Acquire On-the-Job Training to Get the Job You Want After 50

By Kerry Hannon

Copyright © 2015 AARP. All rights reserved.

Any new skill you can add to your arsenal will only help you get that job you want after 50. Learning by doing is one of the oldest and best ways to acquire a new skill. Trouble is, you’re usually required to have the skill to get the job where you can learn the skill by doing it. Still, there are a few ways to get on-the-job training without the experience required to actually land the job.

Seeking apprenticeships and fellowships

You can build experience in an industry or job that appeals to you in all sorts of ways. If you want to become a chocolatier, for instance, you may be able to volunteer to help out at a local gourmet grocery or restaurant that makes its own confections. If you’re interested in learning the ropes of the restaurant industry, you can offer to help out on weekends in some fashion. These are all ways people have made transitions to new lines of work.

If you’re looking for a career with a social purpose, consider applying for an Encore fellowship. These are one-year, paid fellowships, typically in a professional capacity at a nonprofit, to help mature workers re-enter the job market.

Exploring internship and returnship opportunities

Internships and returnships can fill a gap in your résumé, and, from the standpoint of an employer, the programs offer a chance to test prospective employees before committing.

If you sense that a hiring manager is interested in hiring you but still waffling because you have been out of work or are making a career shift, consider asking whether he would consider an internship, to appraise you based on your work for several weeks. Think back on the movie The Internship, where two 40-somethings, played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, scored sought-after summer internships at Google and, amazingly, are ultimately hired full-time.

To get some leads on internship programs for 50-plus workers, visit these sites:

  • iRelaunch is a company that helps connect individuals who want to return to work after career breaks with employers interested in hiring them. The site features a list of Career Reentry Programs Worldwide. Currently, 124 programs are listed.

  • OnRamp Fellowship is a program that places experienced women attorneys with law firms for a one-year, paid training contract. This experiential learning program gives returning women lawyers — many of whom have opted out of the legal field for a period of time to raise children — an opportunity to demonstrate their value in the marketplace while also increasing their experience, skills, and legal contacts. Nineteen law firms are currently participating in the program.

Older interns are sometimes paid respectable wages. For example, attorneys with OnRamp are paid a one-year stipend of $125,000 ($85,000 in smaller markets) and benefits, which are paid by the law firm, the fellow works full-time on complex legal projects and receives ongoing feedback from a designated partner advisor.

A growing number of organizations — the National Institutes of Health, Stanley Consultants, and Michelin North America, among many others — have programs designed to attract and keep workers past 50. Companies with internship programs for older workers include Harvard Business School, McKinsey, MetLife, PwC, and Regeneron.

Three years ago, Intel introduced the Intel Encore Career Fellowship — a program that pays a one-year, $25,000 stipend to help retiring employees transition into post-retirement careers with a nonprofit organization.

Taking on a part-time job in the field of your dreams

To get a feel for what a new career will really be like, take on a part-time job in the field that interests you. (Try moonlighting if you’re currently working to see how you like the different field.) If you’re interested in teaching, you may offer to guest lecture at nearby colleges or universities. You may discover that teaching is your calling or that it’s not as great as you had dreamt it would be.

Even if you have to do the job for free, it’s probably still worth your time so you can make sure this is what you really want. If the dream fits, you can go all in to sharpen your skills and pursue the degree or certifications you need. If the dream fizzles, you haven’t lost a huge investment.

Some careers, such as teaching and real estate, may require a new degree or certificate. Others may require a new set of skills that you may not even realize you need until you work in the industry.

Getting started as a volunteer

Look for opportunities to volunteer for a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities to build the skills you need. In addition to helping with skill-building, volunteering gets you outside of your own head and that swamp of negativity and helps you gain some perspective on others’ needs.

Search for prospects at AARP’s Giving Back or Create The Good, HandsOnNetwork, and VolunteerMatch.org. If you’re good with numbers, look into AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, where volunteers help lower income seniors do their taxes. It’s a great way to get some tech skills (taxes are done on computer). AARP trains all volunteers.

Seek out nonprofits that need your particular professional expertise through the Executive Service Corps and Taproot Foundation. Idealist has a searchable database of both volunteer and paid positions.

Never sit around feeling sorry for yourself. If you’re unemployed, try volunteering or doing pro-bono work that keeps your skills current. These activities allow you to network and potentially get your foot in the door with a future employer. They also plug gaps in your résumé.

Gaining experience through contract gigs

Consider taking a contract job that can lead to a full-time post or gives you the ability to weave together a patchwork of jobs in the Me Inc. mode. All jobs are a work in progress. After you get in the door, you can make the job your own and grow the position to fit your talents.