How to change careers in your 30s, 40s, 50s

It’s hard enough to get a job when you’re qualified and experienced, but what if you are changing careers?

It’s hard enough to get a job when you’re qualified and experienced, but what if you are changing careers?

In this article, I’d like to give you some practical tips on how to change careers. So if that is on your mind right now, you are not alone. I know the feeling because this is something I have done.

It’s a huge move because you invested so much time into your current profession. I only invested 5 years into my previous career, and I still felt it was a big move. Regardless of your age, 30, 40, 50, or more, the method in this article can apply to any career change.

If you rather prefer watching me talking about the topic, here's the video:

Identify why you want to change careers

Before going further, I’d like to note one key point you should accept before you start: The bigger the changes, the harder they will be. There’s probably a gap between what you want to do, and what you’re able to do right now in terms of skills. You need to identify what you need to learn to close the skills gap. Accept that, it’s not going to happen overnight. You need to be okay with this.

Inventory

Inventory your current situation

Be honest with yourself about what you like and don’t like about your current job.

Have a look at the company you work for. Is it possible that you don’t like the company anymore? Maybe your values have changed and they are not aligned with the company’s mission statement. For example, you work in the dairy industry, but you’ve been vegan for 2 years. You just don’t identify yourself with the company’s vision.

- Maybe you don’t have enough challenges in your current position.

- Maybe you can’t get a promotion.

- Maybe you don’t get along well with your manager.

- Maybe you don’t like the people you work with.

- Maybe it’s a hostile environment affecting your physical or mental health.

If that’s the case, you don’t need a career change. You need a job change.

If you still like the company you work for, then ask HR and your manager if it’s possible to move into a new field within the company. Ask for a small task to prove yourself.

If I was trying to do another career change, that’s where I’d start because this is the simplest solution. You know the company — the good and the bad. You know the people; and most importantly, they know you. Changing careers without also changing the company is less change, and the more you change, the harder it will be.

Let’s say you’re in an admin role, and you want to get into graphic design. You might ask for a small task such as designing a brochure or redesigning the company’s Facebook banner. Somehow you need to get some real-life experience.

If your current company cannot give you design opportunities, go look for volunteer work or an internship once a week. Look for charity and non-profit organisations in your local area and on Facebook. I can guarantee, if you approach a charity organisation, they can give you a project to work on (for example designing business cards, or a poster for a fundraising event). Think about this as a win-win exchange.

Another way to minimize unnecessary change is to stay in the same industry but apply for different jobs. If you’re doing admin work for a healthcare company, and you put the time in up-skilling yourself in design, then I’d recommend applying for junior design positions in the healthcare industry. You have the industry knowledge already. You can leverage that.

Inventory your skills

When you change careers, you need to market yourself differently. You need to adjust your resume. Highlight how your skills match the desired job. You want to tell your next interviewer how your past experience applies to the new role. Convince them how you can be successful in that role, and how the company can benefit. Show that you’re capable, and the career switch is the right move for you.

There are so many transferable skills (especially soft skills) you can utilize in your new role. For instance, if you previously worked in sales, you:

- were exposed to many different types of people

- experienced the different personalities

Design is no different. You need to deal with people all the time. I would even say that a design job is only 50% about your design skills. The rest is

- how you communicate

- how you handle people, clients, stakeholders, developers

- how you present your design, how you receive critique, and how open you are to feedback, etc.

If I’d hire a designer now, I’d look for soft skills. Someone who would be pleasant to work with.

Be the person you want to work with.

Have an action plan

To achieve anything in life, you need to have a goal with a plan.

Do your research. Talk to as many people as you can. Ask them what their day job is like, what they do on daily basis. For instance, if you want to be a UX designer, talk to UX people, interview them. UX is a semi-technical field. You will be dealing with clients, developers, project managers, and technical constraints. If you’d like to design pretty interfaces, a visual or graphic designer position might be a better match for you. Informal ‘interviews’ are good for verifying your assumptions about a role.

Jot down the pros and cons of making a career change, including sacrifices you need to make. For example, are you willing to take an entry-level position or a pay-cut if needed? If you already have a family to support, you gotta be strategic about the move. If you have a partner, you need to talk to them before making the change, because you need their support. You need to be patient. Accept that you need to put hard work in beside your day-to-day job, family, and social obligations. It’s not going to be easy, but if this is what you truly desire, it’ll be worth it.

Plan ahead. Study. You certainly want to have an education-related foundation in your resume. Read, follow blogs and people. Take an online course, get certified, apply for a master's degree. Do an internship. Do volunteer work. Find an in-between position. Network. Focus on progress. Take steps every day towards your goal.

Summary

Learn to sell your past. Your unique experience can add value to a company. You have an advantage. The other applicants don’t have your experience, but you do.

This is your uniqueness. Use it.

Learn. Practice. Rinse and repeat. Just keep learning and practicing. Start small and start now.