhere," Plummer said. "Honestly, that can be a very self-empowering activity. While frustrating, I did feel as though it made me more well-rounded, and provided a boost of self-confidence."
Hill adds while a career change in your 50s very well could affect your retirement, the added benefits of working with a more cohesive team or the flexibility to work from home also could help make that extra time in the workforce enjoyable.
"If the benefits outweigh the costs, get out of your own way and give it a shot," he said.