Becoming someone who’s readily employable in your 50s (and beyond) calls on a skill set you can and should start working on as early as your first few jobs – even when you’re just in your teens or 20s. You can also pick up and start polishing these strengths, even if you’re in your 60s or 70s when you want to find work. Today people can expect to have as many as 11 jobs over a career lifetime. With a tip of the hat to the late Stephen Covey, you might think of the following as the “Seven Habits of Highly Employable People.”
None of the skills we’re recommending should be cultivated in place of competence in your work or loyalty to your tasks; rather, these are the extra things that will make you more hirable on top of your other abilities.
Each general point is paired with age-specific recommendations for when you’re in your 50s, plus some key moves to immediately make if your job search is in high gear or you’re suddenly out of work.
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1. Cultivate Friendships, Not Just “Networks”
LIFELONG HABIT: Forget self-conscious networking. Instead, concentrate on making friends and on being a friend. Take an interest in other people, remember their stories, stay in touch, send thank-you notes and celebrate people’s successes. Be the friend you’d like to have – loyal, generous and trustworthy. Take small social risks: Invite people to join you in something, offer a ride home, learn to accept help and be generous with your time.
In your 50s: Include younger people among your friendships as well as the older and more powerful people who can help you now. Like networking, “mentoring” has become a cynical cliché, but inside the phony stuff is something valuable. Make a point of spending some time with younger colleagues and people in your area, but be careful that you listen to their concerns more than you preach to them. As your friends’ children come of age, take an interest in them, too.
Searching in high gear: If you’re still employed but actively looking, now’s the time to contact recruiters and mark what you send to HR departments as confidential. Be sure your resume is up-to-date, not just in terms of your work history and career objective, but also in its format: Is it scannable in an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)? Have you embedded the current buzzwords for the jobs you’d like to get?
Shorten the older items on your resume and delete any job duties that will make you seem too old-school. If nobody uses whizamajigs anymore, then don’t list that you’re good at them. Consider having a personal web page and develop your capsule self-description.
Urgent: Work on a simple explanation of why you’re out of work that is basically true and doesn’t reflect too badly on you, on your ex-boss or on the company. Refine and rehearse it until you can say it without getting upset. This is not the time to have axes to grind.
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You may want to vent to close family and a few patient and loyal friends. Until you can get your emotions under some control, though, stay off the phone and watch what you put in the e-mail and what you say in public. When you go out socially, be careful that having a drink or two doesn’t loosen your tongue, release your anger or bring out self-pity. Be ready with small-talk topics so that you can deflect the conversation away from yourself.
You can now send out another round of resumes to say you’re available immediately or a month or two in the future. Update your LinkedIn profile.
2. Keep Up Your Looks, Your Spirit And Your Energy
LIFELONG HABIT: Stay fit – exercise enough to sleep well, have plenty of energy and stay healthy. Control your weight. If stress is a problem in your life or work, make changes. Don’t hover between a rock and a hard place; figure out a better spot and move toward it — even if it’s a lateral move. Avoid unnecessary financial stress, which usually boils down to: Live enough below your means to prevent financial problems, build up an emergency fund and set aside regular savings for future goals and needs.
In your 50s: Periodically evaluate your wardrobe and your overall style. Get rid of clothes that look dated no matter how much you liked them when they were new. Is your hair thinning, graying or receding so that it’s time to change the way it’s cut or styled? Be wary of coloring your hair very dark even if that’s your original color; all-one-tone dark hair can look fake and harsh on older faces. Instead, consider using a shade or two lighter to tone down gray without looking like you applied shoe polish to your head.
Searching in high gear: You may already be a member of a trade association or civic organization; this is the time to seek a leadership role in it – head an important committee, chair an event or take on a challenge that will give you visibility and favorable word of mouth.
Urgent: See if you can negotiate an exit package that not only provides some health coverage, severance and so on but some outplacement perks as well, such as a health or golf club membership, for instance. In your professional organization, join an existing committee – any committee – and work your tail off. It’s a good way to boost your reputation as a doer and keep up your self-respect.
3. Have Two Irons in the Fire
LIFELONG HABIT: Unless you are the owner of a new business, do not let one job take all your time and energy: You can have a major career and a minor career. At some point, they may flip. Or you may have a two-tier career: Break jobs into tasks – and turn tasks into secondary careers, possibly very part-time. For example, an interior designer with corporate clients also has a local custom-upholstery business with several part-time employees. Your two career lines may be related or completely independent. Today’s trend is toward “slasher” occupations, often in surprising juxtapositions: accountant/garden designer. Jazz drummer/journalism professor/craft beer brew consultant. Church organist/web designer/computer programmer. In big or little ways, what you observe and learn in one job may help you in the other.
In your 50s: In most families, this time of peak earnings is also a time of high expenditure for children’s college or even secondary school costs, home renovations, parental caretaking, and medical expenses. Can you wrest more income from your sideline so that you can keep up your regular retirement savings and keep down overall debt?
Whatever your interests and skills are, consider whether you can share or teach them to others as a paying sideline. The church organist may be able to add more weddings to his schedule and teach a few private pupils as well. The local history expert starts giving walking tours and entertaining illustrated lectures for a fee.
Searching in high gear: As realistically as you can, size up your prospects. Do you need to relocate? Research areas that might have better opportunities for you. Do you need to take classes toward certification in a specialty? Start now. Do you need to switch to a different career? Get serious. Figure out how you can best use the lead time to lay the groundwork for a career transition.
Urgent: Maybe you can rustle up some short-term projects while you finish a degree or hit the ground jogging in the new location by doing some temp work. But don’t be afraid to think long term. The rate of increase in labor force participation by people 65 to 69 continues to grow every year and is expected to reach as much as 36.6% by 2026.
4. Make Yourself a Pleasure to Be Around
LIFELONG HABIT: Be gracious, grateful and generous. If you have problems with depression, anger or anxiety, deal with them. Get help, including short-term therapy and/or taking necessary prescribed medication when your demons get the upper hand. Learn to shed your grudges. Remember, chronic anger and anxiety will show in your face as you age, making you easier to read and harder to like. Learn to ask people easy social questions rather than talking about yourself too much, and try to show a sense of humor about yourself. Share news but not unkind gossip. Even if no one’s looking, don’t kick the neighbor’s cat.
In your 50s: You may be facing up to the limitations of your body for the first time, but do not make it a mainstay of your conversation. No need to joke about “senior moments” when you can attribute memory lapses to “multitasking overload.” If you face a health problem, focus on recovery or management of it. In short, don’t get hung up on aging as a problem.
Searching in high gear: Convey open-minded, positive expectations of the next phase along with a readiness to move into it. Show that you’ve enjoyed your work in the past, not just the paychecks. Don’t try to hide or lie about your age – that is, don’t treat it like a dirty secret, just redefine it as if to say, “My age 55 is as full of energy and optimism as age 40, but look how much smarter and wiser I am now.”
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Urgent: If you’re getting the interviews but never the job, and if you think your age is holding you back from work you are qualified for, go to a career coach for help in discarding behaviors you may not be aware of that are weighing you down. But face the fact: Prejudice and age-stereotyping exist in the world, and you cannot control everything from your side of the desk when you’re the one sitting in the guest chair.
5. Know Your Business Universe
LIFELONG HABIT: Keep up with not only the state of your company but of the industry as a whole. Read the business and trade press; follow the important blogs. Join industry forums and groups online.
In your 50s: Make note of which companies would be the best to work for, who the leaders are, and also who is likely to be one of tomorrow’s stars. Keep bookmarks or a clip file. Go out of your way to get casually acquainted with influential people in your field that you don’t already know.
Searching in high gear: Turn that casual knowledge into an action list. Contact people, suggest having lunch or coffee and out of the corner of your eye, start paying attention to what’s happening in other fields you might transition to if things come up dry in what you’ve been doing.
Urgent: Has someone relevant to your search recently appeared in the trade press? If it’s favorable, you can mention it in a cover letter or in person.
6. Keep Learning
LIFELONG HABIT: Read books, go places you’ve never been, expose yourself to different ideas and cultivate additional skills. Be curious and at least a little adventurous about what’s new.
In your 50s: Sign up for a massive open online course (MOOC), take online tutorials, add some digital skills and make use of various life hacks. Listen to TED talks, take voice or yoga classes. Get out of your comfort zone sometimes. Do things you enjoy and challenge yourself with new stuff. Mix socially with people of all ages, but especially arrange to have contact with people five to 10 years younger than you or more. Committee work or nonprofit volunteering is one good way. Among other things, this will update your conversation with current references and catchphrases.
Searching in high gear: Embrace the 21st century – use all the digital support you can get. Visit online job-search sites: Check out Indeed.com, Career Builder, ZipRecruiter.com, Glassdoor.com and Freelancer.com. Look at Idealist.org for nonprofits. Which sites fit your needs? Ask other people in your field for suggestions – especially those who’ve recently changed jobs.
Urgent: Sign up to teach a course or just a single class that will give you a good reason to visit people who might be in a position to hire you in the near future. Ask them what your students need to know. Position yourself as someone comfortable in a leadership role whether in a classroom or the workplace. Besides, who isn’t flattered by being interviewed as an industry leader or knowledgeable person?
Now that it’s no secret you’re looking, update your LinkedIn profile with whatever you’re teaching or lecturing about; pull out a couple of points to highlight. Add other recent accomplishments and adjust the setting so your update goes out to your full list of contacts – but don’t do this trick too often or you’ll become a bore.
7. Accept Feedback Without Getting Defensive
LIFELONG HABIT: If this is hard for you, get some practice by taking a few courses outside of work. Or take up a new sport; getting coaching will help you if you need to learn how to learn.
In your 50s: Abandon false pride: If you get passed over for a promotion or a job you thought you were qualified for, try to find out why so you can fix the problem. Be careful not to appear as though you have a chip on your shoulder. As long as you can keep learning and changing, you’ll never be a has-been.
Throughout the job search: Think of this period like staying in training for a sports competition or having your home on the market so you can’t permit personal “stuff” like laundry (or self-pity) to pile up or leave dirty dishes (or disgruntled attitudes) out on display.
The Bottom Line
There are reasons some people seem to float easily from job to job as though jobs come looking for them rather than the other way around. Develop and practice these “Seven Habits of Highly Employable People,” and you’ll improve your chances of becoming one of them. Today, being in your 50s is certainly not too late to put new habits into practice because you may have another 10, 15 or 20 years to go in your career – and they may as well be good ones.
About 40% of people in their 50s and older are actively looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A larger percentage of these job seekers are women looking for the best job for the next phase of their career.
Women over 50 might be looking for a new job for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are looking to return to the workforce after years of raising a family. They might be currently employed, but looking for a career change. Or they might have been fired or laid off, and are looking for a new job in their current field.
If you’re currently thinking about going back into the over-50 workforce, or you’re switching jobs, there are a few pros and cons about being in the workforce after 50 to consider:
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Take advantage of good health and stem boredom
Supplement retirement savings that you can’t yet access
Regain feelings of progress and achievement
Have fewer opportunities to spend money since you’re busy at work
Previously developed skills might be outdated
May need to commute further
Less time to engage in hobbies and other activities that you love
Potential for work-related stress
If you’re healthy and active, you may choose to take on new work by switching jobs or get a job after staying home for several years. If children are no longer in need of care, some parents find themselves desiring something else meaningful, and may want to feel the sense of accomplishment or achievement they did in a previous career.
Rejoining the workforce or changing jobs can save you money because you’re not home to spend it anymore on shopping, socializing, or activities. On the flip side, the work hours and extra time to commute can eat up the time that used to be available for hobbies and social activities, so be sure to consider this while thinking through what jobs and work schedules you’re willing to accept.
If you’re rejoining the workforce after some time away, you may need to engage in some retraining to bring rusty work skills up to date or take courses to educate yourself for a new career. One last consideration is work stress, which isn’t always present, but is worth considering if you’ve been out of work and have enjoyed a relatively peaceful and controlled home life.
Whatever your reasons for job searching, you and many other women over 50 have many assets to bring to a position.
Depth of experience, emotional maturity, and specialized knowledge can make these women ideal candidates for many jobs.
Top 10 Jobs for Women Over 50
While it’s best to take a job that fits your interests and needs, certain professions are especially ideal for women over 50. Some of these jobs make sense because they offer flexible schedules, while others are popular among women of this age group because they’re low-stress or offer the ability to work from home.
1. Administrative Services Manager
Administrative services managers coordinate and manage the supportive services of a company. They might supervise administrative personnel, monitor databases, set goals for the administrative department, and more.
This is an ideal position for someone with management experience. There is no specific career path; managers need to be organized leaders with evident communication skills. This is a terrific job for a leader with lots of experience in the workforce.
Salary and Job Outlook: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Outlook Handbook, administrative services managers earn an average salary of $96,180, and are seeing a projected job growth of 10 percent, which is faster than average.
Other jobs in administration include:
Compensations and Benefits Manager
General Office Clerk
Human Resources Manager
Postsecondary Education Administrator
2. Bus Driver
Bus drivers transport people to and from locations. They might drive students to school, or they might drive a public bus throughout a city or town.
Most bus drivers only require a commercial driver’s license and a clean driving record, making it a terrific job for those who do not want to go back to school. Some bus driving companies offer paid training.
It also offers flexible hours, making it a good position for someone with a busy schedule.
Salary and Job Outlook: The median salary for a bus driver is $34,450, and the number of jobs is expected to grow about 6 percent from 2016 to 2026—this is about the national average.
Other jobs related to bus driving include:
Delivery Truck Driver
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Driver
Taxi Driver/Ride-Hailing Driver/Chauffeur
3. High School Teacher
Do you have a passion for working with children? Have you raised children of your own? You might consider a job in teaching. High school teachers often teach one subject. This job can be perfect for people who have work experience in a field, and now want to teach that field to students. With a job in teaching, you also have the flexibility of summer and other school vacations.
Most public school teachers need at least a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued certification. Some states also require teachers to earn a master’s degree once they have a job. For private schools and substitute positions, you may not need certification.
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Salary and Job Outlook: High school teachers earn an average salary of $60,320 per year, and are seeing a job growth rate of 8 percent (as fast as average).
Other types of teaching and education jobs include:
Career and Technical Education Teacher
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher
Middle School Teacher
Special Education Teacher
According to research by the Kauffman Foundation, people ages 55-64 have a high rate of entrepreneurship in the U.S. One terrific way to become an entrepreneur if you are a woman over 50 is to run an inn. This is not an easy position — it requires investment and takes a lot of time and energy.
However, if you are interested in working for yourself, and you like to interact with other people, this can be the perfect job for you. Experience in the workplace (particularly in business management or hospitality), as well as experience outside of the workplace (such as running your household), will prepare you for this position.
Salary and Job Outlook: Innkeepers (also known as lodging managers) earn an average salary of $53,390 per year. The job outlook is a bit slower than average, with an expected growth rate of 4 percent.
Other jobs related to being an innkeeper, as well as entrepreneurial jobs, include:
Food Service Manager
Property/Real Estate/Community Association Manager
5. Medical Information Technician
Medical information technicians, also known as medical records and health information technicians, organize and manage a variety of health information data, both in paper files and electronically. They work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing care facilities, and more.
Medical information technicians typically need to complete a certificate program or an associate’s degree in health information technology. These programs can take as little as one year.
This job requires strong analytical skills, as well as attention to detail. These are transferable skills that many women over 50 possess. The job also requires computer skills, which job candidates can develop or improve through online courses. This is also an ideal job for women who have previously worked in the healthcare industry and have some knowledge of electronic health record systems.
Salary and Job Outlook: The average salary for a health information technician is $40,350. The job is expected to see a faster than average growth rate of 13 percent.
Jobs similar to medical information technician that are particularly popular include:
Medical and Health Services Manager
6. Occupational Therapist
An occupational therapist (OT) treats patients who are injured, ill, or disabled. The OT helps patients to use everyday activities, and improve and maintain skills necessary for everyday life.
As the baby boomer population ages, more and more people require occupational therapy. Many clients over 50 appreciate working with an OT who is in their age range. OTs need at least a master’s degree, although many receive a doctoral degree, which takes about 3-and-a-half years.
Salary and Job Outlook: The time in school might be well worth it since this job is in high demand. The job growth rate is 24 percent, which is much faster than average, and the average salary is $84,270 per year.
Jobs related to occupational therapy include:
Occupational Therapy Assistant/Aide
7. Personal Financial Advisor
A personal financial advisor offers clients advice on taxes, investments, insurance, retirement, and other financial topics. The advisor helps clients to manage their finances to help them meet their goals.
Many financial advisors are self-employed, which allows them to have flexible schedules. Personal financial advisors need a bachelor’s degree, but they typically do not require a specialized degree or certification.
If you are good with numbers, this is a career to consider.
Salary and Job Outlook: Being a financial advisor can be a lucrative job: the median salary is $88,890, and jobs are expected to increase by 15 percent by 2026.
Jobs related to financial advising include:
Insurance Sales Agent
8. Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents help clients to buy, sell, and rent properties. They show these properties to prospective buyers or renters, present purchase offers, and help mediate negotiations between the buyer (or renter) and seller. They also prepare all necessary paperwork and contracts.
This job requires little education: typically, agents must take some real estate courses and pass a licensing exam. The position is ideal for people with interpersonal skills and business acumen, both of which are transferable skills people can acquire through work and life.
Salary and Job Outlook: Real estate agents earn an average of $48,600 per year, and are seeing job growth that is as fast as the national average (6 percent). Real estate brokers can earn a bit more, with an average of $58,210.
Jobs related to real estate include:
Advertising Sales Agent
Appraiser/Assessor of Real Estate
Insurance Sales Agent
Retail Sales Worker
Wholesale/Manufacturing Sales Representative
9. Registered Nurse
Registered nurses (RNs) provide care for patients. This care may include assessing and recording symptoms, administering medicine, collaborating with doctors, monitoring medical equipment, and explaining procedures to patients. Nurses typically work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and nursing care facilities.
This is a terrific field for people who enjoy working with and helping others. It requires going to school: RNs need a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from a nursing program.
Salary and Job Outlook: The job is in high demand: the average growth rate is faster than average at 15 percent. The median salary is $71,730 per year.
Related medical careers include:
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Home Health Aide
Licensed Practical Nurse
10. Technical Writer
A technical writer helps to write, edit, and otherwise prepare written material used to communicate complicated technological information. A technical writer might prepare how-to guides, instruction manuals, journal articles, online articles, and more.
Many technical writers work for specific companies, but others are freelance writers who are hired for specific assignments. This is ideal for many women workers over 50 who want to maintain a flexible schedule and even work from home.
Jobs in technical writing are ideal for both people with backgrounds in writing and editing, as well as people with knowledge of a specialized technical field, such as medicine or computer science. This position is a great second career for people in either field.
Salary and Job Outlook: Technical writers earn an average salary of $71,850 per year. They see a faster-than-average rate of growth at 11 percent.
Jobs related to technical writing and freelance writing include:
Interpreter and Translator
Proofreader and Copy Marker
Public Relations, Marketing, or Fundraising Manager
How to Stand Out On the Job Market
Despite all the skills and experience that you bring to the table, you will still need to convince employers that you are the right person for the job. However, you also have a number of qualities that make you very hirable as a woman over 50.
Here are some tips for standing out in this competitive job market:
Consider your schedule. Before applying to jobs, think carefully about your schedule, and how a job will fit into that schedule. Are you still raising children, or do you have other responsibilities that take up a lot of time? If so, consider looking for part-time jobs or freelance work. Think about how you will fit a job into your current life, and make sure to look for jobs with the right kind of schedule for you.
This way, when an employer asks questions about your flexibility, you can answer honestly.
Emphasize your experience. Women over 50 have so much experience they can draw on. If they have been previously employed, they have decades of work experience. This work history is something younger workers simply do not have. Highlight your experience in your job materials and interviews.
Highlight your skills. Make a list of all of the skills you have developed, both in the workplace and outside of work. Then, look at job listings in the fields you want. Circle any skills on your own list that fit the requirements of the job. Pay particular attention to transferable skills you have (such as communication or managerial skills) that will be useful in almost any job.
Also, think about the skills and qualities you have as a result of your years of experience. Whether or not you have been in the labor force recently, you likely have qualities gained from experience that employers will want. For example, studies have shown that mature employees are particularly reliable, detail-oriented, and patient. They also have strong leadership skills.
Once you have compiled your list, be sure to include some of these skills words on your resume and cover letter, and in your interviews. This will show the hiring manager that you have the abilities it takes to get the job done well.
Consider developing new skills. Think about any skills that will be necessary for the job, but that you either lack or have not used in a while. Take some time to develop these skills. For example, if many jobs in your field now require some experience with coding, consider taking a class. There are many free classes online for various skills, particularly in technology.
If you want to start a brand new career, remember that you might need to go back to school. Think about your budget and your schedule, and make sure you can afford to complete the requirements for the positions you want.
Network. Even though you likely already have a number of contacts in your field, you can always make more. Consider joining (or rejoining) a professional association in your field. Revamp your LinkedIn profile. Send a letter to your friend and family and let them know about your job search. Networking is an ideal way to make connections that could lead to a job.
Follow your passion. Especially if you are beginning a second career, try to find a job that allows you to fulfill a lifelong passion. Perhaps you have always wanted to work with kids – search for a job as a teacher. Maybe you have always had a woodworking hobby – consider a job as a furniture finisher. Think carefully about what you want to do with this period of your life, and follow your passion!