Changing a career at 40 years of age

It’s often said: forty is the new thirty and the time at which careers thrive.

Assuming you went to university (or even if you didn’t), chances are that by the time you reach the age of 40 you will have been working for some 19 years, possibly in the same, or a related field.

It’s therefore quite likely you’ll begin to wonder ‘is this all there is or is it time to make a move and start afresh?’ Many people simply don’t know how to change career.

In this article we will cover the type of questions and thought processes you may need to work through before reaching what could be a life changing decision.

Is a Career Change at 40 The Right Thing To Do?

It would be a bit rash to say “it’s never too late” but changing career at 40 means you still have 25-30 years to fulfil your dreams. It’s not the end of the world. Keep in mind these tips are you read on.

Positive Changes

There are many positives to be cited for thinking about a career change in your 40s, here are just a few:

  • Learning new skills is a proven way to reduce the likelihood of age related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
  • You already have a proven work ethic and can demonstrate staying power, all things employers value, so in theory ‘you’re a catch’
  • You have a heap of experience!
  • There is so much opportunity out there – go get it tiger!
  • It may be the opportunity of a lifetime – telling your grandchildren you worked in the same office, factory or business for your whole working career may not be a particularly scintillating story
  • Changing careers at 40 still gives you 25+ years to hone your skills in your new role, i.e. it’s not too late to still reach the top of the ladder, assuming that’s what you want
  • Given the importance of a career – at least a job, so you might as well enjoy it and make it a career – a career change can be massively satisfying

Negative Changes

  • Money isn’t always the driving factor. Perhaps you’re looking for a new opportunity or a change of scene? Maybe you’ve recently moved to a different area and would be thank for any related job? Employers will expect you to demand a higher salary than a 20 year old and thus not consider you for a lower lever/training role
  • Not every change in career works out! Consider why you’re leaving. Are you bored? Is the company closing? Has the company been bought? Often changing a job is not your decision
  • Unless you have a very clear goal in sight and you know what it is you want to do, you run the risk of jumping from a career to a succession of lower paid ‘dead end’ roles whilst trying to establish your new direction
  • If you do have to accept a lower salary the harsh reality may in fact be harsher than you imagine
  • Changing a career at 40 needs a lot of thought. You’ll likely have more responsibilities than 20 years ago: family, mortgage, investments etc. Can you afford for it to go wrong?
  • You may have ignored the fact that it isn’t a change of career you actually seek, just a change in routine and figuratively speaking, jump out of the frying pan into the fire



Your Career at 40. It’s Different from Being 20, 30 or 50

In your 20s you probably accepted a job because you needed one, in order to earn that salary which would ultimately get you on the housing ladder or at least cover the rent. If you were lucky this was something you enjoyed and it therefore became your career.

By the age of 30, you perhaps had that house, maybe a couple of kids, a spouse or partner and continued plugging away at the job because you had to – bills need paying after all. The pace of your life was so hectic that the luxury of spending time analysing your career (or lack of) was impossible.

Now you’re 40, the children are older and require less of your time, which affords the opportunity to begin to wonder ‘what if’… but you still have the mortgage plus all the bills life throws at us.

Looking ahead 10 years to when you reach 50, the children may have flown the nest, the mortgage may have been paid and all of a sudden, the need to earn the large salary is somewhat diminished – but there’s something missing.

You still have that desire to achieve. Great!

Or maybe it’s suddenly dawned on you that you could retire in 20 years and you have nothing to show for it. Getting a job at 50 will be different from 40.

Each decade of your life is different, with varying needs, thus your ability or desire to change careers changes as you mature.

What Questions Should You be Asking?

  • Do opportunities exist? Assuming you have some idea what it is you want to do, are there job openings available?
  • Are there different opportunities in your current job? Rather than jump feet first into something new, have you really explored the possibilities in your current role? Could you take on extra responsibility? Are there opportunities for more training? Could you switch departments, even roles? Make sure you explore all the possibilities
  • Are earnings better? If money is still a priority, what could you earn elsewhere and are the prospects any good?
  • Are you better off where you are? Sometimes it’s a case of ‘better the devil you know’! Would a move improve anything for you? Investigate the companies you could see yourself working for/with – is what they offer dramatically different from what you already have?
  • Is the move radically different or the same job in a different business? Unless you intend a major career switch, do you really need to move to another business (see the point above)? If it’s the same job, just somewhere else, will it make you any happier?
  • Impact on your family? Would you need to relocate? Would your children have to move school? Would you be earning more, or less money and how could that impact your family life. Could you end up working unsocial hours?
  • What if it goes wrong? If it all goes horribly wrong, you move jobs and the new firm goes under for example. Or you switch careers only to find you hate the new one. Or end up earning less. Or the job isn’t stack up to what you thought. What could happen to your finances? Have contingency plans in place, savings, investments, even insurance to cover loss of earnings
  • Employment or your own business? Do you want to work for someone else, or are you ready to strike out alone? Weigh up the pros and cons of each scenario

Why Are You Changing Jobs?

This is important and needs to be nailed.

  • Boredom? If you are simply bored of what you are doing, could you effect some changes within your current role which may make you happier?
  • End of contract? If you were on a fixed term contract and it has come to an end, could you look to have it extended (assuming of course you want to). To be honest, in this scenario, the question you should be asking yourself is why you waited until the end of a contract before making a decision on your future path
  • More money? If money is the issue, make sure you ascertain that a switch will be financially beneficial. Also consider asking for a pay rise
  • More family time? Does your current job involve long hours, unpaid overtime and/or unsocial hours? We all see the value in spending more time with our families but there is no guarantee that changing jobs will improve that
  • Business closing down? Perhaps facing redundancy is the cause of you re-evaluating your career choice; redundancy is horrible but don’t make the mistake of choosing change for the sake of it: if you have always been an IT manager, don’t suddenly decide to be a school teacher as a knee jerk reaction to the end of your current role
  • Relocation? Maybe you have to move to be nearer family? It may seem like an ideal time to re-train, start again but make sure you are not giving yourself one too many changes to cope with in one go. Yes, you will need to find a new job but is it really the best time to switch careers too?
  • Illness/incapacity? An accident, or debilitating illness may force you to accept that you can no longer carry out the type of work you did before – that doesn’t mean you won’t work again, just that you will need to reassess your capabilities. As Stephen Hawking famously said ‘there is always something you can do’
  • Better work-life balance: this goes hand in hand with ‘more family time’ and is definitely something worth pursuing – does this mean changing careers though, or simply working out new ways to do what you are already doing. Talk it over with your current employer to see if you can work compressed hours, or even from home
  • New business opportunity: Have you always fancied yourself as something of an entrepreneur? Perhaps the perfect opportunity has been presented to you. Just take the time to investigate thoroughly before making a decision

Assuming you have considered all of the above and are still determined to make that move, what could hold you back?

  • You! Yep, we are our own worst enemies! Despite all of the thinking, planning, investigating etc. you are no closer to making that switch than when you started. Ask yourself why!
  • Indecision: or more accurately perhaps procrastination! It’s easy to talk about a career switch but much harder to implement!
  • Lack of opportunity: you’ve made the decision and are actively pursuing your plans but the opportunities aren’t out there, you can’t find them or the perfect moment/job hasn’t arrived
  • Small business sector: perhaps your dream career is very niche with limited vacancies
  • Finances: You don’t have a safety buffer to allow you to just jump into perhaps what may be your dream job but it doesn’t pay enough

To Quit Or Not To Quit?

… that is the question! Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. How bad is the situation?

Should you resign then look for a job or look for (and be offered) a new role before handing in your notice? It will of course depend on how much of a risk taker you are!

How to go about Changing your Career?

You’ve made the decision, identified what you want and are ready to go, but how do you to go about it?

  • Do you need to go all in? Could you perhaps look at doing some part-time work in the role you wish to change to? Or, if you are planning on striking out alone, could you begin by doing some hours in your spare time to ascertain that there is a market requirement?
  • Assess where you are: look at where you are now, what you have already achieved and be prepared to take your time to find something that will fulfil your needs
  • Know what you want to do: keep in your mind why you are making this switch and be very clear on what is you want to change to – don’t accept the first thing that comes along if it doesn’t match what you really want to do
  • Be flexible in your options: ensure that what you move to is what you want to do but be flexible, i.e. you may want to be a beauty therapist but are offered a role with a leading cosmetic company. Does it tick any of your boxes?
  • Job sites: brush up your CV. It may be a good idea to seek professional help to do this. Upload it to various job sites. Do your research first though – there’s little point signing up to a site designed for nurses if you are a plumber!
  • Network: step out of your comfort zone and get out there talking to people. Tell them you’re in the market for a new job and ask for recommendations and referrals
  • Family and friends: ask your family and friends to keep their eyes open for possible opportunities and get them to network on your behalf
  • Former/existing colleagues: reach out to former workmates to see if they know of any openings.
  • Retrain? If you are planning a complete career change investigate what retraining you will need and actively seek out the appropriate courses. You may need to go back to university (or study for the first time) so find out what skills are required, what qualifications you need and where the best providers are.
  • Seek help! There’s lots out there! Find it and use it!

So What Should You Do?

We’re all living longer, healthier lives and the retirement age is gradually being pushed upwards, there is every chance therefore that we can expect our working lives to be at least 50 years.

This also makes it possible to have more than one successful career and we shouldn’t have to adhere to the old paradigm of a job for life anymore (unless that is what you want and it is physically possible).

There is no reason to see a career change age 40 as a bad thing – on the contrary, it could very well be the start of a flourishing second career and life enhancing possibilities.

Talk to Success Stream. We can help guide you through those difficult decisions.

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