How to change careers at 40
The urge to change careers can arise at any stage in life. And for many, the onset of middle age can be a time of profound reflection and reinvention. But on the flipside, the more settled you are in a role or industry, the more intimidating it can seem to shake things up. Is it really worth making a career change at 40, when you’re already established in your existing field?
If you’re already entertaining the idea, you may find that making a career change at 40 is more than worth it. The average age of retirement in the UK is 65 and increasing, so that’s a long time to be stuck in a role you aren’t enjoying. On the other hand, it’s also more than enough time to establish yourself in another career.
No matter what your field or reasons for wanting a change, there are always new opportunities. And since by 40 you’ve likely been in the workforce for a while, chances are you’ve picked up many transferable skills, both soft and hard.
Hard skills are specific to the job itself, and involve specialised knowledge, like mastery of a programming language or an industry-specific qualification.
Soft skills are things like communication, problem-solving, organisation, and teamwork. These skills have applications across a broad range of careers. For example, one of the most popular midlife careers is project management, because it relies primarily on soft skills that you may already have honed in your working life.
Top reasons for a career change
There are a lot of reasons why a change of career might appeal to you.
The most commonly cited reason for a career change is (lack of) job satisfaction. Only 17% of British workers say they love their job, and more than half say they’re unhappy at work.
Desires change over time and what you wanted at one point in your life may not be what you want now. Maybe in your 20s you applied for a job that fit what you needed at the time, but it’s starting to wearing thin. Maybe your role changed over the course of your employment.
You might also decide to follow a passion or practice a skill that you’re unable to incorporate into your current role. If that’s the case, you may be thinking about starting a business. An essential part of entrepreneurship is dealing with customers. The people skills you’ve developed will make finding and dealing with customers much easier. Business owners also need to be organised and adaptable, two things that a long career of any kind teaches you.
Better work environment
Another reason for changing careers at 40 could be tension in the workplace. If your work environment no longer appeals to you, it can make your life more stressful than it needs to be. Maybe the culture doesn’t line up with your values, or maybe you don’t have the freedom that you want at work.
It could be that you have new options now that you’ve been in the workforce for a while. Maybe you have the chance to expand and learn new skills, or you want to explore other interests that you couldn’t afford to in your 20s.
Changing career can be a way to find an environment that makes you feel comfortable and fulfilled.
Just like how your desires and what you want out of your job may have changed since your 20s, the responsibilities you have outside of work can change too. At 40, you may have a spouse or children to think about.
Having family responsibilities also often means less time to spend in your social circle. If you add a rigid work schedule on top of that, it’s easy to feel overburdened. Searching for a new job might be one way to help you balance your lifestyle.
For example, if you have school-age kids, becoming a teacher might seem more appealing than it once did. Your weekday routine will be more aligned with your family’s, and you’ll have more holiday time together.
If you spent your early career in the high-pressure, unpredictable world of journalism, you might consider switching to PR for more regular hours and better career progression.
Or if what excites you about work has changed, starting your own business can be a good way to reconnect with your passions. You can focus more on skills and products that you think are exciting, and have more autonomy over your working hours.
What to consider before changing careers
When contemplating a career change, there are some questions that will help you decide for sure. You’ll want to consider:
What you like about your current job. Just because you want to leave doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all bad, and you should know what you want from your next position.
What you don’t like about your job. Can the issues be solved or is leaving the only solution? Consider the red flags to look for next time.
Will you need more or different training? You may need a new set of skills if you want to break into a new industry. Make sure you can afford this, both financially and time-wise.
What makes you happy? This is particularly relevant if you change careers in order to follow a passion.
Your biggest reason for changing jobs. Are you overworked? Understimulated? Not being fairly compensated? Knowing the driving force behind your dissatisfaction helps you avoid repeating the same conditions.
Making the change
So if by now you’ve established that a career change is what you really want, how do you make the change? There are a few concrete steps to follow when looking for a new job at 40.
Figure out the skills you need
Once you know why you want to change jobs, and what types of positions you’re interested in pursuing, figure out the qualifications you need. Are they asking for experience? A specific degree? What are the skills they mention?
You want to understand where your own skills fall in relation to the positions you’re interested in. Separate your skills into two categories:
Transferable skills. These are skills you can take with you from career to career that will be relevant no matter what the job, like problem-solving and teamwork.
‘Training required’ skills. These are things that require a degree, certification, or other course to acquire. If the career you’re looking at asks for a lot of these skills, it might take a while to break into the field.
Rewrite your CV
When you know what employers are looking for, it’s a good idea to update your CV to fit that description. You want to demonstrate through your qualifications and prior work experience that you would be a match for the position.
It’s a good idea to have different versions of your CV on hand for different roles. If you’re changing careers at 40, odds are you have a lot of experience and have worked in several different places. Not all your past accomplishments will be equally relevant to each job you apply for.
For example, if you’ve been a software developer for 10 years, you’ll have a lot of specialist coding knowledge. But what if you want to be a project manager? Even if the coding itself isn’t relevant, you can talk about working as part of a team, setting expectations, and meeting deadlines. Reframe the experiences you’ve had to align them with what prospective employers are looking for.
Leverage your network
One advantage of making a career change at 40 is that after considerable time in the workforce, you’ll likely have made a wealth of professional connections. Now’s the time to use them.
Reach out to anyone you know in fields related to your dream role. They can help you tailor your CV and may even be able to recommend you to their company. You don’t have to have worked directly with someone to ask them for help either. Maybe it’s a friend of a friend. Check LinkedIn to see who your contacts are connected to and reach out to them.
It may seem daunting, but changing careers at 40 is more common than you might expect, and can be very rewarding. There are concrete steps towards making a career change that you can follow at any age.
Once you know what types of careers you’re interested in, do what you can to reframe the skills and experience you have as applying to those fields as well. Or maybe following your passion means starting a business of your own?
For advice on starting and running a business, as well as more career development tips, continue exploring the SumUp Business Guide.Learn more