How to Change Careers at 30, 35 or 40 (or Any Age)

career change Feb 10, 2023
career change

Whether you’re 30, 35 or 40, the idea of changing careers midway through your professional life can feel like a scary prospect. But with the right strategy in place, there’s no age barrier to making the switch to a more fulfilling and purposeful career.

Making a career change can feel daunting at any age. But by the time you’ve reached your forties it can feel that little bit more intimidating.

You’ve probably climbed several rungs up the career ladder by now. You’ve developed plenty of experience and expertise in your chosen field. That may well be reflected in a decent pay cheque too.

A career change would mean stepping out of that comfort zone, learning some skills from scratch and sometimes (though not always) temporarily sacrificing a proportion of your hard-earned salary.

But for all those potential barriers you can’t quite shrug off the niggling feeling that you’re craving a change, or a new challenge. That, comfortable as it is, your current job just isn’t providing you with enough fulfilment. Or perhaps you’ve simply been inspired by the wave of people switching to more purposeful roles.

If that sounds like you then don’t let age put you off.

With the right plan in place, people of any age – whether 25, 30, 25, 40 or even 65 – can successfully switch to a new career track. The secret is to think strategically and map out a clear route from your current career to your next.

Here are my four tips for how to change careers at 40:

Identify your target role

There’s a common misconception that by casting their net wide, job seekers increase their chances of landing their dream role. The reality is being too broad in your job search can significantly hinder your odds, with generalised cover letters and CVs and broad answers to questions in interviews likely to push your application to the bottom of the pile.

Instead, before you even consider starting a job search, identify your niche.

Start by answering these questions:

  1. What are you passionate about? Be specific. If you’d love to work in the impact sector then narrow this down further. Do you want to tackle environmental sustainability? Do you have a deep desire to address diversity and inclusion? To put it another way, what topic sparks your interest round the dinner table?
  2. What type of role or input are you after? Do you want to make change from within? You might want to consider joining the sustainability team of a corporate organisation. Do you want to specialise in a particular topic and advise companies on best practise? If so, an NGO might be a good fit. Are you after a huge variety of projects and don’t feel the need to see them through to the bitter end? A consultant role might be the best option. Consider not only the industry you want to be part of, but the way you want to contribute.
  3. What does the market need? This is an important one that often gets missed off the list. Research both the wider industry and current vacancy trends to understand where there are skills gaps and which sectors may be oversubscribed. Look for an intersection between your passion and what the market needs.

Reframe your career story

So often clients look at their current experience and think they’ll have to start from scratch to make a big career change. But that’s rarely the case. Instead you simply need to rewrite your career story to amplify the transferability of your existing skills and reframe your experience in such a way that it applies just as well to your target role.

Grab a piece of paper and brainstorm the following.

  • What skills do I really excel at? Really dig deep, looking back over all your previous roles and projects to come up with a long list of skills that you’ve gathered evidence for over the years. Don’t dismiss anything at this point.
  • How might these be relevant to my target role? Now’s the time to create a shortlist by considering each skill on your list and brainstorming how it may be relevant in your target role. If you were an accountant, for example, then experience in data analysis and reporting could apply to a huge range of different careers. As could evidence of project management. Or communication with a diverse set of stakeholders. All can be core skills for any impact role.
  • What knowledge and experience have I gained outside of my paid job? Finally, don’t forget the value of volunteering or further education you may have undertaken outside of your job. Not only can this further boost your skillset, but it can be used to demonstrate passion and commitment to prospective employers too.

Build a network

I know, I know. You hate networking. The thought of walking up to a stranger at a conference fills you with dread. But I’m afraid, having a solid network of relevant contacts that can help you during your transition is invaluable. Particularly given the influence of the ‘grey’ jobs market, i.e. the huge proportion of vacancies that are filled through existing relationships, rather than being advertised publicly.

There are all sorts of ways to network too.

You could…

  • Attend industry events
  • Sign up to mentoring schemes
  • Connect with relevant industry figures on LinkedIn
  • Join trade bodies or professional organisations
  • Sign up to strategic volunteering opportunities that may allow you to get a taste for an organisation or a cause without committing 100%

The secret here is to ditch the idea of leveraging a network purely for your own gain. Aim to build a long-lasting and reciprocal relationship that goes beyond handing out a business card and emailing the next day asking for a favour. Share content that’s helpful to them on your LinkedIn profile, check in with them regularly to see how they’re getting on with that project they mentioned and ensure that any conversation is interesting and beneficial to both of you.

Plug any gaps

By identifying a niche, reframing your career story and building a network of relevant contacts, you can make huge strides forward in changing career, whatever your age. But if there’s still gaps between your current skillset and what the industry may require for your target role then don’t be afraid to address it proactively, and take advantage of the huge number of qualifications and certification schemes that are currently available.

You don’t need to commit to a four-year college degree here. There are courses lasting anything from one day to a few years. Those that are remote and in-person. Some that are free and others that will set you back a few thousand. Do your research and speak to your network to identify those schemes that will deliver practical skills, that are recognised by the industry and that offer the most cost-effective time commitment for you.

Check out this list of great sustainability certification schemes as a starting point.

Changing your career at 40 doesn’t need to be daunting. Instead, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience that’ll set you on a career track far more aligned with your passions. So don’t let being established in your current career put you off making a change. Instead follow these steps to create a plan that’ll help you make a switch as seamlessly as possible.

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