Switching Careers Midlife: Is It Worth It?

“Why don’t you go back to school so you can get a good job.”  This from my doting 90-year-old father who is delusionally thinking his “little girl” is still in her twenties instead of a fifty-something grandmother – plus he still likes to tell me how to run my life.

Although I’m a proponent of continuing education and life long learning, returning to the classroom is not in my plans at the present time, but there are many who have different thoughts.

Midlife Career Change

The most common reason for adults returning to school is so they can find a new career.  Some people went straight into the workforce after high school or married early and started a family.  Some were made redundant from well-established employment or forced into early retirement.

Related: How A Career Change Improved My Life

Whether older adults are preparing for a forced or voluntary career change, or taking classes that were not previously available to them, universities are reporting a growing number of mature students enrolling in their undergraduate programs.

It’s Not That Easy

The top barriers for returning to school are financial constraints and family responsibilities.  Many older learners can’t qualify for government tuition assistance if their family income is too high.

They may have to dip into their savings, take on a part-time job and/or sacrifice such things as family vacations and restaurant meals.

It would be smart for universities to provide additional support for the specific challenges mature students and grads will face.

Is It Worth It?

Despite highly marketable skills and experience, transitioning into a new field requires starting in an entry position.

High expectations may find older workers unprepared for the difficulties they might encounter with potential employers.  Opportunities for mature graduates can be more limited than we might be led to believe.

It might take longer and more effort to find the right niche.

Age Discrimination in the Workplace

“People see my resume and think I’m overqualified.  They’re skeptical when I say I’m willing to start at the bottom of the ladder because they think I’ll leave if something better comes along.  Experience works against you.”

It’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, but it is difficult to prove.

Related: Why A Career Break Is A Great Investment

A mature age in a recent graduate makes some employers nervous and they may be reluctant to hire older workers.  They like to recruit employees in accordance with their own image, who will “fit in” and not seem intimidating to younger workers.

Some objections to older workers are:

  • Higher salary expectations.
  • Slower to pick up new information and procedures.
  • Lack of mobility.
  • Lack of adaptability.
  • Higher costs for benefits such as health care.
  • Can’t spend time networking due to family commitments.

Workers need to convince employers that they don’t fit these stereotypes.

Future Employment and the Job Market

According to a TD Economist report, Canadians age 60 and over account for about one third of all recent net job gains.  Employment among the 70 plus crowd increased 37%.

Related: Turning 60 – Some Things To Consider

Unfortunately, most of the job gains are concentrated in the service industries with the biggest category being retail. (Been there, done that, don’t want to repeat the experience.)

Although starting a new career path may be daunting for those over 50, they’ll be hired if they have the right skill set and have experience that managers are looking for.  There are still opportunities.

It’s important to acquire current skills and keep a positive attitude.  Use current industry buzzwords to show you’re up to date.  Seek out companies that hire older workers.

Take special care in drafting your resume.  Highlight your experience while downplaying your age by using a skills-based, rather than an age-based, resume.


The constantly changing workplace and increasing longevity of workers is providing more choices for the older worker.  We are in the process of redefining aging and retirement.

Related: Why Baby Boomers Aren’t Prepared For Retirement

Take the plunge.  Focus on the things you want most of all.  There’s nothing wrong with reaching for your dreams as long as you’re aware of what the realities will be along the way.

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  1. Jane Savers@ The Money Puzzle on January 23, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I restarted at 40 because of a crumbling marriage and a need to support myself and my sons.

    It was a long haul of night school and online courses and professional exams that I am still paying for because my education ended up on my HELOC. I changed to a higher paying employer after I was almost completed the education process.

    I am a lower paid health care worker who is at the top of the wage range but I still make less than $50,000 each year. I love my job and my life but money will always be a struggle.

    • Boomer on January 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      @Jane Savers: Good for you for staying the course with your education and finding worthwhile work. Even with a job you love it can be somewhat discouraging to find yourself at the top of your wage scale with only minimal cost of living increases to look forward to. It’s too bad though that people think they need to earn over $50K to have a fulfilling life.

  2. Joe on January 23, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I don’t have many middle aged friends so I can’t really add much of value. But a lot of people I know have already returned to education in their 20s. I realize it’s a tough job market; when I entered university in 05 everybody thought it was an OK job market and I still focused on pursuing a degree that would make me employable. Looking back, I probably would have done a trade though. University nowadays is too much of a shell game: “go to university and get skills” and then after grad, “oh, go get your Masters or a post-grad certificate to be more employable” and suddenly you’re 30 with student debt, “well, might as well go do your Doctorate for $20k a year”. Experience is more valuable than class time. But some people never figure it out; life is a cruel teacher because he gives you the test first and the lesson later.

    • Boomer on January 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      @Joe: They say that most people will have several different careers during their working lives. Sometimes that will mean getting further education in mid life to become more employable and avoid ending up as a department store greeter.

      I find that employers still want their hires to have a university degree, or they won’t even be considered no matter what their life skills and experience.

  3. James on January 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    My mother was a bookkeeper at a local tax prep firm for quite awhile while I was in school. She liked working there because she could pick her hours and it was only full time during tax season. She made a reasonable wage and enjoyed the working environment, but she always wanted to finish her degree. She wanted to be a teacher.

    A bit after the kids had grown and moved out she went back to school, racked up loans, got her degree and spent a year trying to find a job. No one came out and said that she was too old, but she did get that vibe from many potential employers. No one wants to hire a 57 year old teacher, especially during a hiring freeze.

    She did end up getting a job 30 miles away and commutes. Between the gas and the student loans, and the pressure to continue her education so she has administrative or special education job options, she is feeling burned out. She doesn’t regret it just yet but she might; the rural school she has been working at for the last five years is closing the doors at the end of the year. She is dreading the job search ahead of her.

    My two cents: You just don’t know how things will turn out. If you want to change careers it is something that needs to be planned out, saved for, researched, and timed, in order for it to be beneficial, more importantly (to some) profitable.

    • Boomer on January 23, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      @James: It’s sad that your mother had the courage to pursue her dream and is now facing a lot of challenges to continue. I wish her well.

      You’re right that people have to consider the difficulties that might be faced in a new career at an older age. It’s past time that employers realized that the skills and experience a mature potential employee has would be a huge asset to any workplace.

  4. krantcents on January 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Always use age as advantage by expressing the skills learned and experience gained through years of work. There may be prejudice, but you just have to sell them on you. I did for quite a while before I became a teacher.

    • Boomer on January 23, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      @krantcents: From past comments of yours I understand you have successfully switched careers several times.

  5. Bryan Jaskolka on January 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I’m curious as to why you use the term “middle age” but then use examples such as 60 year olds, who are possibly only 5 years away from retirement and, I’m sorry to say, not really middle age, unless the average life expectancy is now 120. I think switching when you’re 40 or 50 would be easier. Note that I did not say “easy.” Just easier.

    • Boomer on January 23, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      @Bryan Jaskolka: I’m not suggesting that middle age is 60 plus.

      Mature students in their 40’s and 50’s that switch to a different career that is more fulfilling to them will hopefully avoid having to work at low paying service jobs when they are past retirement age. That is the TD statistic above.

  6. John Hunter on January 24, 2013 at 3:24 am

    I think the decision is mainly about doing what you want with your short life. Changing is not easy and brings about challenges including economic ones. At the same time, often people lose the option to not change – the world is changing rapidly. People often can’t remain in their career path all the way to retirement.

    “illegal to discriminate on the basis of age” – “age discrimination” laws only protect people above a certain age, 50? It is silly that some employers discriminate based solely on age. It is also silly that some people think they deserve more and more money the older they get. If the wisdom you gain allows you to be more effective than you have every been, then you deserve more. If you are able to contribute less than you were able to 10 years ago you don’t deserve more. But we have reluctance to accept pay decreases thus forcing those that don’t become more and more valuable each year a drain on the company which then can lead to incentives for companies to try and offload those problems.

  7. Totio Filipov on January 29, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    I don’t it’s worth it to change careers at an older age unless you have been doing it your whole life. If you are used to it, that’s okay, but if you are 50 and this is your first time changing careers, I’d say don’t do it.

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