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December 03, 2008

A RiseSmart Blog reader posed a question in comments that I'd like to address as a separate post. In fact, I'd love for other readers to leave their career-related questions as well; I'll definitely take the time to answer them whenever I can. The question, from Deborah Tangeman, reads as follows:

I have just closed my mortgage company after being in business for 16 years. I am looking for a job and/or maybe a career change. I also have a BS Management degree from Pepperdine University. Would Market Research be a good job with my background or should I stay in the mortgage industry? What companies would you recommend with my experience and my age of 55 years? Can you help?

Deborah, I want to tell you how sorry I am that you've gotten caught up in the current housing and credit crunch. As I'm sure you know, there are thousands of others out there in exactly the same position. Only you can decide whether it's time to leave the mortage business. But I can tell you that making the decision to change careers is never easy. First, there are the psychological aspects; if you're like most people, your sense of identity is very much attached to your job. Even though the skills you've developed over the years can be applied to other careers, most of us tend to think of our experience in the context of a specific job, which can hold us back if we let it. Start with a hard look at your resume. If it's very industry-centric, you will need to disconnect the skills from their context if you are interested in changing careers. For example, "leading a 10-person sales team" is a skill that most companies would value, whereas "leading a team of 10 mortgage brokers" might be too industry-specific and get screened out when you apply for jobs. The next step is to choose the career (or careers) you want to target. Think about things you want to do -- market research, if that sounds interesting to you -- and then study up on the field to learn the skills and experience required to succeed. Perhaps in your job in the mortgage industry, you've had the opportunity to put together business plans, prepare competitive analyses, research industry trends, or do other work that requires the same kinds of research and analysis capabilities sought after in market researchers. In your resume, cover letter and interviews, you'll need to map the skills to the job you want -- not the job you had. In a competitive job market like the one we're in now, making a career transition is never easy. And it's certainly not a picnic for workers 55 and over, because age discrimination is a very real problem. I'd recommend the following to increase your chances of finding your next job -- Shorten your resume. If a company says it wants 10 years of experience, it might not want to pay for 30 — and may screen you out without bothering to ask your salary requirements. Network aggressively. Most jobs for 55-plus executives -- particularly those in career transition -- come from personal referrals. In situations where you're seen as a individual rather than a demographic, you're going to have a much better chance. (To make more time to network, we also encourage you to spend less time searching for jobs online by using a service like RiseSmart.) Target "gray-friendly" companies. Through your networking and research, you should seek out employers where the leadership team skews older; these companies are less likely to view you as a fossil simply because you qualify for AARP. Finally, Deborah, it's important to be patient. I hate to tell you this, but research shows that when you're 55+, finding a new management or executive job generally takes twice as long as it does for younger executives. Perseverance is the key to success — and this is truer the older you get. We wish you the very best of luck in your search.


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