Career changes look different at every decade of your life. Think about your job. Is it what you want to do for the rest of your life? Whether you’re considering changing careers at age 30, 40, 50, or 60, the process can be daunting. Each stage of life comes with career-related interests, dreams, fears and responsibilities. Making a career change—at any age—is a big step, no matter how old or young you are. 

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

Take the time to analyze the reasons you want to leave your current role. Identifying why you want to leave 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 re-evaluated 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 you need to be happy at your next job. Making this list will help you narrow down your options. 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

Contemplating a career change is intimidating. 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 prevalent 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 sounds like something you need to do by yourself. But it’s really about reaching out to others:  

  • Ask people in your professional network to help you identify your strengths and find work that matches your interests. 
  • If you’re comfortable, talk to colleagues in the HR department of your current organization. 
  • Contact your university career center (many will 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 job, test the waters in your target position or industry. See if you can take on a related project in your existing company or shadow someone who does your desired job 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 role eludes you, be flexible. Consider all the options, such as interim work or volunteering. These new experiences might help you find a great job you never knew existed. 

If you’re considering a career change at 30

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 understand 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.  

Why make a change now? 

  • 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

What might be holding you back: 

  • You still have student loans from your first career. 
  • You feel conflicted that you earned a degree you don’t want to use anymore.
  • You don’t have a substantial 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 other opportunities might meet your needs—you might be surprised by what might materialize. 
  • Be flexible. Instead of focusing on specific job titles or companies, be open to various roles. 

If you’re considering a career change at 40 

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

Why make a change now? 

  • 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 an impact in a new industry or role.

What might be holding you back:

  • With increasing responsibilities at work and home, you don’t have much 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; staying where you are might feel easiest. 

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, or doing online training courses. 
  • Talk to a financial advisor to get 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 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. 

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If you’re considering a career change at 50 

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

Why make a change now?

  • It’s a fresh start and 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.  

What might be holding you back: 

  • 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 you’re 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.  

If you’re considering a career change at 60 

At 60, you can still make an impact. People are living longer and working longer—you still have much to contribute to an organization and the world at large. A career change at 60 can be a great way to continue a career with new and exciting experiences. (Note: The considerations for career changes at 50 probably also apply to you.)  

Why make a change now? 

  • You might find a role with better hours, more work/life balance, and less stress. 
  • You may be seen as 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 for board or volunteer positions. 

What might be holding you back: 

  • If you leave your current position, you’ll lose tenure and have a higher risk of 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 a career in interim work. Short-term engagements with organizations that need your expertise. With interim work, 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 current with trends, research and skills in your industry of choice. 

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. 

Changing your career is an exciting opportunity to make your work more satisfying and your life more fulfilling. Is it risky? Maybe. But would you rather keep doing work that makes you feel exhausted, uninspired, or unfulfilled? Looking beyond the risk, you’ll see an excellent opportunity to improve your life. 

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Join the Interim Network or review available jobs today.