Midlife Career Change: Your Step-by-Step Guide
“The world is changing,” says Kimberley Tyler-Smith, VP of Strategy and Growth at Resume Worded. “In the past, people often stayed in their industry and role until retirement. But now, we’re seeing more and more people choosing to make a significant pivot in industry and role well into adulthood.”
A survey conducted by Indeed backs up Tyler-Smith’s claims: almost half of U.S. workers have made a dramatic shift in their careers. The result? 88% of this group say they’re happier since making the transition.
If you’ve felt real discontentment with your work for a while now, it could be time for a midlife career change. Though this can be a scary realization, the truth is that you’re in a much better place to figure out what kind of role is right for you than you were in high school or college. Throughout the years, you’ve built up more material skills, experience, and self-awareness, and you’ll have deeper insight into what you could be better suited for.
Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to decide if a change like this is right for you, and if it is, how to navigate it successfully.
1. Signs It’s Time For a Midlife Career Change
If you’re feeling static, that’s a pretty clear indicator a change is in order. Maybe your role no longer offers opportunities for learning, or you just don’t feel challenged enough. Perhaps the days feel like they blend into each other and you can no longer find any positives about your job.
On the other hand, maybe you simply need more flexibility — your commute is killing you, or the boss is running you ragged and you barely have time to spend with your kids. All these things can indicate something needs to shift.
2. Figure Out Where Something’s Missing
So you’ve established that something’s off at work, whether that be a fulfillment piece or a logistical piece.
At this point, you’ll really want to dig deep and determine whether it’s the role itself that’s the problem or the position or work culture at your specific company. Maybe taking on the same role at another organization or in a different sector could make things interesting again or give you that flexibility you’re looking for. Or if you’re happy with your company, you could talk to your supervisor about making a lateral move to a different department, potentially in a different type of role.
These transitions will likely be a lot simpler because you’ll already have some experience under your belt — either with the role responsibilities, or the company itself.
If it does become clear that you need to make a more seismic shift, that’s OK! Work stress and burnout both take a toll on your mental and physical health. You absolutely deserve to feel fulfilled by an activity that takes up a third of your waking life. And not to worry — there are plenty of ways to make a midlife career change like this happen.
3. Figure Out What’s Missing
If you’ve done some soul-searching and realized that it’s your role itself that’s the issue (and there aren’t other opportunities at your company), it’s time to drill down on what’s actually missing.
Have you hit the upper limits of advancement in your field? Does your day-to-day lack a certain amount of variety? Is your gut telling you that your pharmaceutical sales role doesn’t align with your desire to help people?
This is about establishing what your values are, and which of them aren’t being satisfied by your current position. Know that this will be totally unique to you — while one job seeker will want to change the world, another might place a priority on the ability to be creative. Still another might be looking for high earning potential.
Ask yourself: “What aspects of a job will make me feel most whole and genuinely improve my quality of life?” The answer to this will help you get closer to discovering what you should be doing instead …
4. Think About What You Want to Do Instead
Now it’s time to figure out what new direction you want to take for your midlife career change. Keep in mind that you don’t have to rush this decision or even the move itself. You can afford to be strategic and thoughtful — allow yourself time for this exploration!
Here are some ideas to get you going:
- Talk to a career coach
- Think about moments in the past when you felt stimulated and happy at work – what about those moments made you feel like that?
- What interests you outside of work? Could that be leveraged into a career?
- Is there a specific dynamic that would feel more fulfilling? Perhaps you’d prefer a higher-level planning position to the detailed work you’re doing now.
- Take some online courses to see what sparks your interest
- Have an informal interview with friends or other connections who have the jobs you’re considering
- Look at the skills (including soft skills) you already have – are any of them transferable?
- Do research into what jobs are well-suited to a career change (think real estate agent over neurosurgeon)
5. Go Deeper and Find the Right Fit
Once you have one or more options, go further. Look into the average salary, requirements, work-life balance, and what the day-to-day looks like according to folks who do that job.
You could think of this as a kind of puzzle — you’re trying to find an intersection of something you’d enjoy with something you’d be good at, but also something for which the required extra certifications or skills are attainable. Some folks might be willing to go back and get another degree, but there are plenty of jobs that don’t require such a big commitment.
A few ways to find out whether one particular idea is a good fit:
- Freelance on the side (build experience or portfolio doing work for friends)
- Job shadow someone
This real life exposure to specific jobs will give you invaluable insight into whether it’s the right direction for you or not.
6. Prepare For Your Transition
Congratulations! You’ve completed your exploratory phase, and you’re ready to take more active steps towards your new career. In most cases, you’ll still be able to retain your current job while preparing for this shift — no need to take a big “leap of faith.”
You’ll now want to establish exactly what you need to do to fill in any gaps in your resume. Are there particular skills you need to hone? Any specific certifications employers expect to see when hiring for this role? Go ahead and take any online courses or get any certifications you’ll need to ensure that you’re qualified (and for extra credit, more than qualified). If you need a portfolio and haven’t forayed into freelancing, start doing jobs for your friends either for free or at a reduced rate to build out your book.
It can be hard to wrap your mind around becoming a “beginner” again, but think about it as an adventure! You get to learn and reinvent yourself. Let go of your pride and enjoy being a forever student.
Family & Finance Considerations
If you have a partner, make sure you talk things out so they understand why you want to make a midlife career change. Your happiness is important and will ultimately ripple out to have a positive impact on the whole family.
If you anticipate a pay cut you’ll want to reassess your finances. Look at your current spending and adjust your budget accordingly. But make sure not to let this deter you! By reevaluating what you really need, you could be looking at 40 more satisfying hours a week — this may be worth scaling back when it comes to fancy dinners and cars.
7. Prepare To Get the Job
At this stage, you know what kind of job you’re after and you’ve put the pieces in place to get support from your family, consider a new financial reality, and make sure you’re qualified. Now you’ll want to set yourself up for success to nab the position you really want.
Make sure to update your resume and LinkedIn profile to match the role you’re after. Find out what keywords employers look for and highlight those in both places. If you think it could help, come up with a clever way to tell the story of the transition you’re making: “This accountant-turned-financial analyst has years of number-crunching under her belt.”
For years now, research has shown that upwards of 80% of jobs are filled through networking. According to CNBC, up to 70% of all jobs aren’t even publicly posted. So get connecting! Let your inner circle know about your search and ask if they know anyone relevant they can connect you with. Maybe take an in-person class or attend local meetups that can put you in touch with others in the industry. This could be the most important work you do towards finding your new position.
The Candidacy Process
Even though many folks find jobs through networking, people get hired through application processes every day. Knowing someone won’t always be the answer, so make sure you’re casting a wide net by throwing your hat in the ring for plenty of published positions.
When you do get interviews, prepare answers to as many questions as you can think of. Especially be ready to explain why you’re making this change and how your distinct experience sets you apart as a candidate with a completely unique (and valuable) perspective.
It’s good to be realistic when making this journey, but listen to yourself over any doom and gloom naysayers in your life. You’re the one who knows what you need to be happy, and half the American workforce have made a change like this to immense success.
Get your mind right, and know that a midlife career change is 100% achievable if you do your homework and put in the effort. Anna Kate Anderson makes a living helping folks craft their resumes, cover letters, etc. Her advice? “Don’t give up. Pivoting careers takes longer than a regular job search, but the results may be far more satisfying, with a new challenge and a fresh outlook.”