6 Things to Do to Develop a Purpose Driven Second Career

“One day in my early fifties, I realised that my boss, our CFO and I were approximately the same age and likely would retire at the same time” said Sola Oyinlola, at that time Vice President and Group Treasurer of Schlumberger and the only African corporate officer of this world leading French American oilfield services company. He continued: “This meant that I was not likely to ever become the company’s CFO and I wondered, what do I do now? Should I stay where I am for the next 10 years or I should I try to figure out how I could create a new career somewhere else? Should I go and work for charities? Or boards? Where could I have most impact?”

Thus opens my book Purpose & Impact: How Executives are Creating Meaningful Second Careers. (Use discount code ACT61 to receive a 20% discount when purchasing the book.)

Many of us find ourselves in similar situations mid/late career. We thought we knew where we were going but are suddenly forced to stop and take out a new direction, whether due to changes at our employers, personal situations or we might start to feel a yearning for ‘something else’ - work with meaning - Purpose. Many of us also need or want to continue to work for financial or motivational reasons long past classic retirement age.

Is it really possible to find something I am really passionate about, that will make a difference – and earn a living?’ Yes, it is. But the most effective route there might not be one you expected…

Below are summarised 6 steps to meaningful new careers discovered via interviews with over 90 executives who changed careers successfully - and many more that I have spoken to over the years as a senior ‘head-hunter’. These learnings and much more, including the career stories of 47 executives, are shared in the book


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1. Stay where you are – ‘job-craft’ to learn how to have impact

The executives who created new and exciting careers with meaning and impact did not quit and try to start new careers from scratch unless they were forced to leave.

Instead they prepared their transitions by staying at their employers and found a way to incorporate the topic of their passion into their company’s strategy.

This allowed them to spend a part of their time and company resources on these projects - so called ‘job-crafting’ - doing things that were good for their organisations, helping change things in society, all the while learning new skills, building new networks, and creating future options for themselves.

2. Figure out what you are good at and want to contribute

After many years working in one type of business or type of work, we know what our employers value of our skills and experiences, but at this stage of our careers, is this what we really want to do for another 20-30 years? Maybe we left behind things we were really good at ‘en route’ or possess abilities we don’t realise are special because we take them for granted.

Discovering these ‘special skills’ is vital for a Purpose driven career change; if we want to help shift things in society we need to contribute what we really enjoy contributing.

3. Understand where this would make a difference

Once we are clear on what skills we would like to contribute it is time to venture out of our comfort zone on a Discovery journey to answer the question: ‘Where could what I am really good at make a huge difference?

New careers that help to change things in society are not figured out by sitting in our office, experiencing the same things and meeting the same people.

We find this out by being open to new experiences, reading new things and meeting new people that we never dreamt of speaking to before. Go explore without expecting an immediate answer - it emerges over time.

4. Choose the area that excites you

You will likely uncover a whole range of areas where your expertise can make a real difference on major issues.

Which ones fill you with excitement when you consider working on them? Choose 3-4 areas to explore in more detail. You can return to the parked ones later, if needed.

5. Build new strategic networks

The task is now to understand what it would really mean to work in these areas and what role we could play.

We do this by speaking to people working in these fields or who has transitioned there - it is time to build new strategic networks.

If you find networking uncomfortable, think of it as finding other people that are interested in solving the same problems that you are. Like you, they are happy to help others who are trying to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues…

6. Referrals - warm introductions are invaluable

Success rates for getting ‘that meeting’ you want multiply when you are introduced by somebody the recipient knows and trusts.

Treat referrals with great care, respect and gratitude – it is gold-dust and the ‘information super-highway’ to get where you want to go – and how you deal with an introduction will reflect on both yours and the introducers reputation. Do it badly and you might have destroyed your future chances in the sector, do it well and you become someone who people trust in your new sector. Introductions are as serious as that.

A new career is not created in 5 minutes. Be prepared for quite a lengthy confusing period filled with incredible learning and growth before the answer slowly emerges.

Curious about what Sola Oyinlola ended up doing? You can follow his story throughout the book, from Treasurer of Schlumberger to becoming ‘a technology investor for the bottom billion’…

The book is available from Routledge: Purpose & Impact: How Executives are Creating Meaningful Second Careers. Use discount code ACT61 to receive a 20% discount when purchasing the book.


Anita Hoffmann is Managing Director of Executiva Ltd, London, UK. She holds an MSc Chem Eng from LTH, Sweden, and is Honorary Visiting Fellow at Cranfield University School of Management’s Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility. Previously she was a partner at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.



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