Career issues can be confusing at any age but at 50 or beyond, there are new wrinkles to consider: How long do you plan to work, and will additional investments in your career be worth the cost?Among the variables are personal considerations such as health and skill level, and external factors such as the job market and the going rate for your field.
Following are six career investments that have a different impact for people at mid-career, and some thoughts about how to weigh the decision.
Relocation – It’s an American tradition to move for work, or to relocate to areas with a more robust economy. As we grow older, however, the process can be more difficult to navigate because of family and financial encumbrances.This decision requires clear data and calculations, so take your time to identify the short- and long-term gains and costs of a move. If you decide to go, try to time the relocation to account for issues on both ends of the move, such as housing and seasonal aspects to the job market, if any. Just don’t dawdle too much. For the most part, delaying things means less time to rebuild in the new location.
Career change – Since earnings can take time to recover after a career change, switching careers at 60 or 65 can seem like a bad investment. Even so, consider that you may opt to stay longer in the new field if you enjoy it. Also note that the same five years spent grinding away at a job you hate might feel like 20. It may be worth the switch just to ensure a happier five years.
Skills brushup – This should be relatively easy to decide. If you are currently not well-versed in a common tool for your work – say, computer software or a sales technique – just resolve the problem. Keeping up with the basic tools of your trade are more akin to the regular maintenance on your house than they are to a major remodel.
Certification / licensure – Vocational training programs can be more difficult to evaluate, because of the expense and the commitment to a field that they can represent. Review the cost-benefit ratio carefully, but if you’re struggling to decide, know this: Certificates and licenses tend to carry more bang for the buck than other forms of training. Both current and future employers will see this investment as a sign that you’re staying up to date and that you’re bringing something extra to the table.
Re-licensure – Workers at 50 or 60 years of age who put a professional license on hold in the past should give serious consideration to renewing the license, on the “just in case” principle. It won’t get any easier or cheaper, so if you imagine that it may come in handy later, I’d do the work now to refresh the credential.
Degree programs – These are the big-ticket items when it comes to mid-career investment. A degree can cost tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention countless hours and time away from family. If a current employer pays for the training, the decision might be easier but if you’re footing the bill yourself, the return on investment question carries more weight.
To help with the decision, consider more than just the business equation. If you’ve always wanted the degree, or if you particularly enjoy school, then those considerations should count for a lot. But if you’re dreading the process, I’d advise a second and even third review of the decision. It’s very possible that you can achieve the same impact on your job options with less training, particularly if you have good contacts or transferable skills for the work you’re considering.
Business startup or purchase – This is one of those sooner-is-better situations in terms of being able to ramp up to profitability before you retire or sell. On the other hand, starting too soon could mean less time to save money from your current job.
If you think in terms of “buying yourself a job,” this might be an easier decision to weigh. Given the right service or product and the right staffing model, owning your own business could buy you the freedom to work fewer hours as you age while still earning an income (and without fearing an arbitrary layoff).
Good multi-taskers might operate a business on the side while working a few more years at a regular job. This will defray the risks, but may decrease your enjoyment, so be sure to factor those intangibles into your decision. Happiness is hard to assign a dollar value, but it should be included in any career investment you make.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.