Job hunting after 50: How women can plot their 'comeback careers'

In their new book, Mika and Ginny Brzezinski set out to create a roadmap to help women amp up their confidence, reframe their narrative and plot the course for their next big act.
Ginny Brzezinski, left, and Mika Brzezinski, right, co-authors of "Comeback Careers: Rethink, Refresh, Reinvent Your Success — At 40, 50, and Beyond."
Ginny Brzezinski, left, and Mika Brzezinski, right, co-authors of "Comeback Careers: Rethink, Refresh, Reinvent Your Success — At 40, 50, and Beyond."Miller Hawkins
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By Lauren Winn

The inspiration for Mika Brzezinski's new book, co-written with her sister-in-law, Ginny Brzezinski, started with an exasperated text. The authors told NBC News’ Stephanie Ruhle that they wrote the book after Ginny Brzezinski texted her sister-in-law looking for some advice. “I had been hit by my kids leaving for college. I just turned 50, I was in a job I wasn’t happy with and I just thought ‘I’ve got to find something new to do for the next 20 years but I don’t know how. What does that look like when you’re in your fifties?’”

Changing careers is never an easy transition, but it's often an uphill battle for women. Women are more likely to leave the workforce or press pause on their careers than their male counterparts. And, then, as they reach mid-career, many feel opportunities for advancement or promotion start to dry up. And there’s research to back it up: A 2015 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found “robust evidence of age discrimination against older women."

Women in this age group feel a different kind of pressure than they did in their early twenties or even when they decided to start a family, the authors explained. There is an intense pressure to shy away from the job market, with many women feeling too old, too ashamed of the gaps in their resumes, or woefully under-qualified.

“It’s the voices in their head that feel judgmental for the choices they’ve made — that judgment may be for their age,” Mika Brzezinski explains. “And sometimes they get paralyzed with fear.”

All that drama is behind us when we’re in our fifties and we’ve still got this long runway.

Mika Brzezinski, co-author of "Comeback Careers" and co-host of "Morning Joe"

The pair decided to tackle this topic head on with their new book, "Comeback Careers", which aims to help mid-career women amp up their confidence, frame their own narrative and get more relevant in a rapidly changing workforce. Once they check those boxes, the authors say, women will have less fear and more confidence to get back into the game.

Returning to the workforce after a break

Just because a woman has taken a step back from the workplace doesn’t mean she hasn't been playing a valuable role somewhere else.

"Comeback Careers" challenges women not only to own those skills, but embrace their newly "empty nests" as a career perk.

Mika Brzezinski points out that not hiding those resume gaps could actually make the deal sweeter for a future employer. “What could be more refreshing for a future employer to hear than ‘I’m done with my kids, they’re grown up, I’ve done my caregiving, she explains. “All that drama is behind us when we’re in our fifties and we’ve still got this long runway.”

The authors share these tips to tackle jumping back into the workforce:

  1. Make your resume gap less glaring: If you’ve taken a break, it’s going to show on your resume — but don’t let that deter you. You can fill the space with volunteer work, relevant continuing education, freelance projects and conferences you’ve attended.
  2. Structure your resume the right way: Your accomplishments should be read like popping headlines, the authors advise. You know the importance of your work and projects, make them exciting to read about from an outside perspective.
  3. Get feedback: Once you think your resume is in good shape, get another pair of eyes to look at it. There might be little mistakes you might have missed, and better yet, someone else might be able to think of some other excellent qualities about you or contributions you could add.

Taking on a new role or career

Perhaps you have given your all to a career field you've outgrown or simply lost interest in and feel trapped by the fear of embarking on a new path. Mika and Ginny Brzezinski say to take your hard-earned experience and those new passions and use them to fuel your confidence.

“Maybe they get [an offer for] something different, something new, something they’ve never done before … and the first answer is ‘no, I can’t, I shouldn’t, I won't,’ and then they go to that safe space,” Mika Brzezinski explains. “Some excuse that feeds into the narrative that things can’t change — when they can.”

The authors explain, “if you know and are able to articulate your value to others, you can more easily land that new job or step into your career.”

Mika and Ginny Brzezinski share this advice if you're ready to try something entirely new:

  1. Act more, think less: It is easy to think of reasons why you shouldn’t try something. Rip off the Band-aid and dive in to job research and applications — you can worry about what comes next later.
  2. Be a risk-taker: According to the book, women “are pinned down by a lack of confidence.” Digging deep and finding the confidence to hit send on an application or even a Google search about a new career path can be a difficult hurdle to overcome, but it's a risk with big rewards.
  3. Don’t quit when things get tough: It will not always be smooth sailing — that’s a fact most women know well. Facing difficulties is normal and “everyone has been here. But you won’t be here forever as long as you keep pushing forward," they say.

How can mid-life career women compete with younger workers?

Women in this demographic may think older women aren't as tech savvy or malleable as their millennial or Gen Z counterparts, but the authors say it doesn’t take much to learn and adapt. As Ginny Brzezinski told Ruhle, there are tutorials just about everywhere for everything. “Technology changes so often that even if people are currently working, they’re constantly having to learn new things, too.”

Ginny Brzezinski has made a few transitions over the course of her working career. She left a 12-year Capitol Hill press career and transitioned to real estate so she was able to keep working while maintaining a flexible, family-friendly schedule. Now, after years of dreaming of her comeback career, she has added "best-selling author" to her resume.

Mika and Ginny Brzezinski say their goal in writing the book is to "call B.S. on workplace ageism", and to encourage women to find the motivation and confidence to claim their second acts. They say a comeback career is within reach for women after 40 and they owe it to themselves to show the world what they’ve got.

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