04 Jul Strategies to beat Mid-Career Crisis

Michael Lee was retrenched in May 2013, after seven years with an SME in the aerospace industry. “My 14 years of experience in all as a purchaser and my diploma in purchasing counted for nothing.” Michael was not able to find work in his field of choice despite sending several applications within the aerospace industry, while attempting to branch out to other trades. Michael belongs to a growing group of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) in Singapore between the ages of 40-60 who have hit a mid-career crisis amidst growing uncertainty in the labour market.

For those currently employed, many experience a lack of career growth, job stability, lowered work productivity or a lack of acknowledgement for their work in the office. Leong Kok Meng, a production manager in his 40s at an aviation company cites the entrance of millennials to the workforce as a threat to retaining older, more experienced workers. There is often the common generation gap that comes with the various approaches to work that alter the status quo and dynamics of established work cultures over the last generation. Many PMETs have not been able to cope with such changes to the workplace.

However, a mid-career crisis is not the end of a career. Rather, it is a wake-up call and opportunity for PMETs to rediscover themselves and to reassess their life and work. With the right mindset while knowing when to make the next career move, one can still secure employment, keep their jobs and be trusted and respected by their bosses, colleagues and customers for continued career growth.

We spoke to a group of mature PMETs who have undergone similar experiences in their midlife career who have kindly shared their personal experiences in hope that they will be useful to others who are experiencing a similar situation that they did halfway through their career.

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1. Identifying Similar Work Cultures

54 year-old former Warrant Officer from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Chandra Kundan is hoping to transition from a career of 35 years in the armed forces to being a school operations manager.

He explains, “…the working environment in an army camp and a school is relatively similar: a physical institution of space and buildings, a structured organisation with standard operating procedures to follow and regiment to some extent.”

Fellow military man, Tan Kwang Meng, who is also in his 40s, agrees. Coming from a career that required him to ensure a platoons’ discipline, he easily and quickly adapted to his new role as an operations manager at Tong Tar Transport where he manages a crew of over 100 bus drivers. The similarities between his previous and current job responsibilities were helpful to his transition.

Both Chandra and Kwang Meng are able to leverage on their familiarity with similar standard operating procedures and work cultures in order to ensure a smoother transition from one career field to another.

2. Continuous Learning is Key

Besides maintaining one’s expertise, staying relevant and competitive in today’s fast-changing market is also essential. In recent years, the government has created many resources such as the SkillsFuture Credit that PMETs could tap on when exploring different courses in the market.

50-year-old Terry Ng, an IT product manager, keeps himself updated on new trends and innovations in the IT industry in order to stay competitive. He states that, “upgrading job skills is now more of a necessity than an advantage, more so for survival. Such upgrading benefits the worker, the employer and the industry.”

Terry also advises that the programs one chooses has to be relevant and practical for their individual skills because, “otherwise, it would be a sad case of abuse, merely going through the motion to obtain certification and waste valuable government-subsidised resources such as the Skillsfuture Credit scheme.”

42-year-old Madalene See, a marketing manager with an MNC also points out that for mature PMETs, it is often a “daunting task” to return to school. Fortunately, there are many courses currently offered that teach practical skills that are relevant to the workplace that help PMETs advance into higher leadership and management roles.

3. Embrace Fresh Perspectives in a Diverse Team

As PMETs look to advance into leadership roles, learning to embrace different perspectives within a team setting becomes essential. Human resource professional, Melody Lim, advises that mature PMETs should look to maintaining an open mind towards the younger generation of millenials who are entering the workforce. This can help to promote greater cohesion and understanding amongst team members while harnessing their strengths to achieve various goals.

Over emphasizing on “past glories” might also convey the impression amongst younger employees that these older workers are outdated and are not willing to learn new ideas that would deal with current problems more effectively.

Melody also suggests that older workers should not be afraid to raise questions when in doubt. By adopting a more humble attitude, while expressing a keen desire to learn from others, Melody has found that her job became more enjoyable and less stressful.

If a mature PMET is able to turn his decades of work experience into a valuable asset, for example, by offering to mentor younger workers, the management is more likely to see their value.

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4. Exude Confidence in Anything You Do

For those who are currently in between jobs, Jocelyn Wong, a senior marketing executive encourages PMETs to be confident especially during the first interview. First impressions can make or break a person’s success in a job interview. While dressing well helps to create a good impression, candidates who lack confidence and “falter throughout the interview” erases any potential opportunities for a second interview.

She explains that being confident during interviews suggests that the PMET is competent and knowledgeable about his field. It also conveys that the person is resilient, adaptable and has skill.

If one finds it difficult to be confident, recalling past work experiences and accomplishments achieved over the years can help. Sharing these unique experiences during the interview can highlight one’s value proposition to a potential employer thereby increasing the chances of employment.

5. Upgrade one’s Soft Skills for the Workplace

To further their careers, PMETs like Kwang Meng and Jocelyn among others, took up the R.A.C.E Leadership and People Management Diploma programme to improve their leadership and workplace skills. Kwang Meng shares that he is now more capable at delegating tasks and is able to motivate his staff more effectively to achieve their KPIs after completing RACE.

Jocelyn found the small class-size helpful in creating a welcoming environment where her course mates could share their experiences. The career coaching sessions with the Centre for Career Excellence’s career coaches also enabled her to develop more self-awareness and improved leadership skills.

Concept of teamwork: Close-Up of hands business team showing unity with putting their hands together.

Succeeding Beyond the Mid-career Crisis

A mid-career crisis may not always be a disaster. Instead, it is an opportunity to reinvent oneself in order to scale better opportunities in the future.

By taking the right steps to become more adaptable to new perspectives and changes in the industry, while gathering the right qualifications that gives you an edge PMETs will be better equipped to rise above the risk of being stuck in a career rut or unemployment.

Here’s to beating the mid-career crisis!

We would like to thank the interviewees who kindly contributed their time and personal experiences for this article.

R.A.C.E Program is a 4 months WSQ program by Centre for Career Excellence. To find out more, visit us at www.careerexcellence.com.sg/programs/race