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Retooling Your Mid-Life Career

By Dr. Jan Cannon

There are some jobs in the current economy that were eliminated—and will never come back. If you were in one of those positions, the best strategy is to figure out a new way to use your skills.

Retooling yourself can be a daunting task. You might have the feeling that you’re starting over from scratch. But that’s not true. You do have experience that will be valuable in your new job; things like knowing how businesses work, getting along with co-workers, work habits, etc. They’ll give you an advantage over workers with no experience.

Transforming Yourself

So, how do you transform yourself? The most obvious is to go back to school or get more training. Before you spend the time and money, however, do a self-assessment to be sure you need it. Start by yourself, but you might want to work with a career counselor if you get stuck. They have tools that can help identify your skill strengths. Here's a suggestion to get started.

Start with What You Do and Enjoy

Make a list of all the things you know how to do well. Don’t limit yourself to work-related skills. Think of the things you do as hobbies, as a volunteer, etc. Your new job may be in a totally new field for you and use some of these skills.

Make a list of what you know. This could include specialized programming languages, designing an organic herb garden or how to apply theatrical make-up. This list might be hard to make since we rarely think about what we know when we’re working on a task—whether at home or on the job.

Brainstorm about what jobs use the skills you’ve put on your two lists. It might help to do this with someone (friend, spouse, fellow job seeker) since more ideas are better. Be wild and crazy when you’re making this list. You can always go back later and get rid of the totally “off the wall” ideas.

Organize your list of brainstormed ideas. See if there are jobs that fall into categories—either by task or type of organization that would use them—and group them together.

Edit your groups, putting them in order of preference—the one you like best first, etc.

Do any of your top three categories require more training? If so, then find a program that gives you the skills you need (check out their job placement statistics as well as their courses).

Potential Employers?

Start looking for companies that would use those skills categories. They might not be companies posting jobs just now, but they are companies you should investigate and try to get an information interview with.

The more companies you can put on your list, the more likely you are to find a job. Use the want ads (online and off) to identify companies. Look in the Yellow Pages. Check business directories at the library. Visit one-stop career centers to check out their resources.

Your next job may be totally unrelated to your last. Or it may be a variation on it. Just be willing to change focus. Keep a positive attitude. And get help if you need it. Just like Steve Buscemi (former NYC fireman, present Hollywood actor), you can reinvent yourself to get a new career focus.

About the author...

Dr. Jan Cannon, Job-Hunt's Mid-Life Career Expert, is author of Now What Do I Do? The Woman's Guide to a New Career, Find a Job: 7 Steps to Success, Finding a Job in a Slow Economy, co-author of Exceptional Accomplishment, and a career professional for 20 years. Visit her website, for more career advice and help.