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It’s never too late: How to change careers in your 40s

April 15, 2022 - 16 min read

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Is it possible to make a career change at 40?

4 advantages of a mid-life career change

4 challenges to a mid-life career change

How to change careers at 40

Best careers to start at 40

Need a hand?

We understand. It’s time for a career change. 

Whether you’re leaving a toxic boss, you’ve fallen out of love with your industry, or you want more control over your prospects, you’re not alone. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 4 million Americans quit their job every month from July 2021 through January 2022. The trend isn’t slowing down so far. 

According to research recently published in MIT’s Sloan Management Review, toxic corporate cultures, reorganizations, and job insecurity are the leading causes of employee turnover

So you aren’t alone.

That doesn’t mean it’s not scary. Changing careers can be intimidating at any age. You might be leaving behind a professional network, social connections, and a reputation and skillset. This is all magnified when you’re in your 40s, have worked hard to establish yourself somewhere, and may have more financial and family responsibilities to consider. 

You might be weighing the pros and cons of leaving, thinking about how you will support your family, or feel that you’ve wasted time on a career you don’t like. It can be overwhelming.

You also don’t want to get swept up in the hype of job switching just because every other headline is talking about it. “The great regret” describes the problem of believing the “grass is always greener” and being more realistic about what you can expect from a job or employer.

The first step is to take a deep breath, and then have a sip of water. Let’s go over some things that can help you make decisions on your journey.

 

Is it possible to make a career change at 40?

You’ve probably grown a lot since your first job — personally and professionally. You learned how to speak up in meetings, work constructively with difficult team members, keep productive with self-talk, and reinvent yourself time and time again. 

With all of this under your belt, it makes sense that you might consider a career change. You have different needs now than before and different interests. You also know more about the possibilities. Your job might no longer be the right fit.

Yes, it is possible to start a new career at 40 — or 50, or 60, for that matter. It might take some extra effort, but it’s never too late to set new personal and professional goals and live a  life that feels meaningful.

BetterUp can help you find the best way forward. With support you can review your values, skills, accomplishments, and certifications — and also frustrations —to find the right career for your life situation now.

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4 advantages of a mid-life career change

In many ways, you’re better off switching careers now than later. You might also find it easier to change jobs now than when you were younger. Here’s what you have going for you.

1. You’re already a pro

You’ve likely been in the workforce for at least 20 years, or longer if you include that summer job from high school. You’ve learned a lot since then, and chances are that many of your skills will be transferable to a new career. Lean on your years of experience.

2. You still have plenty of time

Assuming you plan to retire at 67 years old (the full retirement age for those born after 1959), you still have plenty of time to save money and develop yourself in a new career. You may have even more time: According to recent analysis of US workers, 55% plan to continue to work in retirement. Changing careers might also come with a pay raise and a 401k employer match program.

3. Your mental health will thank you

Working a job you don’t like is stressful, can lead to burnout, and often takes a toll on your personal life. Long-term, this can lead to lethargy, anxiety, or depression. In addition to seeking mental health support if your symptoms are severe, a new career could help you feel energized again.

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4. You can live a life that brings more satisfaction

No matter how you define success, this is a chance for you to reconfigure things how you want. Whether you want a better work-life balance, a higher salary, or a leadership position, changing careers could be what you need.

4 challenges to a mid-life career change

For all of its potential, adjusting your career path at 40 does have some drawbacks..

1. You have more responsibilities now

By now, you might own a house, have kids, or be a caregiver to an elderly parent. If you need to go back to school to prepare for a career transition, this might eat into your other responsibilities or savings.

2. You have more expenses

You might have to take a pay cut or transition to an entry-level job, so keep this in mind: the cost of living for a 40-year-old is higher than when you were younger. Gone are the days when you could handle a week straight of 99 cent noodles.

You will need a plan to cover the mortgage, healthcare, and other bills and expenses. At the same time, you won’t necessarily have to take an entry-level position, if you can tell a good story about the relevance of your skills and experiences.

3. It’s not just about you

In your 20s, it was easy to hop from job to job without a second thought. But now, you may have to lean on your spouse or partner as you make the switch. You should consult them before making any big decisions.

These considerations might make you more risk averse. They hold many people from taking the plunge. Just remember, not doing anything, feeling that your work and values are misaligned or that you’re wasting your life — that’s a risk with real costs as well.

Couple-Talking-In-The-Living-Room-career-change-at-40

How to change careers at 40

Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons, it’s go-time. Here’s some advice on how to change your career at any stage and make the transition as smooth as possible:

1. Information is power

Make sure you know what you’re stepping into. Research your dream job, reach out to people on LinkedIn, investigate companies on Glassdoor, and make a list of skills you need to be successful in that role. This process will also help you think of questions to ask prospective hiring managers.

2. Be clear on why you’re looking for change

Take a moment — more than a few moments — to reflect on why you want to leave. Write down all of your reasons for leaving. Then reframe by focusing on the positive — what are all the things you are hoping to get in a new career? You don’t want to make a decision based just on running away or escaping a situation.

This will help you determine whether you want a career change or just a new company, role, or workplace. Either way, only you can decide if it’s worth it for you to quit. Consider if you can improve things at your current job. If you decide to leave, you’ll have a list of things to avoid in your career search.

 

 

3.  Experiment

Look for ways to dip your toes in the water. Get curious and lean into learning through doing. There might be part-time opportunities to explore different work environments or develop your skills. Try to shadow someone in the field, volunteer, or start a side hustle before committing to it full-time. These things can give you a realistic flavor of what’s to come.

4. Identify your transferable skills

Some of your skills might be specific to your current career, like your intimate knowledge of corporate processes, proprietary software, or anything else niche. Still, there’s sure to be some overlap between your current role and your dream career. 

Learn what employees in the roles you’re looking for have. If you’re trying to change careers but you have no degree or higher education, that’s okay — you have plenty of real-world knowledge and experience that fresh graduates don’t.

Look for skills that can apply to other fields. Here are some things you can include in a resume or cover letter, no matter the job:

  • Communication skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Leadership skills
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity

Make sure to have examples for each. This will put you on the right track to nail your job interview.

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5. Keep developing your skills

You want to show that you are committed to learning and making a career change. And that you’re capable of it. Don’t wait to land a new job to start upskilling yourself with new skills for the future.

Focus on one or two areas that might be big gaps for you — like social media strategy. Go for a working understanding of new skills or knowledge rather than trying to develop deep expertise in a technical area. 

Best careers to start at 40

Depending on your situation, you can start fresh in just about any career.  Some of them are going to be a lot harder if you're truly starting from scratch in your 40s. For instance, becoming an astronaut or a professional athlete are probably off the table.

Joking aside, if you aren't already in the field, careers that require a significant accumulation of specialized knowledge and practice hours will be harder to build a new career in. Transferrable skills will only take you so far in open-heart surgery. So will careers that tend to have a very structured, formal career path.

At the same time, with the right combination of confidence and humility, learning mindset and imagination, these formal careers can be ripe for fresh, outsider perspective. You may need to think more creatively about less-technical related roles or be prepared for a few years of education and low-paid apprenticeship.

Some career fields are more straightforward than others. Here are some of the best career changes to consider for your switch:

1. Event planner

Event planning is the same across industries, so you don’t have to worry about overly technical training. But this field requires meticulous attention to detail and great people skills. 

Woman-In-Her-40s-With-Male-Colleague-Talking-In-Office-career-change-at-40

2. Project manager

Here you would oversee all aspects of a project. You might need some basic technical knowledge, depending on the industry. But you would be mostly leaning on your time management, communication, and leadership skills.

3. Freelancer or consultant

Many career changers find success as entrepreneurs. Here you can use many of your current skills, with the added responsibilities of running your own business. You have to be sure that your skills are in demand and have a list of potential clients.

It might take some trial and error to dial in your offering. Love to write? There are a lot of general freelance writers. Do you have expertise in B2B copywriting and love being part of integrated campaigns? Or, are you more of a communications specialist? Maybe you've noticed that clients struggle with in-depth writing or have generic blog posts?

Do some homework on the types of pain points potential customers might have that you could solve. And, be prepared to constantly add new skills and expand your understanding of the related issues around your area of expertise.

Need a hand?

Making a career change at 40 doesn’t have to be scary. Many people will help you make this life transition. You’ll be gathering information from prospective colleagues, leaning on your mentors for advice, and depending on your friends and family for moral support. You can even read career books about career changes. 

You can also add BetterUp to the list.  Our coaches will help you understand your values, define your goals, and become the best version of yourself. Together you can make a plan, develop new skills, and find the right dream  career for your next phase.

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Published April 15, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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