How to make a successful career change in your 30’s & 40’s

May 27, 2021

Life-changing events lead us to reflect on where we’re headed in our personal and professional lives.

It could be a significant life change like relocating to a new city, getting married or having your first child. A health scare or set-back. Or, the loss of a loved one, relationship or job.

Often, these defining moments are accompanied by a mid-career crisis.

A ‘mid-career crisis’ is a term I use to describe high-achieving, mid-career professionals in their 30’s or 40’s, currently experiencing a deep sense of dissatisfaction in their professional lives.

Established in their professions and 10 + years into their careers, they’ve worked hard to get where they are and have successfully climbed the corporate ladder. On paper, their lives look perfect. And yet they feel stuck, unhappy, or unfulfilled at work.

For many of us, a mid-career crisis is the first time we’ve taken the time to consider what we really want from our careers.

You begin to reassess your entire identity. Your professional priorities, purpose and what’s truly important in your career. And realise you want to make a change in your career. But you’re unsure exactly what you want or how to get it.

Even if you’re ready to make a change, the fear of throwing away the time, money and energy already invested into your current profession holds you back. And the thought of leaving a secure income or starting again in a new career can stop you in your tracks.

My clients all express a desire to change direction in their careers. But they usually have no idea where to start.

Struggling with a mid-career crisis?

Read on to learn my simple, 7-step strategy to help you navigate your mid-career change. Discover how to make a successful career change in your 30’s, 40’s and beyond.

STEP 1 – EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS

If you’re keen to make a career change, the first step is to explore new potential career paths.

Informational interviews and testing out new skills are the best way to expand your knowledge of the career options available to you. Set up informal chats with individuals doing work or elements of work you’re interested in. Get them to share their career story, ask plenty of questions and gain new insights on their industry, career or business. Test out new skills through volunteering, exploring a new hobby, self-education or taking on additional responsibilities at work.

Clear on the career path you wish to pursue? Perhaps you’re moving from the corporate world and using your existing expertise to start a consulting business. This stage will give you the opportunity to test and validate your career or business idea upfront to de-risk your move.

Alternatively, if you’ve got no idea which career to choose, this initial exploration phase will be particularly helpful. Test out new skills and potential career paths. The key is to take action, pay attention to what resonates and continue moving in that direction.

Finally, exploring your career options also gives you the opportunity to gain practical experience in new careers of interest.

STEP 2 – MAKE A DECISION

Once you’ve explored potential careers and tested and validated your ideas, the second step is to decide on one career path or business idea to pursue.

Next, learn more about the career you want to transition into. Talk to people working in the industry, or others running a similar business.

If you’re career change involves finding a new job, you’ll want to clarify the key criteria required for your new career. Review job descriptions or selection criteria for advertised positions to understand key job requirements. Focus on the technical knowledge, personal skills or qualifications you’ll need rather than the number of years experience required.

STEP 3 – GET EXPERIENCE

At this stage, concentrate on gaining relevant, practical experience and developing essential skills before making your career change. Your goal should be to bridge the gap between your existing skills and knowledge and the experience required for your new career.

Realistically, it’s not always possible to immediately move into your dream role or business. Consider opportunities to gain experience outside your current job, through internships, personal projects or voluntary positions. If you want to build a business, consider starting out with a side hustle, part-time contracting or freelance work.

When it comes to developing suitable skills for your career change, the length of time will vary depending upon the move you wish to make. Do your research and consider any formal qualifications or certifications you’ll require. You may be able to upskill within months through a short-term course. For others, the process may involve requalification or formal studies and take longer.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of self-education. If you’ve never run a business before, there are plenty of books, blogs, podcasts and You-Tube videos to teach you the skills required to establish, market and grow a business.

STEP 4 – FOCUS ON TRANSFERABLE SKILLS

At this point, you’ll start to embark on your career change. If your transition involves finding a new position in an area you have little experience, applying for jobs can be challenging. It’s much easier to sell yourself in a face to face interview. The difficulty is securing the interview in the first place.

So, how do you get around this? By focusing on transferable skills.

First, start by identifying your transferable skills. These are existing personal or technical skills relevant to your new career that you’ve developed and demonstrated throughout previous positions.

Second, create a skills based resume. Outline your key skills at the top of your CV, highlighting relevant achievements and specific examples where you’ve demonstrated those skills in your past career. Include a summary of your work history (position title, employer and dates) at the bottom but focus on outlining your transferable skills upfront.

Submitting an online job application will be tough if you don’t meet all the required criteria. However, if your resume is crafted correctly, it will help your application stand out.

Third, tell your personal story. Use the Summary section of your LinkedIn profile and/or your cover letter or email to summarise your career history, the type of role you’re seeking and why and the relevant skills and experience you’re bringing.

Finally, transferable skills are equally important and applicable to career changers planning to start a business. If you’ve got limited business experience or are starting a new enterprise in an industry where you have little experience, focus on highlighting the transferable skills, knowledge and experience you bring to the table. Communicate transferable skills and tell your personal story on your About Me page of your website, marketing materials, website copy, social media profiles and posts.

STEP 5 – CONNECT

The essential ingredient to the success of any career change or new business launch?

Making connections and building relationships with peers, potential clients, employers or referral partners.

Start by attending networking or industry events within your field. Networking can be uncomfortable for many professionals or new business owners because of the association with selling or trying to generate new business. A reframe is to simply see networking as connecting. Focus on connecting with others and developing long-term relationships with people in your desired industry.

For job-seekers, informational interviews can be an effective way to build relationships with future hiring managers who may connect you to the right job opportunity.

Finally, don’t forget to use your existing network. Let family, friends and colleagues know about your career change and ask them to connect you with potential clients or employers in your area.

STEP 6 – HAVE A PLAN

As a mid-career professional, you’ve grown accustomed to a certain salary level and likely have big financial and other life commitments. Naturally, you’ll feel anxious about leaving a steady job and secure income.

Before making any career change, it’s crucial to consider your financial responsibilities and minimise any potential risks associated with your move. At this stage, you’ll want to ensure you have a carefully constructed plan in place around your exit strategy and finances.

Remember – failing to plan is planning to fail.

Need help with your career change plan? Read this article for a practical, step by step process to create a risk-free financial plan.

STEP 7 – BE REALISTIC

This final step for professionals wanting to make a mid-career change is an important one.

Be realistic. Changing careers or starting your first business after 10 + years in an existing industry or professional role is not an easy process.

Before embarking on your transition, consider the following questions:

  • Are you prepared to reduce your salary expectations or start again in a new career and work your way up?
  • What can you do to mitigate risk and bridge the gap between your current income level and any drop in pay?
  • How can you develop the required experience and fast track your way up a new career ladder?
  • And perhaps most importantly – what’s driving your career change? And what’s most important to you in your professional career?

It’s essential to be flexible and have realistic expectations around salary, earning potential within your chosen career and timeframes to move.

Final thoughts…

Career change for mid-career professionals has a unique set of challenges. You’ve likely never considered what you want before, have a lot at risk and aren’t sure where to start.

I developed the above framework based on my own personal experience of navigating two career changes and moving from corporate to start a successful consultancy. It’s the same step by step process I work through with my clients to help them manage mid-career change. I hope it supports you too.

 

Need help to navigate career change and craft the career you desire? Click HERE to book a free 30 minute consult and find out how coaching with me can help you!

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving corporate leaders and business owners at a mid-career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms.

Stacey also supports professionals to transition from their corporate job into their own consulting business. She works virtually with individuals based across the globe.