5 Inspiring Women Who Prove Career Goals Don’t End at 50

By Lauren Krouse
January 12, 2024

A job search in your 50s can be stressful, frustrating, exciting, empowering, or all of the above. Whether you’ve been blindsided by an unexpected layoff, dream of making a career change, or just want to finish out your last few years before retirement, it may help to get intel from women who’ve been through the struggle.

One thing you’ll hear countless times is that ageism runs rampant—and it seems to have gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the ABA (American Bar Association) Journal predicts a rise in age discrimination lawsuits against employers. During the pandemic, 2.9 million older workers were pushed into early retirement. Additionally, they have been slower to be hired back. According to AARP, around 28 percent of older jobseekers found employment each month between April and September of 2020 compared to 32 percent of younger workers.

Women tend to be hit much harder by age-related discrimination compared to men, particularly during the job search. Nearly 62 percent of women say they’ve experienced ageism compared to 52 percent of men, according to a June 2021 report from the research firm WerkLabs. Barriers to snagging a coveted position are even greater for older Black women who face double discrimination, according to The Washington Post.

Although applying for new jobs can be a battle, older women bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the job. Gallup research suggests that women managers (often midcareer and in midlife) outshine their male counterparts in key areas such as engagement, both their own and that of the teams they manage. To get the job and salary you deserve, remember that you have a lot to offer and be sure to take notes from other women who’ve been in the same situation. Here, five women share their career and job-seeking advice.

Use Your Network Every Step of the Way

Carol Gee, 71, Atlanta, Georgia

“I was 54 and had been employed for nearly 13 years at a well-known university when our department ran out of funding for my position and I was laid off. I wanted to stay with this employer until I could retire, so I began my job search by telling my colleagues on campus that I was looking.

As I interviewed for full-time positions, my former supervisor helped me find a part-time job. After nearly 18 months, I finally found another job on campus thanks to a tip from a colleague.

For women in the same boat, my advice is to network and keep the focus off your age by not putting dates of degrees or other milestones on your resumé. Also, be open to opportunities during your search. My part-time job kept me visible on campus, and my connections helped me get rehired.”

Apply for the Job You Really Want

Lynn Heritage, 78, Carolina Beach, North Carolina

“At 51, I got a part-time job screening calls for mortgage loan counselors (MLCs). After a year, I decided I wanted to become an MLC because I loved the idea of helping someone purchase a home. When an opening came up, I applied but was told I didn’t get the job because I didn’t have a college degree. I didn’t believe this. I thought it was because I was an older woman.

This experience really jarred my confidence, but I swallowed my disappointment and kept on working. After a few months, the guy they hired didn’t work out, so they offered me the position. I took it, worked longer hours than most people, and never allowed my desire for a sale to interfere with my integrity. After the first three years, I remained in the top five highest performers at the company in sales until my retirement.

This process taught me that I’m stronger and smarter than I thought. I may still quiver at some challenges, but I don’t turn away from those that speak to my heart and inner soul. If my brain tells me I can’t do something, my heart responds with, ‘Oh yes you can!’”

Say No to the Wrong Opportunities

Mary Sullivan, 59, Seattle, Washington

“At 54, I was devastated and unsure of what my next steps would be after suddenly losing my job. I started by asking myself: If I could live anywhere and do anything, what would I do? After falling in love with Seattle, I decided to move there and search for my dream job.

Job seeking in your 50s or older is scary and it’s tempting to accept a lower offer because we’re so grateful for any offer. My advice to other women is to plan ahead and save money along the way. Know what you want from a new job and ask your mentors and network to share opportunities that pay your worth and meet your criteria.

In my first few interviews, I said no to more jobs than said no to me because I was confident and sure of what I wanted. Five months later, I found the right fit. My takeaway from this journey is that you have to believe in yourself or nobody will. One job loss—or even a couple—doesn’t define you.”

Use Failure as an Opportunity to Explore

Emmalou Penrod, 68, Ogden, Utah

“At age 56, I was shocked when my contract wasn’t renewed at what I thought had been my dream position. I was a sixth-grade teacher at a progressive charter school. After applying for similar jobs and not getting any offers, I had to pay my bills.

Because I felt like I had no choice, I ended up accepting a job as a secondary physical science teacher at a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth. I quickly learned this wasn’t just a job—I had to make a daily commitment to earn the trust of students who had been let down by so many adults in their lives. Working with them, I grew more patient and compassionate. I ended up staying for eight years, and it became my last teaching job and the most favorite position I’ve ever had.

Looking back, I’m grateful I lost my other position because it opened me up to the most challenging and rewarding experience of my career. Don’t be afraid to consider something new, no matter your age.”

Keep the Faith

Penelope H. Grover, 68, Wilmington, North Carolina

“I’m a professional singer and ran a theater company with my husband for 30 years before moving to a new city and beginning to audition for theater. Then, at 66, I decided to move into film and television.

I’m happy to say it’s been great. I got a couple gigs, and because a director liked my work, they gave me a good reference when I submitted my work to an agent. The agency subsequently signed me. Just recently, after a few more gigs, I signed for a big role in a film.

There have been plenty of rejections on the journey, but that’s the nature of the business. A lot of my success has been serendipitous. Your mind is your most powerful tool. When you set a goal, know that you’ll accomplish it. Have faith in yourself. The longer you’re here and the older you are, the smarter, wiser, and more capable you are, making you a valued asset to whoever chooses to use your gifts.

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