Career Transitions: Should You Change Your Role or Let It Ride to Retirement?

Questions about changing careers are no longer limited to the young. In today’s working world—even if you’re approaching retirement—it’s completely normal to do more than daydream about a career transition. The important thing is that you fully examine the situation before taking the leap. Deciding whether to try something new or stay status quo until retirement requires your eyes to be wide open.

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What the research says about workforce longevity

In general, lots of people are working longer. A Gallup poll released in July 2022 found that both retirement age and anticipated retirement age have increased since the 1990s. In 1991, U.S. retirees reported retiring, on average, at age 57. Today, the average reported age of retirement is 61. The age of anticipated retirement for non-retirees has increased from 60 in 1995 to 66 in 2022. This can be attributed to many factors—not the least of which is the 1983 change in Social Security law that changed the age of eligibility for full benefits to 67 for those born since 1960.

But working longer doesn’t necessarily mean staying in the same career, and in 2017 three researchers at Boston College reported that voluntary job changes are associated with a statistically significant increase (9.1 percentage points) in the likelihood of remaining in the workforce until age 65.

Questions to ask yourself before switching roles late in your career

As you begin to seriously explore a mid- to late-career job transition, take some time to ask yourself some hard questions:

  • What kind of position excites you—and how does it fit in with your personal goals and priorities? You’ve worked so many years, and while the idea of a new career might sound refreshing, will it give you the flexibility you want? For instance, becoming an adjunct professor at a community college might fulfill your professorial fantasies, but being tied to a class schedule makes it harder to travel. Similarly, what time do you anticipate needing to devote to your grandchildren or to caring for an elderly parent?
  • How will changing careers affect your financial position in retirement? How much money you’ll need to live comfortably in retirement is a very personal consideration. Switching to a new industry or taking a part-time position is highly likely to result in a pay cut. The retirement benefits available through your current job should also be factored in. Are you fully vested in your 401(k)? How soon can you start drawing on any defined benefit pension for which you are eligible? Are any retire/rehire restrictions in place that could affect your ability to receive these hard-earned benefits?
  • What training will you need, and what transferrable skills do you possess? Depending on how dramatic of a change you want to make, you may need to seek additional licensure or certification or even pursue an entirely new course of study. Do you have the emotional and financial bandwidth available to take this on? How much time is required to complete the training? Depending on your age, spending one or more years back in class may sound unappealing.
  • Could you try this transition on for size in a volunteer role? When we are first starting our careers, internships are an excellent way to gain work experience and confirm interest in a profession. It’s far different to complete a job task than to read about it in a book. Look for the mid- to late-career equivalents of an internship. For example, if you’re considering becoming a teacher, sign up to teach Sunday or Saturday school or serve as an assistant scout troop leader. This will help you confirm whether you enjoy being around children. Similarly, if you find yourself daydreaming about becoming a vet technician, start volunteering at your local humane society.
  • Have you truly accomplished all that you wanted to in your current position? Take an honest look at your accomplishments. Is there anything left on your professional bucket list?

If you can thoughtfully answer all these questions and still think it’s a good idea to make a change, just do it! There’s no time to waste.


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