With people working longer and longer and many people not even beginning to think of retirement until well into their 70s, a growing number of people will be thinking about changing careers much later in life.

Tracy Gunn is co-founder of Platform 55, a consultancy formed to create more inclusive workplaces for parents, but her background for 25 years prior to that was in leadership development. She hit a pivotal moment in her own career when she was trying to juggle and balance her work with her family.

“I was struggling and felt that I had to make a choice between my career and my young family. I didn’t want to choose and wanted to figure out how I could do both. And now I am passionate about helping people live a life that is fulfilling,” she says.

Of course, how does anyone know whether they want to change their career or reignite their working life? Gunn admits that is the big question, but modern working practices make change a whole lot more common.

“For starters, most of us will be working a lot longer than the previous generation, so career change is almost an inevitability. Careers have shifted. They are no longer linear, and rarely do people simply proceed up the career ladder,” she says.

“It’s more like squiggly careers where people can have a portfolio career that goes in different directions, depending on what is happening in their lives.”

How people navigate such changes is determined by their mindset. Gunn argues there are two distinct mindsets of which the first is the fixed mindset.

“People with this mindset can appear to be stuck in their career. They can’t see the opportunities in front of them and can feel trapped. Indeed, they can often take criticism personally and be threatened by other people’s success.”

There are a range of influences causing this mindset from post-Covid reactions to pandemic burnout. Gunn uses an example to highlight this thinking. She asks people to look at the chain of words – Opportunityisnowhere – and tell her what they see. Studies show that 73 per cent of people read the phrase as “opportunity is nowhere” and only 15 per cent read it as “opportunity is now here”.

“We are pre-programmed to look for the negative,” she explains.

She runs a Reignite Your Career workshop to help people move from the fixed mindset to the growth or moving mindset.

Success to a young person in their 20s is very different to someone in their 50s

“If we can shift people’s mindsets then we can find out what gives them purpose and how to go about changing their career to deliver that purpose. By changing the mindset, we help people realise that they have loads of experience and loads of skills.”

Changing a career requires some practical work. Gunn advises that people build a career community around them. She advises people to surround themselves with a network of people who can guide them, advise them, inspire them, challenge them and more importantly, give them empathy.

“I also suggest finding people who will hold you to account. It’ll keep you focused.”

In addition, if people are looking to change their career at a later stage, Gunn asks them to redefine how they measure success.

“Success to a young person in their 20s is very different to someone in their 50s. Salary may give way to satisfaction to title to work-life balance.”

Gunn suggests drawing a pie chart and filling in the different segments depending on age, desires and satisfactions. How many more years does the person want to work, and perhaps even more importantly, what kind of legacy would they like to leave behind?

A third exercise is to look at how much time a person wants to work and figuring out what skillsets they possess, what knowledge they have, and what personal qualities they possess. Again, Gunn argues for the person to reach out to their career network for help, as this work can be hard to do alone.

“What are your career assets, and can these be transferred across industries?”

Education can play a part in the change, but it’s not always a given. The questions to be asked here are what skills they need to know and what knowledge do they need to show.

Sometimes lack of qualification can simply be an excuse, because the person is not confident enough to make a move before more qualifications are obtained.

Another barrier to moving careers can be ageism or presumed ageism. Adrian McGennis, chief executive of Sigmar Recruitment, says they regularly undertake substantial employment and talent surveys for Sigmar and Talent Summit.

“On the age question we found in 2019 that 12.7 per cent of our successful placements were by candidates over 50. And this year [2022], successful candidates that were over-50 was up to 16.1 per cent.

The answer is to network. Get out to events, meet new people. And when it comes to taking that first step, take a small one just to get yourself moving

“I must point out it is a small sample size, but does indicate a positive trend. We feel the increase is sharper and more significant with SMEs as opposed to multinational corporates,” says McGennis.

Gunn reflects another aspect of overlooked ageism. She claims that Irish people aged from 50 to 65 account for 47 per cent of all spending power, yet only 12 per cent of all marketing is targeted at this age group.

“So, people in this age category have a lot to offer in terms of insights and spending power and should be very valuable assets to retail brands. Some companies are recognising this, with Lidl scrapping the retirement age and big brands such as John Lewis actively targeting the over-50s.”

Finally, Gunn calls on people to be clever if they want to change their career. She quotes the book Brand You: Turn Your Unique Talents into a Winning Formula by John Purkiss and David Royston Lee. The authors look at a career on an axis. A brilliant lawyer if only known on the vertical axis has very little reach, whereas the same person spread across a horizontal axis can reach a lot more people.

“The answer is to network. Get out to events, meet new people. And when it comes to taking that first step, take a small one just to get yourself moving. Subscribe to a new related publication, can you shadow someone in the new sector you’d like to move to, can you take on more responsibility in your spare time, do a side hustle perhaps?”

Above all, get visible, Gunn recommends.