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A midlife career change at 40 can seem daunting. Chances are by this time in your life you have a fair amount of responsibility. Maybe a mortgage, a marriage and even children, or some combination thereof, are now a part of your life. You have spent 20 years in a career, or combination of careers, and now it feels as if you are on the precipice of change once again. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that adults will change their careers on average twelve times over the course of their lifetime. (www.thebalancecareers.com/how-often-do-people-change-jobs-2060467).
It’s hard to know exactly what constitutes a career change so the exact number is hard to pin down. For example, some individuals change companies but not positions or you may get a promotion which changes your job title. Those things aside, it is clear that today’s worker rarely spends 40 years at one job and walks out with a pension and a gold watch.
You still have 25 years plus until you reach an average retirement age of 65 or beyond. You have more professional and personal contacts to springboard into networking opportunities for finding a new position. A constructive career change can have a positive impact on your health and relationships.
Step One: Overcoming the Obstacles
We have examined some of the benefits of a career change at 40 so now let’s take a look at a few of the challenges you will face.
It’s important to consider the trials that may present when making a career change mid-life. For instance, individuals in their forties tend to have more responsibilities than those in their thirties. Housing and food expenses are lower for those in their thirties compared to their counterparts in their forties (https://www.bls.gov/cex/2017/combined/age.pdf). Dealing with a career change at 40 may be difficult if you have younger children at home. Continuing to make enough income to cover the increase in expenses can be a challenge. You may need time away from your current career to prepare for a new one, or the opposite, you might need to continue your current full-time job while preparing for a new one. The idea of making a career change can feel overwhelming and leave you feeling stuck.
Once you actually make the decision and begin to formulate a plan, you are likely to feel a sense of relief. There may be challenges that make a career change at 40 take a little longer than if you had embarked on the journey ten years ago. However, if done with thought and careful planning, it can be one of the best decisions of your life.
Action Item: Write down the obstacles you will most likely face and come up with at least one way to overcome that obstacle.
Step Two: Identify your values, interests, personality, and skills
Begin with a self-assessment. A self-assessment should include taking a close look at your values, interests, personality and aptitude. Values include things like does your career match up with the contributions you wish to make in the world and also include practical matters like autonomy and achievement. Interests reflect activities you enjoy participating in. Personality is made up of your personal traits and those things which motivate you. And, lastly, Aptitude constitutes those things which you are skilled at. For instance, accounting or computer proficiency. Your skills may be a mix of natural ability and learned ones.
There are many online tools to help with a self-assessment. I provide a holistic approach to self-assessment and how it relays to your work-related values. My Career Design Studio uses personality inventories and professional preferences and examines how they translate into career satisfaction. Look at your strengths and how to leverage them to avoid burnout and find a career that you love.
Now you’ve done a thorough self-assessment, it has naturally led to careers you are interested in and hopefully you are starting to think about companies you are drawn to as well. It’s time to do some research on the companies your considering. LinkedIn is an effective tool for learning about which companies have the job titles you’re interested in.
Action Item: Make a list of your top two or three job occupations and a list of ten companies that have piqued your interest.
Step Three: Explore the Occupations on Your List
Research in detail the actual day-to-day activities you would be participating in. If you don’t enjoy the routine of the daily tasks it isn’t likely your job will fulfill and challenge you. Take a while to look at the job outlook for the positions you’re thinking seriously about. A job outlook is a forecast in the number of people employed in a specific job title over a period of years and compares to a previous period in order to tell whether or not the field is expanding or contracting.
A number of industries are growing, despite the coronavirus. For example: Medical and Health, Computer and IT, Customer Service, Education and Training, Sales and Accounting and Finance.
Action Item: Look up the job outlook for three to five of your top jobs on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website .
Step Four: Research Pay and Education or Training
While pay may not be everything it also is something to research and consider. You want to make sure your pay is adequate to meet your expenses, plan for your retirement and have enough left over to enjoy life. Your new occupations of interest may involve more education and training. Don’t let that scare you away. Taking a temporary salary cut may pay off in a big way, after a period of sacrifice, while you return to school or acquire necessary training.
Check into online learning options. With the current pandemic we are facing more colleges, trade schools and universities offering their programs online. You may even be able to keep your job while earn your degree, certificate or training. Remember to keep your current knowledge, skills and abilities in mind and parlay those things into experience that may work in lieu of formal education or training, Also, think about services that offer learning opportunities to fill in your gap in skills. Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning are two great resources in gaining the training you need to make a career change at 40.
There is also a skill-based volunteering option. This allows you to develop and use your skills while contributing to a worthy cause. Catchafire and Points of Light are organizations that help you identify such opportunities. Consider freelancing opportunities that would build your experience in a new field. Fiverr, Upwork and Guru all help freelancers find work.
Also consider participating in an Adult Internship. Adult Internships, also known as returnships, are temporary positions where workers can gain hands-on experience in a role. These internships vary in length but are typically one to three months long and are traditionally part-time. Most internships are unpaid but some offer an hourly rate. These internships can help grow your professional network and refine your career interests.
Action Item: Research available opportunities in your careers of interest.
Step Five: Recreate your Resume
Take notice of the job descriptions and what they appear to be emphasizing. Reevaluate past work history, education and related activities through this prism. Remove irrelevant content and highlight, and add, anything that supports your desired position. Try to stay current with industry-specific language.
There are many online tools to help you construct an effective resume. Use a unique identifier when describing yourself, e.g. Detail-Oriented Project Manager. List skills that will be picked up by the Auto Tracking System (ATS). Focus on your Professional Highlights, not just on job duties but on your professional accomplishments as well.
Remember employers are looking for effective soft skills like effective oral and written communication and good time management.
Action Item: Write up one accomplishment a day for your resume until you have created something that will stand up against the competition.
Step Six: Expand your Network
Chances are, if you are making a career change at 40, your current professional contacts may not provide you with the entrée you require into your new field. However, being 40 also means you have a larger network of individuals in your cache.
Reach out to the Connectors- people who seem to know everyone- and see what contacts in your career of choice they might have. Join professional groups. In this age of coronavirus that means conferences and events are most likely on hold but there are effective ways to make connections online. For instance, you can go to LinkedIn and look up professional groups (there are thousands) you might be interested in. Check out the articles that are being posted on LinkedIn and make comments or even share articles yourself.
You can also search for individuals or companies that pique your interest. Ask someone who shares the same job title of interest to a virtual coffee visit or for an informational interview (see below). In order to search for a particular job title in LinkedIn, type hashtag and then the job title, e.g. #financemanager.
Action Item: Identify at least 10 people you’d like to talk to who are active in the field or profession you are interested in.
Step Seven: Conduct Informational Interviews
Once reserved for entry level job applicants, the Informational Interview can be an ideal tool for the job change candidate. An Informational Interview is a meeting you set up to learn more about a position, company or industry. In an ideal world, you would want to conduct this interview in person but due to the coronavirus it will probably be in a virtual environment. In a short Informational Interview be sure to ask the questions: How did you break into this industry? What do you recommend for someone like me who is trying to get an entry level job in this field? In a longer interview you might ask what strategies they employed for a career search that were successful and see if they would take a quick look at your resume and give you feedback. Always close with gratitude and seek an opportunity to stay in touch. I offer a free informative career guide which provides a checklist for conducting an informational interview.
Action Item: Request the free career guide and begin your checklist for your informational interviews (HERE!).
Now, you have a concrete plan for making a career change at 40. You can see why your experience and the confidence you have mid-life can be enormous assets. You may have more responsibilities to consider than you did a decade ago but the valuable skills, self-knowledge and contacts you have made thus far work to your advantage.
You have done the hard and worthwhile work of an effective self-assessment. Your research has led you to careers and companies you are interested in. You have taken the time to make some industry connections through professional groups and informational interviews. You may have even lined up an Adult Internship to learn more about a specific career. You have recreated and updated your resume and you have learned how to write a winning cover letter. Most of all, you have gone a journey to better understand yourself and your work values and desires. Be proud and confident in the next steps on your path. Your wisdom and hard work help to ensure you will land on the career that feeds the self without sacrificing the soul.