How to make a career change at 40

Published April 28, 2020

We used to think of careers as linear journeys: you’d enter onto the corporate ladder in your twenties, and work your way up.

How to make a career change at 40

Today, things are a little different. Sheryl Sandberg nailed it when she wrote: “A jungle gym scramble is the best description of my career. I could never have connected the dots from where I started to where I am today.”

Because, really, careers are full of twists and turns and ups and downs. There are countless opportunities available to us, not all of which follow a straight line. And when you can’t see the next meaningful step, you start to question everything.

Am I good at my job? Am I making progress? Am I happy?

These insecurities can particularly sting midway through a professional life. Perhaps you’ve been in the same occupation for your whole career and have a wealth of experience. You might have even achieved a few promotions and reached the top of your industry’s “jungle gym”.

The downside is, you’re no longer happy. You’ve either run out of challenges, and are coasting through each day. Or your priorities, values, or needs have shifted, so your job no longer serves you or your purpose.

Dissonance between the job you have at 40 and the job you want at 40 can leave you hungry for change — so why not go for it?

The days of a ‘job for life’ or a single career path are well and truly over. Now, more and more people are developing broader skills to prepare themselves for an ever-diversifying world of work.

But before you follow suit, you need to make sure you know what you’re up against.

The pros of a career change at 40

Deciding whether to stick or twist can be incredibly daunting — especially if the status quo tells you the former. But if the latter results in a happier, more fulfilled you, then it’s definitely worth taking the plunge.

The right career change can positively impact your whole life. Not only will your mental wellbeing benefit from a renewed sense of purpose, but your social life will flourish as you attain a more positive outlook on day-to-day life.

Plus, by the age of 40, you probably have a clearer idea of what you really want from life. Maybe you rushed into your fast-paced career and have realized it doesn’t allow enough time to spend with your loved one. Perhaps you want a more challenging job which utilizes your strengths and pushes your skillset.

If, like many, you plan to retire at 65, you still have over two decades of work ahead of you. While it may take a couple of years to prepare for a new job, the next 25 (or more, depending on financial needs) years will be so much more rewarding if they’re spent doing something you enjoy.

The cons of a career change at 40

As that old saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener — especially when it comes to finances.

Seeking pastures new at the age of 40 is potentially more dicey than it would have been 10 years ago. At 40, you are now more likely to have added responsibilities: you may have a mortgage to pay, or children who need your support.

Annual expenses are higher for 45-54 year-olds than they are for 25-34 year-olds. Approximately 22% of salary is spent on housing, while 31.5% is spent on gas and insurance, food, vehicles and household expenses.

If you’ve been in a steady, well-paid job for years now, then a career change represents somewhat of a financial risk. Chances are, if you’re looking to enter a totally new role or sector, then you’ll need to take a step back in both seniority and pay grade.

So why would you want to earn less, when your outgoings are more?

Unfortunately, a career change always brings this element of uncertainty. You may not want to, or be able to, progress further in your current career, but equally, there’s no telling what sacrifices you’ll have to make in your new position.

4 tips for making a career change at 40

Don’t be deterred by these potential drawbacks. Making a career change right now, for all its risk, has the potential to change your life for the better — providing you do your research.

Assess yourself

Finding a job you love, in an ideal sector, is no mean feat. You need to start narrowing down your options pretty quickly.

Ask yourself the following questions…

Do you feel fulfilled in your current role?

Before you make any decisions, it’s worth considering what you’d miss from your current job.

If you dislike your boss but fundamentally enjoy the role and its purpose, it might be worth talking to the management to iron out any issues.

If, however, you’ve lost your passion, or the company isn’t the right fit anymore, this is the moment to rethink your career.

What do you like and dislike about your job?

If you could cherry pick certain aspects of your job, what would they be and how could you integrate them into a new career?

For instance, if you’re a project manager who loves the workflow but yearns for a more exciting environment, it might be worth taking your skills into a new sector. Technology companies, SaaS, and digital services are always on the lookout for PMs or product managers with your level of experience.

Sometimes working out what you don’t like is the best way to identify next steps. It can help to refocus and put things into perspective, meaning you could potentially pivot, rather than taking a totally radical career move.

Be practical

Once you’ve got those answers, it’s time to get the ball rolling.

A career change at 40 has something a career change at 30 or 35 simply can’t compete with: years of proven experience. And while you may wonder how decades of analyzing databases will help you break into the world of movie-making, we’ve got two words: transferable skills.

In any role, there are a set of hard and soft skills required to get the job done, whether that’s using spreadsheets or managing a team. As an experienced worker, you can leverage the skills you’ve already honed to get your new career off to a flying start.

So, be practical. Choose a career where your existing skills can come to the fore. This will make your transition quicker and more comfortable.

Do your research

The last thing you want to do is jump at the first opportunity, in fear another one will never arise. As with any job hunt, you need to know for sure that the role is right for you — and that the company has staying power.

You can avoid knee-jerk reactions by really understanding the sector you’re applying to. We’re talking office locations, economic outlook, median earnings, job duties, everything. There is a bunch of information for this on Google, LinkedIn and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

It’s a good rule to make a tangible list of pros and cons to each job. Great pay but too far from home? Ideal location but too much responsibility? This will allow you to visualize your next move and ensure you aren’t just changing careers for change’s sake.

Get a personal mentor

Remember, you’re not the only person to change career at 40! Countless others have gone before you, and many others will follow behind. You may even find a personal mentor who’s succeeded in the exact same journey you’re starting.

MentorCruise offers a selection of expert career mentors who use tailored, consistent, 1-2-1 interaction to encourage your personal and professional growth.

Step up your career change game plan, prepare for interviews, find that dream job and embrace a new-found confidence, as your personal mentor will listen to your doubts, provide solutions and kick-start your new career — even at 40!

Sound good? Find your mentor now at www.mentorcruise.com