WYZA: Starting over again - Michelle Gibbings (career advice)

In this article written by John Burfitt for WYZA, Michelle offers her thoughts about starting your career over again and how to seek fresh job and career opportunities.

Surviving a career crisis is a matter of learning how to put all the building blocks back together again.

Just because the current job market seems to be volatile, it doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities to be found. There are many ways to meet the changes in the market and be totally job-ready. Indeed, there are positives to be found from any situation.

Early last year, 50-something Lauren embarked on her dream of opening her own online homewares business. Despite everything she put into it, the business crashed and by the end of the year, she had to find a job.

In November, Tony moved to Hong Kong to start a new career. Days before starting, he received an email announcing the company had shut that division and there was no longer a job. He limped all the way home.

In both cases, Lauren and Tony* found themselves living the scenario of being over 50 and having to start over again. It’s a situation anyone who has also been confronted with a surprise redundancy, an unexpected firing or company collapse is all too familiar with.

But dusting yourself off and starting over again when you are over 50 – when you least expect to and when also dealing with defeat – can be confronting. Here are ways to stay positive and take control of your career.

Time to train
The ever-changing workplace landscape means no one can expect to sit still with their current skills, especially in terms of technology.

So this could be the perfect time to upskill by embracing a new range of training to prepare for the next career venture. According to online educators Kaplan Professional, 10 per cent of their students are aged over 50, with a continuing upward trend in this age group.

“The main motivation appears to be upskilling to position for a career change or to keep pace with industry trends,” says Kaplan Professional CEO Brian Knight. “Upskilling is vital to keep up with global demands and trends. You’re future-proofing your career and accumulating a variety of skills in different areas.”

Knight adds that mature age students often prove to be strong students, as they adopt a more focussed approach to their studies. “They tend to view further study as an investment in themselves, which often results in a strong vision of where they want their learning to take them.

“Upskilling also gives you a sense of confidence that you’re capable of being able to adapt to and prosper in any situation. It also shows you have a positive attitude towards change and an eagerness to keep learning.”

Online education, such as that offered by Kaplan Professional, has the added advantage of flexibility, allowing you to train while focussing on job hunting. It makes it easier to tailor any necessary skill refreshment around your regular commitments.

Taking steps
“After any kind of career disappointment, you need to stop and do a bit of self-assessment before anything else,” says Michelle Gibbings, author of Step Up – How to Build your Influence at Work. “This is a time to be very honest about where you are and what you need to do next. Rushing straight out the door with your resume clenched in your hand to see a recruiter may not actually be the best thing.”

To start the dusting off process, hard questions need to be asked about what circumstances brought about the prior career collapse.

“If that trigger had been painful, then there’s some things that you need to deal with before you’re even ready to go into your next step,” Gibbings says.

“There’s a period of recovery, in finding a way to leave behind whatever happened. Far too often I see people who aren’t dealing with what they’ve gone through, and they’re carrying the baggage of resentment or there’s anger there.

Kaplan Professional’s Knight says that many people are surprised by recent changes to their industry, which is why a short-term online course can be a good solution.

“It’s good to recognise the gaps you might have developed in skills or qualifications, and look at ways to get up to speed quickly,” he says.

“An online course can also be a great confidence booster.”

Getting focussed
No matter what the circumstances, losing your job can deflate even the healthiest self-esteem. This is when a new mindset approach needs to be adopted, says performance and leadership trainer Karen Gately.

“I know this sounds clichéd, but take the reins and see this as a huge opportunity to decide what do you really want to do and how will you do it,” Gately says.

“This is the time to focus in, get yourself clear about what all your options are, and start working out how to follow them up. In some ways, it can be very freeing.”

Drawing up an action plan is a good first step as it can offer an ordered path ahead to follow. If you have a plan that is realistic and that you know you can achieve, then it will get you started again. It’s not trying to do everything at once, but instead of looking at what are the building blocks you need to use to start putting all the pieces back together.

Work the network
If you have been in the workforce for three decades or so, one thing is guaranteed – you’ve made a lot of contacts across that time. And this might be the best time to get networking again.

“Talk to the people who you know have been there, done that, know exactly what it’s like and ask advice on what to do next,” Karen Gately says. “If you’ve had good mentors or former colleagues, then this is when they might be the most valuable. Take the initiative and take action.”

Knight says that, given time, many people end up feeling thankful for the chance to reinvent themselves.

“We often get stuck in a rut without realising it,” he says. “The chance to update your skills and feel confident about your marketability in the workforce might end up being the best thing to ever happen to you.”

* Names changed, by request

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