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How to change your career at any age

career change

Change careers at your age!? Yes, you can!

After all we’ve been through during the last few years, people of all ages are making changes in their lives. That includes work. If you’re reflecting on your job and thinking, “Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?” you are not alone. Whether you want a new role in your current industry or something completely different; making a career change—at any age—is a big step.

We’re here to help

Whether you’re changing careers at age 30, 40, 50, or 60; the process can be daunting. After all, each stage of life comes with its own set of career-related interests, dreams, fears, and responsibilities that impact your decisions.

In this article, we’ll make the career-change process less intimidating by providing some quick tips to get you started—no matter how old or young you are. We’ll start with advice that applies to everyone. Then, we’ll discuss career-change considerations for each age group. Consider this the first step to your new career. (See! You’re doing great already!)

Tips for career-changers of all ages

Some things are true for anyone considering a career move. Although some of these tips might sound like common sense, they can help you find the career path you’re looking for.

  • Know why you want a change. We get it. You want out of your current role. But why? Take the time to analyze the reasons you want to leave your current role. Identifying why you want to escape your current job will help you understand whether you need a whole new career or just a new job. For example, you could ask yourself:
    • Have you reevaluated your values and interests?
    • Do you dislike your company, manager, or work environment?
    • Are you burned out on the type of work you do?
    • Has your life situation outside of work changed?
  • Define your career “must-haves”. Whether you have a job in mind or just a vague idea of wanting to do “something else,” make a list of what is critical for you to be happy at your next job. Making this list will help you narrow down your options or figure out if your dream job is realistic for you. Some things to consider:
    • Are you looking for rewarding new challenges?
    • Do you want to be your own boss?
    • What salary do you need?
    • Are things like work-life balance, remote work, or flexible hours non-negotiable?
  • Acknowledge your fears. As we mentioned earlier, a career change is scary. Identify what makes you most uncomfortable and address those fears. Once you know what’s keeping you from moving on, you can work on mitigating those risks. For example, some of the most popular worries include:
    • What if I don’t have the right skills?
    • Am I too old/too young to change?
    • What if I fail at my new job?
    • What will others think of me?
    • After I’ve invested so much of my life in my current career, should I throw it away?
  • Ask for help. Finding a new career might sound like something you need to do on your own. Instead, reach out to others:
    • Ask people in your professional network to help you identify your strengths and help find work that matches your interests.
    • If you’re comfortable, talk to colleagues in the HR department of your current organization.
    • Hire a career coach1 or work with a talent firm (like Salo!) to help you figure things out.
    • Contact your university career center (yes, they do help alumni).
    • Consult your close friends and family members about their opinions and needs. (Note that people who depend on you for stability—financial or otherwise—may not be as excited about a job change as you are.)
  • Try before you say goodbye. Before you leave your current career for a new, shiny job; test the waters in your target position or industry. See if you can take on a similar project in your existing company or shadow someone who does the job you want for a few days. That way, you’ll know if your dream job aligns with your strengths and career goals.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Changing careers is (usually) not a quick win. Sometimes it takes months or even years to find the right position. If your perfect position eludes you, be flexible. Consider all the options, such as independent consulting, part-time work, or volunteering. These new experiences might help find a great job you never knew existed.
  • Remember, age is just a number. Whether you feel like you’re too old or too young for your next position, help people understand the value you can bring by creating a list of transferable experiences and skills. If you can provide compelling ways your skills and experiences apply to an organization’s projects, age won’t matter.

At 30, you already have several years of experience under your belt. You know what “working” is like and have made some professional contacts. You have a better understanding of your strengths, preferences, and what kind of roles would fit you best. Now that you’re more aware of your career options, you might be ready for a fresh start.

It’s a good time to make a change because:

  • You have plenty of time to explore career options.
  • Getting a secondary degree or obtaining new skills is easier than when you’re older.
  • You likely have fewer financial responsibilities than you will at 40.

Even though you might be thinking:

  • You still have student loans from your first career.
  • You feel bad that you earned a degree you don’t want to use anymore.
  • You don’t have a huge professional network yet.

Success tips:

  • Conduct a lot of research before making a leap to a new career—do informational interviews, shadow other professionals, and take classes, if appropriate.
  • Talk to your manager at your existing company to see if there are other opportunities that might meet your needs—you might be surprised what might materialize!
  • Be flexible. Instead of focusing on specific job titles or companies, be open to a variety of roles.

By 40, you’re established in the working world. At home, you might have significant financial and social responsibilities, such as mortgages and childcare. But, even with all responsibilities—or maybe because of them—a second career at 40 might be a good idea.

It’s a good time to make a change because:

  • You have accumulated 15+ years of valuable experience and confidence.
  • You have a greater understanding of the jobs and industries that are available, so you can better identify jobs that will be interesting and rewarding.
  • You have more than 20 years to make a big impact in a new industry or role.

Even though you might be thinking:

  • With increasing responsibilities at work and at home, you don’t have a lot of time to explore new careers.
  • You have financial responsibilities that make risk-taking more difficult.
  • It’s hard to get (or keep up) momentum when things are so busy—it’s easiest to stay where you are.

Success tips:

  • Create a career exploration schedule and hold yourself accountable. Schedule a few hours a week to focus on your career. Set milestones around things like updating your social profiles and resume, having informational interviews/meet-and-greets, or doing online training courses.
  • Talk to a financial advisor to get really clear about how a job change could impact your financial situation—the risks and opportunities.
  • Think about your favorite work projects, tasks, interactions, and collaborations so far in your career. Figure out what those experiences have in common and look for jobs that let you do more of what you like to do best.

At 50, you’ve been in the job market for 30 years and you know your way around the workplace. Although you might still have kids at home, they’re growing up and getting less dependent. So, if you’re still inspired by interesting opportunities and learning new things, now is an excellent time to make a move.

It’s a good time to make a change because:

  • A fresh start—with all of the changes and new information—can be good for your mental health.
  • You have a wealth of valuable and transferable experiences to share with new organizations.
  • You can afford to follow your passions (instead of chasing the next promotion).
  • You can find new ways to use your existing strengths and skills.

Even though you might be thinking:

  • Changing careers might mean a pay cut or lateral move—instead of a pay raise and prestigious job title.
  • People will worry that you’re overqualified for their jobs.
  • You might need to do some training and education, especially around technology.

Success tips:

  • Your new boss might be younger than you. Get comfortable with reporting to someone with less experience than you and see it as an opportunity to learn.
  • Show prospective employers/partners that you are comfortable with technology and open to learning new things.
  • Consider removing your earliest jobs and university graduate years from your resumes and social profiles.
  • Look for ways to mentor others and share your expertise and experience.

At 60, you can still make a big impact. People are living longer and working longer—you still have a lot to contribute to an organization and the world at large. A career change at 60, can be a great way to cap off a career with new and exciting experiences.

Note: The considerations for career changes at 50 (above) probably also apply to you.

It’s a good time to make a change because:

  • Get better hours, work/life balance, and less stress.
  • Become a mentor or advisor (even if you don’t want the stress of being a manager).
  • Follow your interests and learn new things.
    You want more time to share your expertise in board or volunteer positions.

Even though you might be thinking:

  • If you leave your current position, you’ll lose tenure and have a higher risk layoffs at a new organization.
  • People might doubt your competence and relevance.
  • You could be too expensive for some organizations.

Success tips:

  • Make workplace culture as important as the work you take on. Working with people you like, on projects that make a difference to you, will help you feel accomplished in any role.
  • Consider independent consulting as a way to use your expertise to help several companies—while giving yourself flexibility. With fractional consulting, you can work as much (or little) as you want.
  • Maintain mental and physical health. Be sure to exercise and keep your brain sharp by learning new things.
  • Stay up to date with trends, research, and skills in your industry of choice.

You can do it

Changing your career is an exciting opportunity to make your work more satisfying and life more fulfilled. Is it risky? A bit. But would you rather keep doing work that makes you feel exhausted, uninspired, or unfulfilled? When you look beyond the risk, you’ll see a great opportunity to make your life better than ever.

Want a flexible, rewarding career? Learn about consulting at Salo.

If you want to design a career on your terms, consulting at Salo might be the career you’re looking for. We match expert consultants in finance, accounting, and HR with organizations that need their help. With consulting, you get to pick the when, where, and how much you work. Learn more by connecting with us today!

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