How to Lattice an Encore Career

Make a career and life switch to extend your satisfaction mainly, and your income, if you can, advises Marci Alboher in her upcoming book.

She’s one of many voices in a chorus urging baby boomers to shift down, not out, of the workforce.  It sounds like great advice – until you start peeling back the assumptions. Here are three fallacies about late-midlife career shifts and how to avoid them.

Money doesn’t really matter.  Maybe it doesn’t to hedge fund managers,  investors and others who have piled up a cushy nest egg that can insulate them from the economic realities of a new career. Here’s Alboher on  transitioning from being a lawyer to being a journalist – which took, by the way, a decade:  ”I earn only two-thirds of what I was making in my last law job. But the trade-offs are worth it.”

Ok, it’s worth it to her…because she can afford it. But most working Americans have endured eroded home equity, spells of un-or-under employment in their families, and paltry returns on their retirement funds. And, the longer they work, the more they will reap from Social Security when they finally start tapping it. So, yes, Marci, money does count.

Keep earnings consistent by shifting within your industry, not abandoning all your accumulated contacts and wisdom to pursue something completely new. Build on what you know, and it shouldn’t take you ten years to find a sweet spot where you can work for love and money.

  • Taking some courses will reposition you. If you concentrate on rebuilding only technical expertise, you will likely move yourself back to square one. By midlife, employers and clients assume that you bring wisdom, people skills, and get-it-done skills that actually supersede your technical skills. Instead of getting a certification in a particular skill, become conversant in the technical milieu and concentrate on project management and business skills.
  • Age discrimination is illegal and pervasive. You’re unlikely to persuade someone to overlook a number you consider irrelevant…which means that many boomers will become self-employed. Instead of concentrating on finding a new job, focus instead on doing the new job. That might mean traditional employment, but it also might mean contract work, short or long term.? If you keep landing contract work, you’re self-employed. Mission accomplished!

Link Your Skills to a New Audience

In real life, Christina Wood is an admissions recruiter at the Harrisburg Area Community College.

On LinkedIn, she’s also a featured expert on higher education options. By answering questions posted at LinkedIn’s “Answers” function,  Wood hopes to burnish her reputation by becoming known as a source for solid advice. That, she believes, will build credibility with decisionmakers who might tap her for growth assignments that could advance her goal of becoming a school executive. “In top administrator positions, they want to see someone who is willing to go out there and get the answer,” says Wood, who has a degree in higher education management. Prompt and helpful responses on LinkedIn quickly earned her the ‘expert’ designation. “People can see the range of skills I have, and even if I’m not an expert in a field, I can find out an answer through my connections,’ she says.

It can be hard to figure out how to start cultivating a reputation for skills that aren’t core to your daily responsibilities. If you are an administrative assistant who wants to bridge into web design, using skills you have developed on volunteer projects, how do you start to change perceptions about what you can do? If you are a computer engineer who aspires to eventually launch a company, how do you showcase your marketing insights?

LinkedIn’s Answers is one place to start. By scanning open questions and answering with on-point, succinct answers, you can quickly become validated by others – and that validation will be seen by those in your LinkedIn network.  (On the LinkedIn dashboard, click on ‘More’ and the ‘Answers’ tab will open in the drop-down menu.)  The very process of formulating answers will help you hone the additional skills of mentoring and communication, and will provide case studies for your personal portfolio.

LinkedIn expanded its skills-centric tools last spring to enable its 135 million members  showcase specific abilities, explains Erin O’Harra, a LinkedIn spokesperson. Questions are open for seven days and those who ask the questions flag the response they found most useful. Newly minted experts “third party endorsements” in the form of badges for their profiles.

If you’re looking to make the most of an in-demand skill to bridge to a new position, choose one from your repertoire that is trending, according to LinkedIn’s skill tracker. (On the LinkedIn dashboard, click on ‘More’ and the ‘Skills’ tab will open in the drop-down menu.)  The tracker shows what skills are most sought-after by recruiters, which clues you in to how you can pinpoint hot jobs that need what you have.

However, this strategy only works if you provide answers with genuine, stand-alone value. Take a look at the consultants who provide free advice. Those who use the space to only promote their services get a cold shoulder. Those who provide useful tips and links spark conversations helpful to the participants and who knows how many other observers. 

Recruiters who use LinkedIn draw conclusions about participants’ attitudes and points of view from Answers discussions. If you’re in it to help others while helping yourself, chances are you’ll start to rise on their short lists of potential candidates.