How to Make a Successful Career Change at 40 and Beyond
Changing careers can feel daunting at any stage in life, but armed with the right tools and advice, you can set yourself up for success.
The concept of a ‘job for life’ is a thing of the past. According to the University of Melbourne’s HILDA survey, the average Australian will have 17 different employers in their lifetime and upskill for five distinct careers during their working life. Some of the most common reasons people re-skill for a new career are — stress, boredom, redundancy, lack of flexibility and a desire to make a difference.
If you are feeling restless in your current job and thinking about a career change, you are not alone. As people get older, their priorities change. Where money or status might have been the main motivator in your 20s, perhaps you now have a family and require a better work/life balance, or suddenly find your job is unfulfilling and crave a role with meaning and purpose.
Embarking on a career change at any age can feel exciting and daunting, especially if you’re considering changing industries altogether. The fear associated with a big change like this is worse if you have been in your current role for a long time and have big personal financial commitments. You might be asking yourself — is it worth the risk?
To help you navigate a successful career change, we have spoken to eight experts in the field of careers and employment to provide you with the ultimate guide to changing your career in your 40s and beyond
How hard is it to change careers?
15 tips for a successful career change:
- Take time for self-reflection: “Whether you grab a journal or scour the internet for tools to guide you — think about your values, strengths, and what you want to achieve by making this change,” says Transitioning Well.
- Be clear on your ‘why’: “Invest time to be really clear about what you want in your career moving forward — think beyond what job role, salary or location you would like, and consider what makes work meaningful for you,” says recruitment consultants Beaumont People.
- Overcome your fears: “For many people stuck in jobs they dislike, it is fear preventing them from taking action,” says Leah Lambart, career coach from Relaunch Me. “There are many fears associated with a career change — the fear of the unknown, the fear of rejection, the fear of a financial hit, the fear of loss of status, and the fear of what others will think. These are real fears, but they need to be overcome before you can make a career change,” she explains.
- Be prepared for some challenges: “It is important to take the time to assess your fears and face them head-on. Understand that you might not skip into this new chapter worry-free and that hesitancy is a natural feeling,” says the team at job search website Adzuna.
- Talk it over: “A career change is a big deal that calls for careful consideration. It’s wise to talk it through with someone you trust personally or professionally to get a fresh perspective. If you have a family, they’ll be affected by the career change too so involve your partner in the decision-making process,” says Australia’s leading careers and course search website, Career FAQs.
- Consider speaking to a career coach: “Find a career coach or mentor to help guide you,” advise Beaumont People. “In addition to expert coaching, they can help you update your resume, create a career change cover letter, and get your LinkedIn profile work-ready — it’s certainly worth the investment.”
Plan for change: “The more we can plan for change, the better we can adapt,” explains Career FAQs. “Are your finances stable while you’re transitioning? If you’re going to be studying or working different hours, will your family be looked after? Will you need to move homes or states for your new gig? The more time you take out to make a plan, the more at ease you’ll be when it comes time to take that leap into your new career.”
- Plan for change: “The more we can plan for change, the better we can adapt,” explains Career FAQs. “Are your finances stable while you’re transitioning? If you’re going to be studying or working different hours, will your family be looked after? Will you need to move homes or states for your new gig? The more time you take out to make a plan, the more at ease you’ll be when it comes time to take that leap into your new career.”
- Get your finances in order: “One of the greatest causes of stress for those considering a career change is whether or they can afford to do it. This can lead to heightened dissatisfaction in their current situation as they feel trapped by the perception that the financial risks are too great. Careful and realistic budgeting can allay these fears, or at least assist in making an informed decision about whether a change is possible,” advise PeopleSense by Altius, a health solutions consulting firm.
- Don’t quit your day job, yet! “It’s important to keep in mind, you shouldn’t always drop everything (unless you can afford to) to follow your career dream — doing so might cause high levels of stress and lower your confidence. If you need to study to up-skill or see a career transition expert, try to do this outside of work hours so you can continue to earn an income,” says people2people.
- Assess your skills and strengths: “Before you go out to market, you need to identify your key transferable skills and strengths —just because you are starting out with a new career doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch,” explains Relaunch Me. The team at Beaumont People agree — “Ask people you’ve worked with previously and take an online strengths assessment, which can be very affordable. You will find it easier to change direction and get interviews for a role that is aligned with your strengths,” they explain.
- Get clear on your current values: “Our values often change as we get older and particularly after we have a family. What was important in your 20s may be vastly different from what is important in your 40s, 50s or 60s. Whether it be high-income, meaningful work, status, work/life balance, flexibility or managing people, it’s important to get clear on what matters to you,” says Relaunch Me.
- Keep an open mind: “For most people, there are many ways to achieve what they want, so stay open to less obvious paths to get what you want out of your career,” says Transitioning Well.
- Do your research: “Find out everything you can about your preferred career choice. Look at what skills, qualifications, and years of experience you need, then assess the labour market for information about the numbers of jobs available,” advise PeopleSense.
- Get Networking! “Research suggests that over 80% of jobs are filled through relationships and referrals rather than being advertised; this rate is even higher for those who are returning to work on a part-time basis or after an extended career break,” says Relaunch Me. “Make a list of your contacts and use LinkedIn or the phone to reach out to them for a coffee.”
- Build Your Resilience: “With any change comes the risk of failure, however, it’s important to remember that even the greatest entrepreneurs have failed. Getting out of your comfort zone is hard, however deciding to make a career change is the first big step, so you’re halfway there,“ says Career FAQs.
How can I upskill or re-train for a career change?
According to PeopleSense, upskilling in many areas has never been easier. “These days, most tertiary and vocational training institutions no longer require full-time attendance and conduct some or all of the course online, making correspondence learning easily accessible to all,” they explain. “If you are considering a career change into an area of skills shortage, you might even qualify for government funding,” they add.
Whether you need to acquire technical skills like learning software, or core skills such as negotiation or sales skills, there are courses to suit everyone. Relaunch Me recommend Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Udemy, Alison and Coursera. “MOOCs are a fantastic resource for career changers to upskill whilst also getting a taste for the content before committing to expensive long-term courses.
If you are considering upskilling while working full-time, you will need to stick to a strict schedule warns Adzuna. “You need to be fully disciplined in the process so as to allocate a portion of your day to complete self-reading and learning before attending the classes or online assessments.”
Mistakes to Avoid When Changing Careers
- Waiting too long to make a change: According to Transitioning Well, research shows that the longer people wait to move on from a job, the harder it becomes. “Often people stay in a job long after they’ve stopped loving it and the motivation then revolves around getting away from the pain rather than excitement about what’s ahead,” they explain.
- Using old job search tactics: “Traditional (passive) job search methods like trawling job boards rarely work for career changers or those returning to work after an extended break. It’s rare that employers are open to seeing someone who barely meets any of the criteria on the job brief. Career changers need to use active job search strategies which involve ‘looking for people, not jobs’.
- Not doing the numbers: “It is important to remember that you may have financial responsibilities such as repayments to the home loan, rent, and other fixed costs. The costs of your living expenses need to be calculated to ensure that the new career can cover them adequately,” warns Adzuna.
- Changing careers for the wrong reason: “Ask yourself what your real motives are and how they meet both your short-term and long-term goals,” advise Career FAQs.
- Leaving your current job too soon: Leaving a current job before a new role is lined up is often a big mistake, which can leave people financially exposed.
- Having a poor CV or resume: “It is really imperative for a career changer to have a compelling resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile,” says Relaunch Me. They also recommend consulting a professional service to help with this task.
- Doing unnecessary study: “Too often career changers enrol in expensive postgraduate courses without doing the appropriate research to ensure that they will actually enjoy the job. I advise researching the career outcomes first and then working backwards to work out what course you need to do. In many cases, a career change may actually be possible without doing further study,” says Relaunch Me.
- Not doing the research: Try to find out as much as you can about the industry you want to enter,” says Career FAQs. “Research online, talk to your family, contacts and industry professionals, attend career and trade fairs. You could consider working part-time or even volunteering to get a better idea of what’s involved before you make the leap.”
- Expecting a fast transition: “Career changes don’t take place overnight — it can take two to six years to fully transform your career. Maintain a positive attitude and take the journey to your desired career one step at a time,” recommends Career FAQs.
- Believing you’re too old: Good Education Media bust the myth that you’re too old to go back to school. “There is a misconception that if you didn’t complete a degree in your 20s, you’ve missed your chance, but nothing could be further from the truth. More than half of all domestic students commencing undergraduate degrees are not recent school-leavers, and your professional and life experience will be highly valued by prospective employers, so it’s never too late!”
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