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Career Workshop: Too old to change careers?

61-year-old Gillian Johnson would like to start a new career in a new direction but is worried her age will hold her back. Personal and Executive Coach Dr Sally Ann Law advises…Sally Ann Law


Dear Career Workshop,

I need help and advice. I am 61, fit and healthy and have worked in the advertising and marketing sector for many years, for companies such as Reed Elsevier and the Daily Mail. I have sold everything from recruitment to sponsorships and events.

I am having trouble getting a job (I don’t look my age) and do not want to retire. I want some advice with a new career. I have marketing skills and am interested in life coaching or running a business to use my skills that can be transferred but I don’t have or have never run my own business. This is my problem – where do I start getting confidence and experience in doing this. Are there any government courses in this particular field?

I would really appreciate your help and advice, as I know I have a lot to offer.

Gillian Johnson


Dear Gillian,

I’m happy to read that you describe yourself as fit and healthy and I can read the enthusiasm you have for a positive career change in your words. Working out a new career strategy for ourselves can feel very daunting, but having an optimistic attitude and seeing the challenge as an adventure rather than a necessity will go a long way to solving your dilemma.

It sounds like the first step for you might be to do quite a bit of research to find out what you really do want to do and why. You say you are interested in life coaching, but go on to say ‘or running a business to use my skills’. I think before you invest time, energy (and probably money) in developing a new career you would benefit from trying to work out what your vision for your own future really is. Very often people rush off to do something new without first taking the time to examine the reasons behind their new choices. Ideally we want to feel that our career choice is aligned with our value system and that we’ve selected our new direction with clarity and confidence – as well as ruled out other options for all the right reasons.

I would suggest that you identify up to 10 people who can give you valuable input into the highs and lows of running their own businesses and see how what you learn from those conversations affects your decision-making. With regard to life coaching, I can tell you that there is no real barrier to entering the profession, other than personal integrity. At the moment, anyone can call themselves a life coach or indeed offer coach training. I would strongly suggest, however, that before you sign up for a training option that may cost you several thousand pounds, you try to get a better sense about your own current strengths (and weaknesses) and how you see them working for and against you as a life coach. Then you may have a better idea of what sorts of training you will need to feel confident offering your services as a life coach.

Regardless of what direction you choose, you will probably find you will need to invest in some form of training, either to gain specific skills for a new career or more generally to increase your understanding of what running a business entails. I would also encourage you to think hard about what you need from your new career from a financial as well as a personal/professional fulfilment point of view, as that may make some choices more suitable than others.

In any event, I wish you success in your new venture.

Best wishes,

Dr. Sally Ann Law
Personal and Executive Coach

To contact Dr Sally Ann for more career advice, visit

For more career-related advice, visit

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  • Mike Munro

    I found your comments inspiring and spot-on
    I am 62 and do not feel any different to when I was 30
    I am bursting with energy and will use my experience when looking for a fresh challenge
    Its just a question of time

  • Elsabeth Yerdaw

    I would like to have a job what I like but I couldn’t get the right job due to my languge influence and lack of communication etc how can you help me.

  • Sean Delay

    Gillian’s search for a new career, and the ageism she is encountering is unfortunate, and so small-minded. Age is just a number! We are all going to have to work for longer, before retirement, and some of us were forced into employments, by circumstances, before we really knew what we really wanted to do, or were suited, to.
    Working lives, and the way we conduct them, must change; Gillian is a signpost to that need for change.

  • Andrew

    I’m 28 and trying to make a career change from a sales/account management role to a project management or business analyst role. While I know there are deficiencies in my skill set, that I am trying to over come by study, my biggest issue is trying to make contact with organisations. I find the biggest barrier to be recruitment people. While there are some junior roles around it appears there are many more as recruiters post one job many times with different descriptions. I have also found it hard to get any information from and of the recruiters about what I should focus on or pushed in the right direction as they won’t be making any money from doing so. To be honest I am about to give up. Any suggestions or guidance would be greatly appreciated.

  • madeleine

    Hi Andrew – what is the drive behind your change in career?? What motivated you in the first place?? The other way forward is to get yourself some experience via the voluntary sector/charities – use whatever spare time you have in this way – you’ll be surprised with what is out there – have your plan as medium term/long term and actually set it out (ie as a SMART plan). Approach your local volunteer bureau and you will be snapped up but be choosy and say what you want and why. Maddi

  • Susanne

    I’m 52 and have just started on my third career: I was a commodity trader for 20+ years, then became a writer/editor/pr manager for another 10. But last year I quit my City job to go to a professional cooking school that was based in NY and had an exchange programme with a school in Italy. So last summer, instead of my usual commute into Moorgate, I found myself changing into chef’s whites and driving to a hotel overlooking a lovely beach to begin my day as an (unpaid) apprentice at a restaurant in Sardinia (where no one in the kitchen spoke English). Hard to shake the impression that I was leading someone else’s life… I graduated in August, and have since started working as a lowly-paid commis in a London. restaurant I have met quite a variety of kitchen personalities – unfortunately including some Gordon Ramsay wannabes – and had to get used to standing on my feet for upwards of 14 hours after years of a desk job (not to mention earning about a fifth of what I used to). Am I glad I made the change? Definitely – I’m doing something I have always loved for a living. Re age concerns, as I suspected nearly all my classmates were half my age (or less), but rather than dwell on that, I liked to remember that the school’s oldest student was someone in his 90s who wanted to learn a new pastry technique. So best of luck to Gillian and anyone else contemplating a career change. Yes – it does take a measure of courage. And no, it’s definitely not too late.

  • Marcus

    Two points. The feel of failure haunts us. Having the confidence to pitch myself into what seems to be an abyss is something I find very difficult. We are hamstrung by our perception that age is a barrier. We are all going to have to work until way beyond the age we thought we would. At 59, and looking at least ten years younger, with a background in teaching performance I have far more to give than potential employers are prepared to acknowledge. Therefore second point. Ageism prejudice is sometimes based on the fear that a boss may see someone who may have the talent/experience to be able to do his/her job. So there often results an innate conservatism at interview with the danger of selling yourself hard becoming counter-productive. To me as a natural enthusiast this is an ironic situation.

  • David

    I believe that Gillian’s sentiments will be shared by many. I am 52 and have had a very successful career as a management consultant and now feel that I have achieved all I want to do in that career. I have many friends from the same industry in the same position. I have not worked for a year and I am still looking for the change that will fulfil my ambitions. My advice would be:

    1. To ensure that you are committed to change, to learning something new and perhaps taking on significant retraining

    2. To be honest that you are willing to reduce your income in a new role if that is required

    3. To ensure you are supported by your family in making this decision

    4. To take time to consider exactly what you want to do. I have taken a year so far and only in the last month or so have I identified ideas which genuinely excite me.

    5. To discuss what you want to do with individuals in your target industry. I have been pleasantly surprised at the responses I have had.

    I am now genuinely excited at the prospect of a career change. I hope others in the same position will be so too

  • Mchllvenning

    I am trying to make a career change also I thought I was too old but I find it encouraging a person your age has the motivation to do it so can I.

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