Taking a late-career leap

Here’s some advice for transitioning into an advisory role.
Taking a late-career leap

The expertise of older professionals is needed now more than ever. In its 2018 study The Global Talent Crunch, Korn Ferry forecasts a worldwide shortage of 10.7 million workers by 2030 in the financial and business services sector alone. What’s more, technology is evolving at such a rapid clip, along with corporate development, that young leaders with less experience often focus on day-to-day operations — but not the big picture

And that’s where experienced authorities can successfully step in: They have been there, done that. They are often reflective and good listeners, and provide needed support to others. They can see trends and anticipate hazards. “They bring emotional awareness and collaborative skills and are more adept at moving from logical to creative,” said Chip Conley, founder of boutique hotel chain Joie de Vivre Hospitality and author of the book Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder. They are, in short, natural advisers.

But it’s not that easy to transition from being a company leader to a consultant, particularly for Baby Boomers who have been immersed in corporate roles for decades. In addition, those who step out on their own must start from scratch with no familiar support staff.

“Some veteran professionals know they can’t merely rely on their past achievements but aren’t sure how to convey the right image to make the best of this next chapter,” said O’ona Souissi, executive coach and founder of Career on Purpose in The Hague, The Netherlands. And other older workers, said Conley, confront what he calls “facial discrimination — people judging you based on your wrinkles”.

So how does one jump from company leader to adviser after the age of 50? We tapped several experts on how to successfully make this transition — and how to prepare for it. Here’s their advice:

Take it seriously. Before you transition into a consulting role, understand the difference between being an employee and an adviser. “If you are going to do this, then do it: Treat it as a profession, practise it — and study it,” said Mike Harris, CPA, the CEO of Patina Solutions, based in Wisconsin, which matches companies with seasoned executives on demand.

Ask good questions. Make sure you know how to probe so you can provide the most value once you step into your consulting role. “Just know that often the wisest person in a meeting room is the one who asks the catalytic questions that illuminate new opportunities or old blind spots,” said Conley.

Create your brand. Ask yourself what value you can bring to the marketplace and to clients, and focus on the niche that leverages what you’ve accomplished thus far. “If it’s a U-turn, the challenges will be greater, so you must be laser-focused on where your best leverage is,” Souissi said. Find ways to highlight your uniqueness and focus on building your brand.

Use social media. As you branch out into an advisory role, it’s critical to use social media sites, such as LinkedIn, to help build your brand. “Don’t just expect you’ll get business from your neighbour,” Harris said. He advises having more than 1,000 connections on LinkedIn to help build up your business and posting content regularly to establish yourself as a thought leader and to stay in front of clients and prospects.

Be a constant learner. When preparing to move into an advisory role, continue to learn and be inquisitive, and push your mind. “Lifelong learning is essential in an era when the business world is changing faster than ever,” Conley said. “The key is to amplify your curiosity and willingness to ask a lot of ‘why’ and ‘what if’ questions, even though the last time you did that might have been when you were 4 years old. Curiosity lubricates the mind and opens you up to building new skills.”

Keep current. In addition to learning, remain up-to-date on your industry’s regulations and economic climate. With the pace of business and technology evolving at a dizzying pace, it can be easy to fall behind and negate the value of your experience. Pay close attention to relevant trends and technologies to stay competitive.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at