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How Women Should Plot Their Careers After 50

Instead of viewing work as 'a job,' take these steps to forge your future

By Kerry Hannon

Although I make a living writing articles, blogs and books about personal finances and work, my first job was selling Avon products door-to-door.

It wasn’t easy. I had a pit in my stomach each time I showed up at someone’s home. I calmed my nerves, reminding myself that it was only a summer job and that I wasn't planning to have a career as a salesperson.

Why Every Job You’ve Had Matters

But was my work as an “Avon Lady” just a job? Or was it part of my career path?

What I know now, at 52, is that a career is a lifetime of jobs and that every job you snag is meaningful — if you see it that way.

(MORE: How Women Job Seekers Can Beat Age Discrimination)

That brings me to my advice to you: Every woman, regardless of how many decades she has been working, how much longer she plans to earn income and the job she happens to have at the moment, must be at the controls of her career. That means learning and growing from every job along the way and in the future.

As much as I disliked selling lipstick, moisturizer and bath oil door to door, the experience taught me lessons that I apply directly to my work today. I learned, for example, that there’s no harm in asking (a lesson that has helped me squeeze raises from employers). I also learned how to face rejection, something we all confront periodically.

Today, I’m constantly selling myself, my expertise, and yep, my books. (Did I mention that my latest one just came out? It’s Great Jobs For Everyone 50+.) Thanks, Avon!

The Career Mistake Too Many Women Make

I’m sorry to say that many women I meet in their 50s and 60s have stagnated career-wise and lost their zeal. When I ask others how things are going now that they’ve returned to work after raising kids, they shrug and say, “It’s a job.”

But today’s 60-year-old woman might wind up working at least part-time for another 15 years, figures Marc Freedman, author of The Big Shift: Navigating The New Stage Beyond Midlife and founder and chief executive of, a nonprofit that promotes second acts for the greater good.

“That changes the entire equation about what you want to do, what’s possible to do,” he says.

I think it’s also a pretty good argument for finding ways to expand and embrace your career. (Incidentally, Freedman’s group today is honoring five extraordinary women and men over 60, winners of the 2012 Purpose Prize for their extraordinary work as social entrepreneurs.)

Tips From Author Kate White

For smart career advice, I interviewed Kate White, 61, former editor of Cosmopolitan and author of the new book, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know.

Why is it important for a woman who has been working for three or four decades to keep managing her career path?

You must always manage your career and be its relentless architect or it can slip away from you.

It's important to realize that you may be vulnerable at this time. In a tough economy, bosses look at your income and ask if someone younger could do it almost as well, but cheaper.

Make sure you are delivering on a big level, that you don't seem lazy or lax, and that you're always engaged. Ask for promotions. Go for the next big job.

If it's not too big of a risk for you financially, it's also a good time to think about your girlhood dreams while you still have a chance to make them happen. I wrote my first novel in my late 40s.


What should women do to keep their careers on track after 50?

Network, network, network. This is how great opportunities happen.

Also, ask yourself, "When was the last time I made my boss say, 'Wow!'? Just because you're 50, doesn't mean you shouldn't be a "wow-maker" anymore.

(MORE: Why Women Should Join Networking Groups)

What should boomer women do to move their careers forward?

Learn to drain the swamp as you slay the alligators. By that, I mean spend an hour each week thinking not about your day-to-day work, but about your goals. Write them down. It can be fun and freeing.

My 3 Rules to Steer Your Career

I couldn’t agree more — and I would add these three rules:

1. Don’t be afraid to allow your career to grow organically as new tasks and opportunities come your way. A few years ago, I was asked to write an online column about careers for U.S. News & World Report. I balked, telling myself that I was a print journalist. After the editor pressed me, I finally accepted the invitation. Today, most of my clients are Internet-based operations (like Next Avenue) and writing for the Web has become a specialty.

2. Continually look for ways to promote your personal brand, whether you work for yourself or an employer. Hire a photographer to take professional headshots you can put on your LinkedIn and Twitter social media pages, for example. If you’re considering a switch to a new career, get business cards with your new occupation. That’ll make it real.

(MORE: Three Social Media Tips to Help Women’s Careers)

3. Finally, keep your skills up to date. This is nonnegotiable. Since you may be in the job market for 10 or more years, make the investment in your future.

A specialized professional certificate from a community college (with classes in person or online) might make you a catch for your next job or help you hold onto your current one. It’ll cost less and probably be much quicker than a full-blown undergraduate or graduate school degree program.

At this point in your life, money and time are two resources you can’t afford to squander.

Photogtaph of Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is the author of Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home. She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among others. She is the author of more than a dozen books including Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life, Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon. Read More
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