Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starting Over Later in Life

A common situation for some people, especially Baby Boomers, going through a Collaborative or litigated divorce is the need for one spouse to re-join the workforce. Often, although not always, the wife is suddenly facing the need to earn a living after years of being a stay-at-home mom and raising children. Sometimes she has work experience from years ago, but that is often outdated or she may have lost interest or connection with that career. As a result, the out-of-the-workforce spouse must face the daunting task of reinventing herself in the workplace so she can be self-supporting. Unfortunately, there seems to be little guidance readily available to help people in that situation, and "the law" doesn't provide much help, other than alimony, which is usually pretty limited.

So, what should someone do facing that challenge? There are so many unknowns involved, it would be helpful to break up your efforts into small steps. And don't just jump to the end. Work through the process so you know where you are going and know it's the right direction. Here are some ideas:

How to Start a New Career

1. Know yourself. Make an inventory of yourself. Analyze your skills, experience, interests, strengths and weaknesses, tolerance for risk, willingness to be self employed or to work for someone else, training, hobbies, income requirements, comfort with technology and the amount of time available for working. Sometimes, it even helps to ask close friends or relatives what they think might be appropriate for you. They may have some very perceptive observations that would be helpful. You could also see a counselor who can help you identify skills and interests.

2. Research possibilities. Look into various industries and jobs that might fit with your skills, experience or interest. Figure out where some appropriate jobs might be located and what the requirements would be for you to do that work. Will you need training or certification or other qualifications? Is a college degree required? You need to create a target -- the type of job, location, pay, hours, etc. -- so you will know what you are looking for. It will also help you figure out where to look for your job. A counselor may also be able to point you to some resources.

3. Improve yourself. There will always be some things that you can or should do to improve yourself to be more marketable and more productive at work. Here are some ideas:

Research first. Find out what you need to learn and then arrange to get the training. Don't wait until you apply for the job. Get the training now so you will be more marketable.

Be an Intern. That's usually an unpaid position, but the real payoff is in knowledge and experience which might make the difference in getting a job. Find positions in your chosen industry and volunteer to start out for free to get some experience. Sometimes those positions turn into job offers. Even if they don't, you may get a reference or connections or learn how to find a job in the industry.

Get counseling. Work with a counselor or a life coach to make sure you are on the right path and to shore up an deficiencies you may have. You might need help setting priorities or goals, or you may need help getting organized. Sometimes, it just helps to be accountable to someone else who can gently nudge you when you need it.

Get a mentor. Find someone in the industry or someone more experienced who you can contact whenever you need some guidance. It really helps to have an insider on your side.

Volunteer. If you have some free time, volunteer to help an organization that you believe in. You will feel better and it is one more thing to put on your resume. It's much better than just sitting around, and you might make some connections that may lead to a job.

4. Promote yourself. There are many things you can do to promote yourself.
You will need a resume. It should be appropriate to the industry you are interested in. Get some guidance from a counselor, coach or mentor. Research what the prospective employer is used to. Formats and content may vary widely between industries. You want to stand out, but in a good way.

Network everywhere. Talk to everyone about your quest. Join groups. There may be a study group or some other organization of people looking for jobs in your area. Create a group, if necessary. Talking with family and friends and others may lead to the connection you need.

Use social media, if you are comfortable with it. If you don't know much about it, do some research online and learn how things work. (You can always talk to your kids or nephews or nieces.) Sign up for LinkedIn which has become a significant resource for finding jobs or finding employees. You can have a resume on it for free. It's a great way to connect with friends and make new friends. Twitter can also be a way to watch for job openings and to promote yourself. Facebook, if used carefully, can be a good way to reconnect with old friends -- it's networking online. Google + is new, but it will compete with Facebook and will probably also be a good tool for networking. If you have some knowledge about your desired field, you could blog about it and that might be very helpful in raising your visibility.

5. Get your head on straight. Getting started on such a life-changing effort is daunting. If you don't break it down into manageable steps and put deadlines on yourself, it may be very easy to not follow through and to get frustrated with a lack of progress. That is especially the case if you glance over your shoulder and look at the image of the life your spouse is living with his or her established position in contrast to how you are struggling. Instead of looking backward, look forward and picture your goal of a meaningful, productive and rewarding job. Be realistic and remember that you won't get it overnight and it will take some time to build a career. Don't try to do it all alone. Work with someone else for accountability and reassurance.
You may have noticed that this article doesn't provide a quick solution to finding a job when you are starting over later in life. Instead, I have provided a series of steps that can greatly improve your chances of finding the job you want and need. Don't take shortcuts. Get help from others and be flexible. Good luck!