Age proof your career

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  • [PAGEBREAK]Taking stock Three women who have reinvented their working lives talk to Emma Burstall about the new opportunities they found

    [PAGEBREAK]From Retail to Nutrition
    Dawn McAdam, 45, lives in Sunningdale, Berks, with her husband Kevin and their son James, 20.

    Old Job: Fashion retail manager.
    New Job: Nutritional adviser.

    “Reaching 40 made me take stock. I was in a new phase of my life and wanted more job satisfaction. Before having my son, I’d been a real career woman. I took time out to spend with James, then did part-time jobs to earn extra money.

    But when I got to 40, I felt I wanted more. I’d always been interested in health and nutrition, particularly after my mother died of breast cancer, and it made me wonder how much the disease was linked to diet. It was a terrible shock when my sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer, nearly 20 years later. I did a lot of research and became convinced that eating the right foods and taking the right supplements can enhance your chances of survival. We helped my sister to go on a strict diet of organic vegetables and supplements and she’s now fighting fit.

    I enrolled in a distance learning course in nutrition at Stonebridge Associated Colleges, which took two years to complete, then I took a room in a beauty salon. I charge £50 an hour and haven’t had to advertise – I get my patients by word of mouth.

    A lot of my work now is with breast cancer patients, advising them on diet before, during and after chemotherapy. Diet is important, but they must follow orthodox medical treatment as well and I insist they check with their GP before taking any supplements. These days recovery rates are so good.

    Sometimes I feel a bit like a counsellor, as well as a nutritional adviser. Most breast cancer patients ask if they’re responsible for getting the disease, but I try to put their minds at rest. I only expected to work part-time, but in fact I’m doing it full-time. I’d probably be earning more if I’d stayed in fashion retail, but I get far more flexibility and job satisfaction now.

    I’m so glad I made the change when I did. I don’t think I’d have been as happy or successful if I’d gone into nutrition when I was younger. Having experience of life is a definite advantage, as you can empathise with a wide range of clients.”

    My Best Move: Studying from home – I could do it in my own time and at my own pace, with no commuting.
    My Worst Mistake: Not investing in a proper mobile office straight away. My consultation room is used by other people, so I have to take patients’ notes home with me.
    Top Tip: Keep up to date with the latest news in the industry – read lots!

    Could you be a nutritional adviser?
    Fees for courses vary. Dawn’s course costs £410 over two years; a three-year, part-time Nutritional Therapy Diploma with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (IOA) is £9,270. For details of colleges working with the Nutritional Therapy Council, the regulatory body, visit

    Don’t miss our ten top tips on how to get (and keep) that job

    [PAGEBREAK]From Receptionist to Own Boss

    Peggy Altoft, 61, lives in Calcot, near Reading, Berks. A widow, she has two children, Angela, 29, and Douglas, 28.

    Old Job: Receptionist for a PR company.
    New Job: Running her own business as a virtual secretary.

    “I was horrified when I was made redundant at the age of 59 – with a mortgage to pay, I wracked my brains about what to do next. Typing ‘working from home’ into Google revealed that there were lots of virtual secretaries, offering services that I could provide. It was exciting, but I realised I’d need lots of help.

    Business Link, a government-run scheme which provides practical advice for people starting up, was brilliant and took me through what I needed to do. I’d had absolutely no IT training, so I paid £300 to an IT student and he designed my website. I also started a free on-line word processing course with Learndirect to brush up on my skills.

    I left my job last April and launched 21st Century PA a month later. I’d had a pay-off of £8,000 and spent £1,000 of that setting up. I didn’t advertise outside of the Net, though I did manage to get an article in my local paper by calling the editor, who included me in a list of Reading’s 12 top entrepreneurs on the Internet.

    At present, I have five clients and provide a range of services, from virtual reception to venue sourcing and meeting planning and I farm out anything I can’t or don’t want to do myself.

    I used to earn £18,000 a year and I’ve already exceeded that. I think I’ve proved that people at my age are capable of learning new skills. I feel a bit like a phoenix who’s risen from the ashes!”

    My Best Move: Joining The Athena Network, a UK-wide organisation for self-employed women. Membership costs £200 a year, but it’s well worth it.
    My Worst mistake: I wish I’d set up my business earlier. There’s so much potential.
    Top tip: Believe in yourself!

    Is setting up your own business for you?
    Businesslink provides practical advice and can help you access potential sources of financial help, including local schemes and grants for women entrepreneurs. For more information, call 0845-6009006 or visit

    Don’t miss our ten top tips on how to get (and keep) that job

    [PAGEBREAK]From Graphic Designer to Teacher
    Christine Burn, 54, lives in Kingston, Surrey, with her husband David and their children Holly, 19, and Rosie, 16.

    Old Job: Graphic designer.
    New Job: Primary school teacher.

    “I was in my late forties when I decided to retrain as a teacher. Although I’d enjoyed graphic design, it’s a very young business and doesn’t fit in well with a family either because the hours are so long. When my children were young I freelanced, but that wasn’t ideal and I used to work from home in the evenings when the girls were asleep.

    My interest in teaching began when I went into my daughters’ school to help out with reading and computer skills. I found I really enjoyed it and began to think I should retrain. I loved the idea of starting a whole new career and thought it would be a good way of ensuring I’d be able to have a fulfilling career post-40. Teaching is a profession where experience of life counts in your favour.

    I toyed with the idea of doing a one-year, full-time PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education), but settled on an 18-month Open University course that I could do mainly from home. I was able to do the teaching practice in the children’s school, which was really convenient.

    The course was challenging and I found managing big groups of children difficult at first. But it was stimulating to be learning new skills and I was thrilled when I got my first job at Park Hill, a small private school in Kingston.

    A teacher friend had suggested me for supply work and it just so happened that on the first afternoon I was there, someone had just resigned. The head teacher asked me on the spot if I’d be interested in applying.

    I think she liked the fact that I’d been a designer before and she more or less offered me the job straight away. When she takes parents round the school she always tells them what jobs staff had before they became teachers.

    I’ve never regretted my decision, despite the fact that I earn less than I would as a graphic designer. I have a high level of job satisfaction and I love having had two totally different careers. It’s so rewarding to see the pupils develop. I’m glad I didn’t do it sooner though. I think I’d have been a rubbish teacher before I had the girls – being older and having a family is a real advantage. And it’s wonderful to be in a profession where your experience is actually valued.”

    My Best Move: Persuading my children’s school to let me do my training practice there. They liked what I’d been doing in the school on a voluntary basis and the staff were supportive.
    My Worst Mistake: Leaving my final essay till the last minute and having to stay up for two full days and nights to get it finished. I should have been more organised.
    Top Tip: Keep an eye on the films and TV programmes children watch and the books they read. It makes it easier to engage with them.

    Is teaching for you?
    There are many ways to get into teaching. For details, contact the Teaching Information Line: 0845-6000991 (992 for Welsh speakers);
    The Open University offers the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) for secondary school teachers of foreign languages, design and technology, geography, mathematics, music and science. Call 0845-3006090 or visit
    Another option is the graduate teacher programme (GTP), on-the-job training allowing graduates to qualify while they work. Registered teacher programmes (RTP) mix work-based teacher training and academic study, allowing non-graduates to complete their degree and qualify as a teacher at the same time.

    Don’t miss our ten top tips on how to get (and keep) that job

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