Do you feel stuck in the mud at work but are unsure whether you should switch direction? You don’t have to put up with the status quo. With some diligent planning, lots of research and a fair helping of guts and courage, you should be able to make a career change after 40 – and far beyond
Make a big professional change of direction or stay doing what you’re doing? It can be a daunting decision and not one you should take lightly, as there are many consequences and knock-on effects. However, if you seek pastures new and are yearning to get your teeth into a fresh area or industry, now could be the perfect time to make the move.
The working world has changed immeasurably over the past few decades and flexibility is key to a successful and diverse career. The days of a “job for life” – or even a single, linear career path – are well and truly over, and it is increasingly necessary to nurture and develop a broad set of soft skills to prepare yourself for a constantly shifting professional landscape.
But before you wonder how to change career, it’s worth really making sure you know what you’re up against and what sort of job progression you can expect.
Is it too late?
If you are approaching or are in your forties but have been working in solely one profession or role for the best part of 20 years, you may feel that you have gone too far down this road to change direction. The good news is this is unlikely to be the case.
Even if you decide to retire at 65, you’ve still got at least 20 years of working life to “enjoy”. If the prospect of that fills you with despair, arguably it’s a sure sign your current career is not setting your world on fire. But with plenty of your employable life left to go, you could give yourself another bite at the career cherry. It’s never too late if you’re determined to make it work.
What you need to succeed, though, is full commitment and a big dose of courage. Think about when you took the plunge into an unheated pool, pushed yourself to the limits of your strength or faced a fear head-on: didn’t it feel great? Changing careers could be one of the biggest decisions of your life: if you can pull it off you’ll get this same feeling, and it will stay with you for good.
Take a holiday and use it to do some tough thinking. This will give you the space to look at things from a big-picture perspective. Ask yourself the following 10 questions:
1. Do you feel fulfilled in your current role?
It might be the job or the company you’re working in that isn’t quite right. But before you print out your resignation letter, it’s worth considering how much you value stability.
If you have the odd niggle but fundamentally quite like your regular salary and know what you’re getting, you might find the grass is not greener in a new career. If, however, you’re filled with gloom and ennui every time you arrive at work, you could well be a prime candidate for a radical career rethink. Ultimately it’s all about maximising your job satisfaction.
2. Is there anywhere you can move within the company or organisation?
A good middle road might be that, instead of considering a complete career change, you talk to your employer about making a side move into a fresh area or discipline within the same organisation. A good company wants to hang on to its staff and might be persuaded to provide you with the training and support you need to make such a switch.
You could always try this tack while you continue to consider (and research) more extreme career moves. It could help steel your nerves, broaden your skills portfolio and boost your confidence in being able to find a job and cope with a complete career switch in the future.
3. What do you love about your job…?
If you could cherry-pick the things you like about your current role, what would they be and how could you incorporate them into a new career? For example, if you’re a manager who loves the “people” side but less so the processes and workflow management, you could find that moving into an area such as HR captures the best of your current responsibilities while hiving off the things that don’t set your world alight.
You could also try talking to a careers adviser or undertaking a personality survey to help focus your thoughts.
4. …and what is driving you mad?
Sometimes working out what you don’t like about a job – or your career in general – is the best place to spark thoughts about where to go next. Visualising the aspects or tasks in your job description that are a pain can help you refocus and put things in perspective. Again, it could mean you don’t have to consider a completely radical career move, rather a sidestep that simply avoids the bits of your job you are least enamoured with.
5. Is your current career affecting your personal life?
Would you say you bring your work stress home with you? If you are having a bad day (or week, month or year) it is probably affecting your personal relationships and maybe your health too. Perhaps you’ve had to work late too often or your job makes you irritable, even after you’ve left the workplace.
Stress can be insidious and is hard to eradicate. Try to work out whether it is down to the job itself and/or the company, the people you work with or generally the field or industry you are currently working in.
6. Is there any job or industry you’ve always wanted to work in?
Have you always harboured a secret dream to do something specific? Rather than live out the rest of your life in secret regret, you could bite the bullet, be brave and decide to jump right in. If you need to retrain or become a mature student, there’s no time like the present: the longer you um and ah about it, the less time you give yourself to progress in your new career.
7. Can you take a pay cut to embark on training, education or joining the lower ladder rungs of a different career structure?
Depending on what route you take and the type of job and industry you are considering moving into, changing career may well have significant financial implications. At the very least, you may have to take a pay cut and start much lower down a new career ladder. And it could take some time to work your way up to the equivalent level you were at in your old career. For some switches, such as becoming a doctor, architect or lecturer – or even a yoga teacher – you will need to invest in the appropriate level of training, education and on-the-job experience.
It’s really important you do the sums: talk to your partner – if you have one – and check that you can make the move, knowing you can afford to take the time out you need and have sound financial backing to succeed.
8.What transferable skills do you have?
You don’t have to throw away all the skills you’ve been honing over the years. Many of the softer ones will be incredibly useful in an entirely different job.
When you update your CV – an inevitable part of any career switch – make a list of your most transferable skills and think about what type of new role they would fit best. Do your research and find out how much you’ll have to retrain to switch to a new career path.
9. What excites you?
If you’re already doing something that makes you leap out of bed in the morning, then that’s brilliant. If you’re feeling like you still want to change careers, keep in mind the elements that are really exhilarating and make sure you continue to tick those boxes. But if not, decide where your true interests lie and put in place plans to move to the type of work or industry that is most likely to give you a thrill.
10. Which decision would you regret more: changing career now or sticking to what you’re doing for the rest of your working life?
Staying put may be the easier decision – because it involves no upheaval, no challenges and no financial hardship, and keeps stability front and centre – but it’s the safe option. This might well be for you, but it’s worth considering how much you might regret not being a little bit braver.
Instead you could take a leap of faith and embark on the tougher road: changing careers. You could be rewarded with much greater job satisfaction – and the knowledge that you stepped up to your own personal challenge and made it happen. Good luck!
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