Career planning for the 'twilight' of your careers - Dave Rees from Convergence Partners outlines what you should do...

Dave Rees

Even excellent candidates can struggle to advance as they approach the 'twilight' of their careers, says Dave Rees. To ensure a satisfying working future, they should start planning in their early 40s, he warns.

Our working lives are an unavoidable progression from our first youthful entry into employment through to the twilight of our careers. But just when that 'twilight' occurs is becoming increasingly distant.

People are living longer, and thus many need to work until a later age to prepare financially for what may be a lengthy retirement. Gone is the certainty that our pensions will fully support us in retirement.

Globally, many pension schemes are substantially underfunded and, in an era of low or negative interest rates, will most likely struggle to achieve returns to match their future liabilities. Pressure also comes from major demographic shifts: the number of Baby Boomers entering retirement age will not be sufficiently offset by a comparatively smaller proportion of workers whose taxes fund national superannuation schemes.

Our career path towards this destination can be an orderly one as we train, gather skills and experience, and secure progressively more senior roles. Or it can be more erratic, with stops along the way, false turns and backtracking, perhaps. Eventually, we all reach a point where we are viewed as a 'mature' employee.

For many of us, once we reach this point progressing further can be challenging and frustrating. For a range of reasons, the market for our skills shrinks notably the older we get. There are always going to be fewer senior roles than junior, and at the executive and senior management level the competition correspondingly becomes more intense.

There is also a strong prevailing notion that youth is where you invest - ageism often operates, if in an unspoken way. Even excellent mature candidates can struggle to advance.

Faced with this dilemma what should you do?

There are a range of options, beginning with leaving the corporate fold altogether. Consulting or professional contracting can be an attractive option, but the contract market can be fickle; unpredictable periods of downtime mean you may not necessarily earn a premium unless you are very active and disciplined. Alternatively, you could buy your own business and move into an entirely new field, but those changes generally call for substantial finances in reserve to bridge the transition.

Regardless of whether you continue a corporate career or choose to strike out on your own, you will need to continually 'sharpen your sword'. The unprecedented pace of technological and social change has meant workplace culture has evolved more in the last 20 years than in the previous 50. Faced with 'activity based working', impatient Millennial, and 'agile' work practices, it's tempting to adopt a cynical view and dig your heels in to preserve old habits.

Regardless of whether you are fully convinced by recent changes in workplace culture, finding a way to embrace them is an essential component of ongoing success. A criticism of many mature candidates is that they are out of touch with some aspects of what it means to do business these days - in particular, being less comfortable with change, new IT systems, and the digital revolution.

The candidate who will stand out is the one who is most adroit at navigating the contemporary environment, and who demonstrates they can quickly assimilate and harness the potential of new technologies.

It is no longer sufficient just to keep up with developments in your area of expertise; you also need to be energetic and passionate about your work. Core competencies now emphasise considerably more of the 'soft' skills in addition to technical and management prowess.

Developing a high EQ, learning to foster relationships with those you do not naturally gel with, inspiring those around you, and adapting to changing environments are all necessary components in the contemporary workplace.

Although we often assume these traits are innate in those who possess them, a substantial body of literature is testament to the fact that these are learned skills and a competitive marketplace requires that you bridge the gaps. Access training where you need it, network vigorously, develop relationships with recruiters, update your social media profiles, keep an open mind on career opportunities - even if you aren't actively seeking a new role.

Beyond these tactical considerations we have observed that mentoring relationships have increasingly become symbiotic. Whereas they were once an opportunity for emerging leaders to learn from more experienced players, savvy senior leaders are now leveraging the relationship to benefit from the endowments of their more junior mentees.

Do not underestimate the scale of the task at hand. This is a process and a state of mind that you should begin embracing in your early 40s. Planning that far out gives you a much greater chance of achieving your desired working future, resulting in a more stable and satisfying twilight phase to your career.

If you are nearing 50, you need to take action now to plan how you will cope with these challenges in five, 10 or 20 years' time. Part of that is to understand how far you can go with the skills you currently have, and how far you want to go. What are your ambitions? Where do you want to be in the final phase of your career?

To quote Lewis Carroll, "if you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there". In addition to your career aspirations, keep in mind what Peter Drucker called "your second career" - the intellectual and vocational pursuits that will sustain and satisfy you through your later years, and probably into retirement or semi-retirement!

We can't easily predict what the future will look like, but we can form a picture of what we would we like to be doing. That takes work and thought and you need to start now.


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