Career change at 40. Is it impossible?
If you’re 40 (or so) you might be worried that it’s too late for you to make a change into doing work that’s more fulfilling.
At the same time though, you’ve got too much career ahead of you to keep doing what you’re doing if you really hate it.
It’s easy to feel stuck.
But the truth is you can make a career change at 40 – and beyond. In this post, I’m going to show you how to change careers at 40, or any age for that matter, and give you my top tips for doing it.
There are five steps to making a career change. They are simple to lay out, but not so easy to do. Each of them have several parts, some more complex than others. But by laying them out neatly here, you can see what you’re dealing with.
How To Make A Career Change At 40 – Or Any Age
Step 1. Make sure you really want to change your career, not just your job.
Many times, people come to me feeling burned out and ready to move on from their career. They’re looking for something new. The work-life balance is non-existent, or their boss seems to be straight from hell.
But what we discover, or re-discover, actually, is a love for their career. If you’re doing something you once loved, you may be in the right field but the wrong job. Take time to decide before making a huge leap. (See below for a little more help on making this decision.)
Step 2. Decide what career is right for you.
If you do decide you’re in the wrong place, you’ll need to decide where the right place is. I realize that saying simply “decide on the right career” is a bit like saying “go and find your soul mate.” Easier said than done. But you can do it with the help of my tools, coaching, or through thinking about it, talking it through or soul searching on your own.
It’s a process that I’ve lead many people through, and I have every confidence you can discover a career that you’re excited about too!
There aren’t necessarily best careers to start at 40, but there are considerations that you have to make because you are a bit older, like whether you want to start school again or if you’re thinking about retirement soon. Still, I believe it’s more about what will make you happy, and you need to take the other factors into consideration as well.
Step 3. Take a look at your finances.
This is purposely step 3 and not step 2. Don’t do this first, because otherwise you’ll shut down possibilities for yourself before you even give them a chance. You’re going to do that enough as it is, just by knowing your finances as well as you do. Doing a deep dive on finances before exploring your career dreams will just crush them. Don’t worry, step 4 will put things back into perspective.
So, go ahead and do that financial deep dive. Get the help of a financial advisor or do it on your own. Just be sure you know what you can afford to live on comfortably. You don’t want to trade your job stress for financial stress.
Step 4. Refine your plan.
What’s realistic? Given what you want to do for a career, what you can afford and what your current skills and experience allow for you to do, what makes sense? There are a lot of variables here, including how much of a pay cut you’re willing to take, if you want to go back to school, or if, like many of my clients, you’ll have to take a pay cut at all. (In fact, many of my clients maintain their 6-figure salaries even through their career changes. It’s all about having a great plan!)
Step 5. Make an execution plan – and execute!
So, how are you going to do it? How will you actually begin to make the change that you want to make? You may need to get new skills, like going back to school, become a better sales person or learn to be a great public speaker. You might have to do some informational interviews to begin learning more about the industry you’re looking to work in. You might need to do an adult internship. Or, you could begin to re-package and rebrand yourself right away. There are a million paths, each as individual as you are.
Are you making a career change for the right reasons?
First off, you’ll want to understand whether you’re switching careers simply because your current job isn’t working.
Is there something out there you’d really love to do, and you’re ready to give it a try? Or do you actually still like your current career, but have found yourself in a particular company you don’t care for?
If after some soul searching you realize it’s the latter, skip the career change, and simply focus on getting a new job.
Not feeling valued at work is among the top 5 reasons that people leave their jobs, so if that’s the case for you, that might be solved by simply finding a company or a manager that does a better job taking care of talent.
Yet deciphering between being sick of your job and being tired of your career can be difficult, especially when your current situation can color everything. So how do you decide?
- What are the pros and cons of staying in my career and leaving it?
- Are there things left to do in my career that I would find interesting?
- Is there anything about my career that is still fun, or could be under the right circumstances?
- If you got your a job at the most incredible company in the world, would you want it?
Those questions should help you decide if it’s time for a career change or not. If it is, keep reading.
Does My Age Really Matter?
Assuming you’ve made a thoughtful choice about your move, your major concern is probably that your relative age and inexperience in your new career are a double-whammy.
The truth is, only your inexperience really matters, and luckily that’s the one you can do something about.
People your same age with experience can find jobs.
The higher level jobs, the ones that require a great deal of experience, are going to pay more and be harder to land. And of course you can’t get years of experience without years.
So it follows that people filling these jobs will be older.The complete newbies are landing entry-level jobs. You might not want an entry level job because you need a bigger paycheck or because you’re not interested in starting over at the bottom.
So it makes sense that the jobs you’re targeting will need you to have some experience in your new field to be considered competitive.
Once you discover what you want to do next in your career, you may discover that you have skills that lend themselves nicely to your new career and you can create a career story that talks about how your skills as an HR professional make you a perfect candidate to be a corporate trainer, for example.
Or, you may realize that your passions are totally different from what you’ve been doing: you are a teacher and you really want to be a fighter pilot.
Whatever you discover, you’ll have more information about how much experience you’ll need to gain before you’ll be ready to make the switch.
There are lots of reasons why you can make a career change at 40, but what are the top tips for doing it? What do you really need to know?
Here are my top 5 tips to make your career change at 40 (or at any age) more successful.
1. Emphasize your life experience:
Even though you may be lacking industry experience, you still have a lot of time under your belt with building your work ethic, building your network, working with people, and more. Don’t let the fact that you’re a seasoned professional get flushed just because your career focus is shifting.
Especially in the age of information overload, where any answer is at your fingertips, and the right answer changes constantly, smart companies know that the right person for the job isn’t the person who has the most knowledge, but the person who has the ability to learn fast and be a creative problem solver.
If that’s you, don’t let that fact get ignored.
Also, you have skills and talents that can be transferred from your current industry to your new one. Identify those transferable skills and write them down with the help of a killer resume writer. You’ll make a compelling case for why you’re the right person for the job and why the company should train you instead of hiring someone who isn’t right even though they’ve done the job before.
2. Entrepreneurship doesn’t care how old you are:
Whether you’re 22 or 42, if you’re thinking about starting your own thing, it doesn’t matter how old you are.
Being an entrepreneur is, in some ways, easier than ever. Technology is inexpensive, information is free, and if you have a good idea you can have unlimited income potential.
If you’re starting your own business, you may want to run it as a side gig to get it up and running and make sure the income is stable before quitting your job.
Also, some people worry that they won’t love their idea once it becomes a job, and you should figure out if this is true for you. You may decide you love your business idea or what you create, but you hate the “business” aspects of your business.
Test the waters before you jump in with both feet, but if you love it, the sky is the limit with your own business!
3. Get that experience!
Whether you have to take a night class, volunteer, or work a part-time gig somewhere for a while, if you’re serious about landing a position in a new field, you’re going to need some experience. You can even take on an adult internship. They are becoming more and more popular these days.
Hustle will get you there. It might seem hard to find time to get experience if you’re working full time, but if you’re serious about career change, it’s invaluable.
The time you put into getting the experience you need to land a job you want is also much less painful than landing a job and realizing you actually don’t like it. So do yourself the favor of testing the waters and making sure you like what’s next for you, as well as putting relevant experience on your resume.
4. Focus on strength:
I’m assuming you’re making a change because your new career will give you more happiness and satisfaction, but also because it focuses more on your core strengths. Doing the things that come to you naturally and easily to you should be a selling point.
You can take a test like The StrengthsFinder to understand your strengths better. You can also do a more formal survey of the people around you, like a 360 assessment, or an informal survey, where you ask your friends and colleagues for honest feedback.
But there’s a difference between focusing on what you’re good at and focusing on what you want to be doing.
Be sure that what you choose do falls into both categories – or into your zone of genius. Things within your zone of genius will come with greater ease because there’s no resistance from your ability to learn it or your willingness and interest around it.
When you do something that you’re good but you don’t like – a situation you might be in right now, it can feel deadly.
Instead, by working within your zone, your new boss has just hired a “natural.”
5. Rely on friends:
A huge benefit you may have over younger people entering a field is that you just might have the connections to help you find and land that next gig.
When you’re introduced to a potential employer through a mutual contact, you’ve gotten an implicit endorsement from someone who your future boss trusts. So use your networks to connect with the people you need to reach.
It is estimated that 70% of jobs are not advertised. That means if you want to find a great job, you need to rely on friends – or make new, strategic friends – to help you find those jobs. Once you have other people on the lookout for you and you are crystal clear about the type of work you are looking for, finding your ideal job is much less difficult.
The alternative is scouring the classifieds and online ads which can feel overwhelming. That’s not to say you should give that up entirely, but the majority of jobs are landed through connections, so use yours.
Don’t forget the power of the informational interview. If you want to make a new connection or pick someone’s brain about their job or their company, don’t be afraid to ask them. They may say no, but they may say yes. You can gather valuable intelligence about careers and companies that could save you time, money and heartache.
You Can Make A Career Change At 40 and Beyond
So, what do you think? Are there additional barriers to making a career change at 40 or later? Or does it feel possible? What else do you need to know?? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions below.