How to plan a midlife career change


Sometimes a midlife crisis can be solved by starting a new career (not buying a sports car or having an affair). But is it too risky? Career consultant Maggie Mistal helps you decide whether a midlife career change is the right choice for you.

How to plan a midlife career change

Americans are staying in the workforce much longer, but that doesn't mean everybody wants to do the same kind of work for their entire careers. Sometimes a midlife career change is just what you need to reinvigorate your work life.

Is a buyout package right for you?

Often employees who are 50 years and older are the first in line for buyout packages. The situation will be different for everyone of course. What you want to think about if faced with this option is if you are ready for a midlife career change. If you are bored at your job or you feel like you’ve reached the peak in your career at the company it may make a lot of sense to take a buyout and move on. On the other hand, it may not be a good idea to participate in a buyout if your skills are particularly unique and you are enjoying your job, or if you are at the top of your game and feel like these are the best years for you at your job. Regardless, before you make your decision you should talk to your accountant or financial advisor to see if a buyout does or doesn’t fit into your financial plans and to help you financially evaluate any other career changes. Be careful because some people get lured away by the money and fail to recognize that they are actually in a good spot.

Can you negotiate the terms of a buyout?

If it’s a mass buyout or if the company is really trying to move on a lot of its older work force you may not have as much room to negotiate because typically the packages will be more standardized. Although it never hurts to ask. Talk to your account or to your financial advisor to see what you should ask for. If, however, you are the only one getting a buyout, the company is smaller or there aren’t as many people over 50 years old, there is much more room to negotiate based on your unique situation. Additionally, keep in mind that your skills and experience may provide additional value to the company and you may be able to consult to them or work with them to create a new role for yourself.

What kind of resources are available to someone who has been laid off?

Companies going through a mass layoff will often work with the local or state government to offer resources. The Small Business Administration also offers resources to help you with midlife career changes. Another good place to look is within the company itself. Most companies will offer some sort of outplacement support. Most employees do not take advantage of that outplacement support, but you really should.

Is it ever too late to make a career change?

No it’s never too late to make a career change, however, you do want to do it in a way that is smart. But if you are doing something that you are really good at and the industry recognizes that, chances are your company is going to work hard to keep you and keep you happy. But if you are in a situation where you feel you are not valued and you are getting treated differently because you are older then maybe you are just not in the right industry or the right job for you and you should make a career change. One popular option for people over 50 who want to try something new is to consider is buying a franchise. It’s an interesting way to make a midlife career change without the challenges that go along with starting your own business. Franchise owners get trained, they get supported and they get help in marketing.

Are companies looking for older employees?

Yes. Older workers tend to be more reliable and caring about their work. Also, they have a lot of wisdom and skills, and they like to share those skills, which also makes them great mentors to younger employees. In fact there are employers who are proactively looking for people over 50 to add to their work force and these companies offer perks that are attractive to people 50+ such as summers off, phased retirement and continuing education. AARP has a list of these companies on their web site. Another web site to search for jobs is It’s a community of companies who are looking to specifically hire people 50 and older.

If you are 50+ and have been laid off how do you know if you are being discriminated against?

If you feel that you may have been discriminated against because of your age it does make sense to speak to an employment attorney about your specific situation and to work with him or her to figure out if you may have been unfairly treated. The attorney can coach you and then you can go back to the appropriate HR person and have a conversation to make your case and see if it can’t be adjusted so that you don’t feel mistreated.


Additional resources:

The AARP National Employer Team



ROBYN:  I’m Robyn Moreno for Americans are staying in the workforce later in life. But that doesn’t mean they want to keep on doing the same job they did when they were younger. In fact, a buy-out may be their ticket to a whole new career. Here to discuss navigating a mid-life job change is Maggie Mistal, who is a career consultant and a career coach on Martha Stewart Radio. Welcome, Maggie.

MAGGIE:  Thanks, Robyn.

ROBYN:  Often, employees that are fifty or over are first in line for these buy-outs packages. Should they take those buy-out packages or should they stay put?

MAGGIE:  Well for everybody, obviously, the answers going to be different. So what you want to consider are – if you’re ready for a change, if you’ve really been kind of going through the motions, been a little bit bored with the same old, same old, or felt like you’ve reached your peak in your organization, it may make a lot of sense, career-wise, to take a buy-out. You can also talk to your accountant and financial advisor, see how the buy-out plays into your financial plans. It may not be a good idea, however, to take a buy-out if your skills or your job is particularly unique, and you are enjoying it or you’re feeling at the top of your game, and these are the best years that you’ve had in your career. So you want to be careful, because I think sometimes people can get lured away by the money, not really recognizing that they’re actually in quite a good spot.

ROBYN:  What is the, how to take advantage of the best bargain position of an older worker when it comes to, say, downsizing, keeping their job, or negotiating a great buy-out package.

MAGGIE:  Right, well it really depends. If it’s a mass buy-out, if the company is going through, you know, attrition, and really trying to move on a lot of older workers, there may not be as much room to negotiate because it’s much more standardized in terms of the packages., although it never hurts to ask. So again, talk to your accountant, talk to your financial advisor; see what you can ask for to really push the boundaries a bit. And perhaps, the worst thing that can happen is you get it. If however, you are the only one getting a buy-out; if your company’s smaller or if there aren’t as many people over fifty and you’re one of a few, absolutely, there’s much more room to negotiate based on your unique situation. And based on additional value you may be able to provide for the company, and maybe a consulting opportunity after the fact, you really want to look at if you’re the only one being let go for this, then really negotiate the package to make it work for you.

ROBYN:  Okay, so if you find yourself laid off and an older employee, what are some resources that they can look for to find a new job?

MAGGIE:  Well oftentimes, if it’s any time off mass layoff that your company’s going through, the local government or even the state government or the federal government will offer resources. Even the small business administration often oppers – offers, excuse me – different resources if you want to be an entrepreneur. Another great place to check out is the company itself. Most companies, if they’re letting people go, will offer some form of outplacement. The interesting thing. Robyn, is that most employees do not take advantage of that outplacement.

ROBYN:  Is it ever too late to make a career change?

MAGGIE:  It’s never too late to make a career change; however, you do want to do it in a way that’s smart. You can, you know, actually look at buying a franchise as an interesting way to make a career change. If you’re someone who’s looking to build a business but you don’t want to go through the start-up opportunities, you know, here you can get trained, you can get supported, you can get marketing. You know, so franchises are actually a very popular option for people over fifty. There’re also employers, though, who are looking for people over fifty and most people are shocked to hear that – not that there’s anything wrong with people over fifty, but they’re actually companies, and AARP lists those companies on their website. They have their top ten best for people over fifty. And these companies are offering innovative perks like phasing retirement, summers off, continuing education – things that would make returning to work really attractive for folks who are in a later stage of their career.

ROBYN: People tend to think that most companies are looking for younger employees. Is this, in fact, true?

MAGGIE:  No, it’s not true. And if you think about the qualities that make older workers attractive, it’s really the culture of their generation; they tend to be much more reliable, much more caring about the work that they’re doing. They have a lot of wisdom, experience, and skill to share, and they like to mentor. Most folks who have been, you know, further along in their career, love to turn around and teach younger workers. So there’s a lot that older workers bring to the table. And you can actually go to a website called SeniorsforHire, to find an online community of companies who are looking to hire people over fifty because off those qualities.

ROBYN:  Someone’s been laid off; how do they know if it’s because of their age or not because of their age?

MAGGIE:  If you feel at all that you’ve been discriminated against, what you may want to do is consult with an employee attorney about your specific situation, and why you feel that you may have been unfairly treated. What you can actually do is get coached by that employment attorney to go back to HR and have a conversation about your particular case, and see if it can’t be remedied in some way so you don’t feel mistreated.

ROBYN: Thank you Maggie Mistal, really helpful advice. I’m Robyn Moreno for

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  • Maggie Mistal

    Maggie Mistal Career Coach, Martha Stewart Living Radio Maggie Mistal is a certified life purpose and career coach. Her passion is her career consulting practice, working with individuals to identify their ideal careers and helping them make career changes. more about this expert »

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