Today’s reader note is worth the read, regardless of your age. Maybe you can empathize with the reader. Or maybe you’ve found, as a recruiter yourself, interviewing someone in this position. Possibly even both.
I am 47 years old. I worked as an administrative assistant for 20+ years and have been an at-home caregiver to my husband since 2012. Now, I want to attend school, finish my degree in business administration with a focus in HR, and plan my return to the working world.
As someone who is over age 45 and now considered ‘long-term unemployed’, is it possible to start a second career in HR? I’ve received mixed feedback – everything from you’re wasting your time and money, you’re too old to find a job, to go for it. I want an objective opinion. Thanks.
I think this is a very relevant situation. Many people today are trying to figure out what their career and retirement are going to look like. To offer some perspective, I reached out to Libby Sartain, author, speaker and advisor to companies on human resources issues. She’s well-known for leading the human resources function at Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines. Libby is a former board chair of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and currently serves on the board for AARP.
Libby, I don’t believe age 47 is old. But I do think the reader brings up a good point about second careers. Is it realistic to start a second career later in life? If so, why?
[Libby] I don’t think it is too late to start a new career in HR/Business at age 47, in fact, I think many older people are re-imagining their lives at this stage. Many employers are finding that recruiting and retaining 50-plus workers is smart business. Employees aged 50-plus are experienced, motivated and highly engaged, all qualities that studies link to a company’s favorable performance. That said, it might be useful to consider some of the facts and statistics.
- According to the AARP, like other age groups, experienced workers have been adversely affected by the long economic downturn. The unemployment rate for those aged 55 and over has risen in recent years, and currently is at 6% (January 2013).
- Once unemployed, older workers continue to remain out of worker longer than their younger counterparts. The current average ‘duration of unemployment’ (January 2013) is 42.2 weeks, a staggering increase over the 20.2 week average when the recession began in December 2007.
AARP is deeply committed to helping experienced workers achieve their employment goals and help them turn dreams into real possibilities, by recognizing best-in-class workplace practices and policies, highlighting employers of choice, and connecting people to trusted resources and peer networks.
If a person is trying to make decisions about a second career, are there any rules or guidelines to consider – such as find a second career that’s similar to your first one?
[Libby] My advice to the reader who asked the questions is not to forget her valuable skills as an administrative assistant. Once she completes the degree, she may be able to start as a human resources assistant of some kind and work her way up. That way she can combine her experience with her new knowledge and skills in business and HR. And, there are many administrative assistant roles these days that are at a higher level of pay and status than entry-level roles. Consider an emerging role as ‘chief of staff’ to the CHRO or other high-ranking HR executive.
While in school, your reader should look for internships, consulting or project-work in HR. This will expand her network, give her some recent experience, and perhaps give her a place to start when she graduates. Many schools have student SHRM chapters and the advisors know about these opportunities.
Older workers are also starting their own businesses, and this might be an option for a person pursuing a second career. Driven by either necessity or personal passion, more boomers are pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors. About one-sixth of baby boomers expect to go into business for themselves at some point. Currently about 7.4 million self-employed workers in the US are age 50+.
You mentioned working up the career ladder. Should a person’s expectations be the same or different for their second career?
[Libby] According to AARP research, more boomers want to continue working. In fact, a recent AARP poll of 50+ voters revealed that 50% of working respondents believe they will never stop working. (August 2012). So, moving up the career ladder is definitely an option, however, movement may not be as rapid as it was in earlier years for employees at all levels during slow periods of job growth, such as we have been experiencing lately.
If a person is currently in a job search for their second career, any advice on how to address the issue during interviews?
[Libby] In the reader’s situation, I would treat this period of unemployment more as a period of personal and career growth, something to be proud of, rather than to feel it is something that needs to be sheepishly explained. She took a time when she needed to be a caregiver to leave the workforce, reassess what she was doing and improve her resume, toolkit and skills.
Today’s reader note also mentions being “long-term unemployed”, what advice would you give someone who is trying to re-enter the workforce after a long period?
[Libby] To re-enter the workforce, people need to be fresh and up-to-speed on the latest technologies and resources in their fields. They also need a network of professionals to call upon for assistance and learning. Returning to college will give her some of what she needs, but she should join some local HR associations and attend conferences to learn what is out there.
Lastly, the reader didn’t ask this question but I’m curious – how do you respond to the naysayers that say someone is crazy for pursuing a second career?
[Libby] I would refer them back to what we already have discussed about the current workforce. Today, experienced adults are more important to America’s workforce than ever. There are now four generations working side-by-side in the labor force. More boomers want to continue working into their 70’s and beyond. And many employers appreciate these workers for their maturity.
On a personal note, my husband and I own two restaurants and we try to hire older workers as they have the experience and work ethic we need. Both my sisters re-entered the workforce after their children were older, and plan to work longer to help fund future retirement.
So, I don’t think anyone is crazy for going back into the workforce.
My sincerest thanks to Libby for sharing her expertise and research from AARP. If you weren’t aware, AARP recognizes the Best Employers for Workers Over 50 and works with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide Americans over age 50 with support to start their own businesses. There are lots of resources available to help us as human resources professionals, recruiters, and candidates make decisions that are good for business.
Image courtesy of HR Bartender