Assess a Career Change

Here's what to consider if you're thinking about a job change late in life.

Q: I've been with the same company for the last 9 years, and I've recently realized I'm ready for a change. The problem is that I'm 56 years old, and intimidated by the prospect of looking for a new job.

The prospect of looking for a new job is daunting because I haven't been through the interview process in such a long time, and because I'm not sure I can compete with younger job candidates. Do you have any advice?

A: Here are three important things you should think about and weigh carefully.

First, what does the retirement package with your current employer require in terms of years of service, retirement age, post-employment health coverage, stock options, and other bonuses? This is an important question because you are now approaching ten years of service with your current employer and are only a few years away from the traditional retirement age of 62-65. Public and private employers generally handle these matters quite differently. A detailed discussion with your company's Human Resources department is in order, and you can do so without tipping your hand about future plans.

Be sure to ask about pension payout options (lump sum vs. monthly) and IRA rollover. Remember, under most circum-stances, if you leave the company in the near future, IRS rules generally prohibit and severely penalize you from touching the rolled-over assets until you are 59 years of age. If you ultimately decide to leave your current job, but end up taking a lower paying position, you will need to figure out how to lower your cost-of-living for the next few years rather than supplementing it from your existing retirement account.

By the way, if you were thinking about taking Social Security early to help make ends meet, think again. Social Security payments are calculated on your best 35 years of work, averaged and adjusted for inflation.

Although you can start collecting Social Security as early as age 62, you get docked five-ninths of 1 percent for every month you are younger than 65 years of age. This means you will receive 20 percent less per month retiring at age 62 than you would at age 65.

Second, there are usually a range of options available to valued employees short of changing employers. If you are in "good-standing" with your current employer, consider proposing the following:

Job restructuring — This can take numerous forms, including job sharing with other employees, creating multi-disciplinary work teams, or transitioning into another type of work, usually with additional training.

Special assignment — Since you have been with your current employer nearly ten years, you should know what works well organizationally and what doesn't. This insider knowledge creates an opportunity to propose new policies, procedures, markets, etc. If your superiors agree, you might suggest how you could undertake a special assignment to study, pilot, and implement appropriate internal company changes.

Telecommuting — A simple change-of-venue can do wonders in terms of breathing new life into a routine job. One possibility is to arrange to telecommute (i.e., work at home) two days each week. Most employers need little arm twisting to approve this one because the idea has been around for a while and has proven its usefulness to
all parties.

Third, most people find job change to be a positive experience. Career change can, of course, be life-changing. And, you will not be alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that professionals older than 55 are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, and will constitute 19 percent of the labor force by 2012. As more Baby Boomers choose or need to stay employed beyond the traditional retirement age for financial reasons, employers are realizing just how valuable this segment of the workforce is to their organization's mission. The labor market is in the early stages of a sea change about older workers. Thus, your job change timing is very good.

If there is no urgency in your case to changing jobs, you might want to pick up a book that has guided people for years in hunting for a job: What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles (2006). This is a "how-to" manual. You should be able to find this or an earlier edition at your local library.

mel anderson
I'm thinking about a new job, so this helps. It is a great insight.