Career Q&A: Changing Career at 54

Got an email to day from “T” regarding her wanting to change careers at age 54. Here’s her question:

Hi Gerard

I would like to pursue a career change. I have a Diploma in Office
Administration and a B. Tech in Commercial Administration. I have
worked as a secretary for +- 10 years in the same educational
institution. My interest is in Travel & Tourism certificate/diploma. My
concern is based on the following problems of my own:

  • My age, I am 54 years old, am I not too old for the change.
  • Will I still get a suitable job at my age.
  • Will it be a wise change?

Please advise.

Okay, so here’s my answer. More information required by here’s what I had to say.Thanks for your question.

Tough situation. However you do have in your favour:

  • strong qualifications
  • good solid experience

So that’s a start. Good people with a stable, competent background are always valuable.

But now regarding the career change.

I would say that a drastic change, a “start from the bottom” change is not a good idea. From what I know about the environment (Travel) it’s high energy, very sales oriented. So some questions:

  • Is this really what you want?
  • What position/role exactly are you thinking of chasing?
  • Is there any way in which you can combine your admin/secretarial background INSIDE a company offering a speciality Travel Desk service?
  • What is it about the travel industry that excites you, is motivating your desire for a change.
  • Have you already done the Travel diploma?
  • Will it be a wise change? Who can tell??! But be cautious, don’t make any quick decisions. Do your homework. Try meeting with some Travel people to see what your options are, what role you’re aiming for, see what day-to-day activities you’ll be performing (sometimes we glamorize a certain industry, when really there’s another side to it all).

So these are some of the questions you should get back to me with and that have a bearing on your situation. Also of course is your financial position. Maybe you can afford to make a drastic change. If you’re doing this for the passion then that’s another matter. (I am assuming with this answer however that this is not the case.)

Just had another idea. Do you know anyone who – or can you find anyone who would like to go into business. You can handle the Admin side – setting up systems, policies, procedures and processes, and they can perhaps supply the Travel experience. Or can you join such a company lacking those skills (strong administration). You will also bring the added benefit of higher BEE rating.

Getting such an opportunity however will require you to market yourself directly to possible Travel Companies/Targets. [You can get great help with that in my online guerrilla job search coaching program.]

You Know How You Always Dread Mondays? Maybe It’s Time For Change?

Someone said to me the other day when discussing stress:

The problem with stress isn’t the weight of the load, it’s the length of time you have to carry it.

Makes sense. I know I can do a lot, but can I do that ‘lot’ month after month after month?

In a job or career that we’re not suited to, or are having a tough time in, we’ve got to figure out what the problem is. And especially whether it’s something we can live with or not.

Something of an indicator is Mondays. How do you feel about going to work on a Monday. Or, what about this: how do you feel on a Sunday afternoon and evening? Do you get the creeping feeling of dread as the weekend draws to a close. Do you stay up late on Sundays because if you go to bed, the next thing that happens is that it’s Monday and rise and shine!

It’s a good idea to address that. I’ve actually written a course dealing with it – it’s called “3 Steps to a Great New Job – The simple career improvement success program that will make you unstoppable in your search for a job you really love and can thrive in.check it here. (click, ok)

It’s designed to give you some ‘aha’ moments about your job and career options and provide practical, easy steps to help you reach a happier, more exciting, fulfilling job or career.

Free Course – From Career, Entrepreneurship Guru – Sign up Now

This is really special. Back in 2001 I bought a book – and it’s now leading to YOU getting something totally free. And it’s awesome.

Here’s the story: I had that desperate feeling in my job. I just couldn’t go on. I was doing well. Big clients. Good money. But man, I just felt that there was nothing in the job for me. Funny how money only goes so far to make one happy. I was working right next door to Cavendish Square shopping mall and lunch times I used to pop into Exclusive books. And one day I saw and immediately bought a book, “The Work We Were Born to Do – Find the Work You Love, Love the Work You Do” by Nick Williams. I devoured it. And the book with its inspirational quotes, ideas and guidance played a big part in helping me mould a career/job/business for myself that really is more than I’d ever hoped (not without its challenges – but that’s life!)

Now, you may know Nick Williams. He’s been to South Africa many times. He’s appeared on 3 Talk with Noleen and Carte Blanche on MNet. He runs seminars and promotes his books here. And he has a new course that he’s offering free to you. But note – it’s not for you if you love your job and you aren’t at all interested in working for yourself one day.

Sign up for it here – [please note, as with everything where writers touch on matters where they speak of the “universe”, “spirit” etc and the “purpose of life” I encourage you to look at the principles behind what’s being said, instead of taking it as religious or spiritual truth.]

Job Hunting Success Formula: Part 2 – Developed Skills, Section I of II

In the search for an employee, obviously, an employer looks for skills. Not just skills in word. But skills in deed. Actual work you are able to do (preferably well). You can do something, something of some value. You can drive. You can operate a forklift. You can inspire and motivate a team. You can keep the company’s books of account. You can sell.

Whatever career skill it is – you can come in to their company and solve a problem or help the company to progress toward its targets in some way – or prevent it from going under in some way.

A Plumber will make sure that water runs to the factory to cool the machines. A Financial Manager will make sure debtors pay up, creditors are paid in time, money is wisely invested, finance is secured, profits are protected, costs are kept low, etc.

Some careers/positions focus more on expert knowledge – but in any case applying that knowledge is a skill on its own.

The ‘nub’ is this: your ‘skills’ must translate into benefits to your employer. Having said that, it is true that some employers look for potential – with prior learning/qualifications being a strong indicator that you have the needed potential – and then they train you in the actual doing of the job to meet their requirements. To be honest however, they usually look for some developed skills to already be present.

Okay, it all starts then, by having skills in the first place. So … do your utmost to learn some! You could take a course in your desired field, get some qualification. But as much as theory has its place, remember the employer is looking for skills – you coming in, doing a ‘job of work’, making a difference, taking some task from “A” to “B”.

Develop a career mindset of always learning. But don’t forget that knowledge isn’t skill. Developing skill takes practice. Field work. Getting your hands dirty. Trial and error. Being in the trenches. Making mistakes! Learning from mistakes! Correcting mistakes! Trying not to make the same mistake! It means being involved in something on a regular basis. And it also means having some successes to speak of.

So when you’re learning, ask: what skills am I developing?

Here are some examples:

  • If you’re studying Accounting, are you doing the books for 2 or more small businesses in your neighbourhood part time?
  • If you’re studying motor mechanics – are you busy ‘pimp my ride-ing’ a ’78 Chevvy, just for the experience?
  • If you’re studying Financial Analysis – are you keeping track of your own JSE/NYSE/Nasdaq portfolio of shares?
  • Are you studying HR Management? Are you working part time to assist 2 or more small companies with their HR issues?

Or … if you’re already in a job or career: what new skills are you developing? What skills look like they’re going to be needed in the future? What skills are in short supply? Are you adding to what you’ve got? Or are you looking for ways to do what you do better than ever?

By doing the above you’re developing skills. And because skills are valuable to employers – you’re making yourself more valuable to them. And if you’re more valuable, you’re more marketable – you’ll find it easier to find and keep work, and you’ll earn more.

But there’s another kind of skills you also need to develop. More on them tomorrow.

Have you enjoyed this article? If so please do 2 things: 1) Share it – click the ‘green thingy’ button below and you’ll easily be able to send it to friends via email or even Facebook; 2) And join the exclusive Career&Success community – the place for info, ideas, support and a network of friends to give you the spark you may be lacking right now.

Are You Asking the Tough Career Questions?

Here’s an item from the 3 Steps to a Great New Job e-course. The extract is taken from Module 8 and asks the question:

Why is it important to spend some time thinking about your job and career?

I mean, if you’re unhappy in your job, miserable, usually people just want to forget about it, they live for Fridays, they hate Mondays, they hate Sunday evenings (because tomorrow’s Monday!) and they hope one day something better will come along. So in the course I encourage people to face some tough questions about their life and career choices. WHY?

Most people find their ‘perfect’ job kind of by mistake – they stumble across it – instead of clinically, scientifically plotting their way there. So you may wonder, “what’s the use of all these questions?”. The answer is simple: there’s just not enough time to rely on “chance”. We need to shorten the odds as best we can. Getting one’s mind to think about these issues is good. The answers may not be immediately apparent or clear. But they will become so before long.

True, no? I actually think it’s difficult though to “clinically”, “scientifically” plot your way to a blissful career. People are complex. I know at least that I’m full of bull (my wife will tell you, so don’t contact her, she’ll shatter my image). And making my way to my job-that-I-love was an agonising ride. But there are things you can do to make your way there too, just more easily. And starting out with a determination that “life is too darn short” and “somethings gotta be done … now” about it – well that’s a great start.

Get the “3 Steps to a Great New Job” course free if you’re a member of the Career&Success community at R30 pm. Tough decision. Go to for the R30 pm option or for the R300 option.


Have you enjoyed this article? If so please do 2 things: 1) Share it – click the ‘green thingy’ button below and you’ll easily be able to send it to friends via email or even Facebook; 2) And join the exclusive Career&Success community – the place for info, ideas, support and a network of friends to give you the spark you may be lacking right now.