Over 40 and Starting a New Career? A Lot has Changed
by Bradley A. Huebner
After 18 years of teaching high school English, I opted for a career change while my skills, mind, and nerves remained sharp. Every spring that I taught Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild about chasing your dreams, I felt like a hypocrite—I wasn’t chasing mine.
Financially, I could swing it. I’d paid off my house, so I could absorb a hit in salary. In fact, I’d bought the house from a man who was himself in the process of making a career switch. I also had the example of my mother. She left a Fortune 500 company after 19 years and found her niche in real estate.
Mom died suddenly in 2014. For a year after that, I basically fogged out and found myself re-evaluating my own path. Teaching had changed, and not for the better. At my school, the main conversation among teachers at lunch was how to escape. Five of my colleagues had departed the high school that same year, so I felt peer-empowered.
Initially, I didn’t do any research on changing careers. Now I know that about a “third of pre-retirees plan to change careers in the next five years,” according to a survey of 40–59 year olds by Life Reimagined and USA Today. My timing wasn’t perfect in terms of my state of mind in some ways. Of the five biggest stressors according to uhhospitals.org, I’d experienced 2.5 in the previous three years: death of a loved one, check; divorce, check (sort of, if you count leaving basketball coaching); moving (seven years earlier), not current; major illness, no (but three of my peers at the high school had developed serious illnesses, and I felt I’d be next if I didn’t exit stage left); and job loss (or departure), check.
So my job hunt began.
I immediately found that the job hunt process had changed—a lot. Some of this was positive. With applications largely completed online nowadays, I wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on postage like I did in mid-1990s, the last time I searched seriously.
The technology wanted freshly typed information in their templates. I learned I could complete an application, affix my resume, and still have to fill out my education (four institutions of higher learning), my work experience, and my references. I applied en masse, firing off between 100 and 150 applications. My strategy was to flood the market with my resume, writing clips, original videos, and personal websites. I consulted online job sites like indeed.com, journalismjobs.com, higheredjobs.com, ncaamarket.ncaa.org, and linkedin.com.
Initially I targeted jobs in a dying business—sports writing. I’d been an editor in Georgia and a sports writer in Maryland. Later, I expanded the search to include college basketball coaching positions. I searched website writing jobs, magazine jobs, research jobs. Using teamworkonline.com, I investigated jobs in professional sports involving writing and marketing. I looked both near home in Pennsylvania and in places I wouldn’t mind relocating to—the eastern shore, Virginia, North Carolina.
On average, I sent out five applications a day. Most places admonish you not to call to check on progress, so I didn’t. I waited, but there was nothing. No response, no feedback. I wondered if my computer had been hacked and my applications rerouted to obscurity. Finally, one company offered an interview: writing curriculum online for reluctant readers. I could do that! But I interviewed poorly and received a prompt rejection e-mail.
Two months in, the local zoo called to interview me as a grant writer. Since I love animals and writing, I all but ignored the $30,000-a-year salary, about one-third what I’d been making. We interviewed over the phone. The rejection e-mail arrived a week later.
I continued filling out long on-line applications. Several companies required me to complete a 100-question survey. And despite having two master’s degrees, professional success, and a history of clean living, another company made me fill out a 50-question survey that asked a slew of repetitive, intrusive questions. Would I consent to drug testing? Did I accept food stamps? Was I taking government assistance? That application process lasted 40 minutes—for a job at a mall kiosk selling one item of clothing, something a teenager could perform.
After six months, I accepted one offer for part-time work, after typing enough to pen the War and Peace of applications. The dream, for this McCandless, remains unfulfilled.
Bradley is a sports writer for a local newspaper and has written for other newspapers throughout the east coast. He hosts a radio show and has coached basketball for almost two decades. He's earned master's degrees in Mass Communications/Journalism and Creative Writing and is a fellow Silver Sager.