It’s no secret that the economic upheaval of the recession wreaked havoc on many Americans’ retirement plans. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of working Americans 55 and older grew by nearly 8 percent — the only group whose workforce participation rates increased. Couple that with many baby boomers’ desire to keep working later into life for personal fulfillment, and you’ve got a cohort who are planning to stay in the workforce for the foreseeable future. And quite naturally, they’re starting to ask: Is this what I want to spend the rest of my career doing?
Reinvention can seem daunting, but so can spending the rest of your professional life doing a job that’s no longer fulfilling.
Don’t be afraid to go backward temporarily. Sometimes, the way forward is by taking a step back. If you’re shifting fields, you may need to take a job at a lower level so you can “learn the ropes” of the new industry, yet often your past experience will then help you leapfrog ahead quickly. Be mindful, though, that you have enough time as a worker still ahead of you to see the payoff. Ask yourself: Will this job help me learn new skills or gain a new perspective? Will I be making useful connections? Is there a clear path to advancement, and how long is it likely to take?
Get online. Increasingly, your professional reputation is shaped by your online reputation. After all, the first thing a potential employer will do after receiving your resume is an Internet search to find out more about you. Don’t leave that impression to chance. Even if you have no interest in starting a blog or a Twitter account, at the very least take a few hours to build a robust LinkedIn profile. It’s a standard assumption these days that any professional has one. Make sure to include your photo and fill out all the fields for education and job history. People can find information about you online whether you put it there or not, so you’re better off crafting the image they see.
Find people to hold you accountable. You’re less likely to be successful if you try to handle your reinvention alone. Make a list of your most thoughtful friends and colleagues. Reach out to between 3 and 6 of them, and ask if they’d like to get together periodically to trade ideas. Schedule a meal with at least one of them, once a month, to keep yourself fresh.
Overcome self-doubt. You may worry it’s too late to reinvent yourself, or think you’ve locked yourself into your current path. But people can — and do — take on new professional challenges all the time. My colleague’s father just completed his Ph.D. at age 66, and another person I know started a career as a political campaign manager after she retired. The most important step is realizing you can do it and projecting that confidence to others, so they’ll feel motivated to help you along your path.
This post originally appeared on the The Washington Post website on May 9, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.