Not ‘over the hill’ just yet! Career advice for the over 50s


Careers can become more difficult to handle, but experienced City executives should resist the urge to throw in the towel too early.


Some of us know the feeling. One day we wake up to a forgettable milestone birthday, the one that tips us over the age of 50. In the part of the investment banking industry where I operated, this was often already beyond the career high point. What does this mean for our careers? Governments urge us to all work longer as advances in longevity, fitness and health ensure most of us feel fresh enough to be up for it, but having a five at the start of your age is akin to entering career no-man’s land. It is likely that for most of us in financial services, ringing the 50 bell should make us start considering late-career choices. Easy job hopping, frictionless career progression and opening opportunities become factors of the past. The modern fifty-something faces closing doors and narrowing opportunities. Part of this is down to the shortage of really senior jobs in a shrinking industry and the need to keep people moving up or out. Add the difficulties of integrating hugely experienced older hands back into hierarchies designed for younger and less experienced staff, and conventional employment prospects may not be strong.

Once at the age crossroads there are a few things that will need some careful thought. The existing job may be winding down. Promotion prospects have gone. Take stock, blow the dust off the CV, but remember it will need a careful deep clean and scrub. For some potential new opportunities, length of experience might be considered a hindrance rather than being a selling point. Many mature City workers may suddenly be faced with re-engineering a new career or having to face up to potential retirement at moments not of their choosing.

For many a fifty-something retirement would, however, be unthinkable. Life’s overheads don’t just stop at a certain age. Quite besides kids’ reliance on the Bank of Mum & Dad to deal with student debt etc, many older City workers may not have built a sufficient financial buffer to deal with loss of earnings, and in some cases their pension pots may be small or impaired. Your measure of financial flexibility will be a key driver in the decision over next steps. A health audit should also be a vital part of any self-evaluation. Now may also be the time to finally show up at a gym, check in with the doctor for a health check and re-examine the diet. If self-employment is the way ahead, good health becomes a critical element. Gone will be the security of the constant flow of a salary along with health insurance and paid holidays.

There are other challenges to reinventing yourself. Having worked in a demanding but familiar industry for several decades, accustomed to being part of a team and fitting into a hierarchy, the fifty-something may now face having to reimagine a world viewed from an isolated study peering into an information starved screen. Furthermore, ‘silver self-starters’ will need to be highly realistic about what might or might not be on offer. Be aware of the perception that your skills may be out of date, you have lost your cutting edge, and/or you just want to manage everyone. In the end, it may simply be that in place of a single job, a portfolio approach of signing up to different part-time jobs may be the way to go. This is the ‘gig economy’ re-defined for the more mature worker, who may offer more experience sometimes for less money and greater flexibility than younger counterparts.

As the fifty-something sets out on the path to re-invention, re-networking should become a critical part of one’s day. All those invitations to industry events and client functions may have dried up, and some former contacts simply don’t find time to see you. This is a time for both excitement and frustration. There may even be moments when the yearn to better one’s golf handicap or write that book becomes almost compelling. In most cases fight the urge. With years of experience, dealing with problems, managing people, understanding issues and making decisions, the fifty-something has a huge amount to offer someone somewhere. Start-ups, non-exec roles, consulting and training may offer opportunities.

The way forward might even be something little connected with the earlier career – teaching in schools, lecturing at university, charity work or even politics for those with the stomach. In some cases, fresh training or qualifications may be necessary. In short, hitting the 50 mark is a time to re-evaluate one’s City career. This may not be a matter of choice but compulsion. Use the time wisely to examine the work-life balance and skew it in your favour. As your own potential boss, it may be possible to steer a fulfilling and balanced path towards the still distant goal of final retirement. Be ahead of the curve, anticipate the moment when a long-held position turns to dust as you are firmly shoved out of the door clutching an analogue clock and a copy of a laudatory all staff memo. Decide quickly so you are ready to act should you find getting to know the dog better or re-discovering the washing up is not right for you.

(Article source: Financial News)

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