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When you initially choose a career, you don’t take a vow to remain in that occupation until you die as you do with marriage. At some point in your adult life, you may decide that a career switch is in order. Before you start down that path, there are some things to consider, including why you want to make a change and whether you can continue to support yourself after the transition.
1. Midlife Career Changes Aren’t Easy
Before you even consider moving into a different occupation, you should first understand what’s involved. Even if you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’ll need to invest work in gaining the education and experience necessary for your new position. If you aren’t willing to tackle the challenge with the same energy you exhibited when you launched your first career, you may be better off finding a new hobby.
Before you begin your new pursuit, make sure you understand the reason you want to change. Is there a way to stay within your same general area of expertise but do something slightly different? An attorney may choose to become a real estate broker or legal recruiter, for instance, and still be able to put existing credentials and experience to use.
2. Will Your Family Be Impacted?
A midlife career transition is usually tough because of the existing life you have set up. If you have children and a partner counting on your income and attention, you’ll need to factor in the impact your change in career will have on them. This is especially true if the occupation you’re pursuing requires attending classes to get an additional degree or certification.
Benefits are especially important as you get older. If your current job offers health insurance and retirement savings options, make sure you won’t have to give that up if you make a switch. You’ll especially find that not being able to put money toward savings will cost you if you hope to retire in the next decade or two.
3. The Grass Isn’t Always Greener
If you want to make a change, one of your first steps is to know exactly what the end result will be. If you’re still coming up with midlife career change ideas with no clear occupation in sight, you may want to spend some time really investigating different options to find the right fit. They say the grass is always greener on the other side for a reason. Escaping your current situation may not bring the answer you think it will.
Even if you have a career in mind, though, it’s equally important to spend time researching. You can get plenty of information online, but that won’t tell you what day-to-day life is like in that occupation. Reach out to your own contacts and see if someone in that job will let you act as a shadow for a day or two to see what’s really involved.
4. Don’t Act in Haste
The truth is that you may change your mind about your new career more than once before you finish your transition. To avoid making a mistake, stop and take time to think things through. Spend that time investigating the discontent you feel in your current situation and asking what the problem actually is. You may not even want to switch careers as much as simply finding a work environment that is a better fit for your own personality.
During this introspective period, you can also take time to think about the type of work you’d like to do. There are many career aptitude tests you can take to learn more about yourself and the type of job that’s the best fit. At the very least, you could take a personality test to understand your own traits so that you can better apply them to a job.
5. Required Training and Education
Once you’ve narrowed down your midlife career change ideas to just one, you’ll need to carefully consider what you’ll have to do to get your resume up to speed. Some of the highest-paying jobs require you to put in some serious time in a classroom environment, but the good news is that many degrees can now be earned online. Look into the cost and hours you’ll need to invest to get the credentials necessary to land a job in your new profession.
If you already have a college degree, look into the possibility of getting a master’s degree in your chosen field. In some instances, you may not even need an additional degree at all. In fact, today’s employers are increasingly deprioritizing college majors in candidates in favor of looking at soft skills like communication and problem-solving abilities. You may be able to take the degree you already have and apply it to the new career, provided you have taken a few courses to get yourself up to speed on what you need to know.
6. Passion Doesn’t Always Pay
Ideally, your midlife career transition has you pursuing a job that pays better than what you’re currently making. However, in many cases, people want to trade in a job that pays well for one that is more closely tied to their passion. If you’re leaving your engineering job to be a newspaper reporter, for instance, you need to be fully aware of the difference in pay those two occupations have and decide whether you’re willing to take that cut.
One of the biggest problems with a midlife career change salarywise is that you’ll probably be considered at entry level or slightly above. Even if you can put your experience in your previous career to use in earning an elevated position, you still won’t have the years behind you that you had in your first career, which often means at least a moderate pay cut.
7. Not All Jobs Are Safe
The economy may be healthy now, but what happens if the employment rate tanks, or the economy suffers a blow? You may be in a somewhat secure position only to find that you’ve left that job for an industry that is the first to make cutbacks when things get tough. This is especially true as more jobs are being automated to save money.
As part of your research, check into the market growth predictions for your new career. BLS.gov will show market predictions through 2026 for many different occupations to help you compare different careers. There are also some industries that are generally recession proof, including health care, law enforcement and technology.
8. You May Have to Move
Preferably, your midlife career transition will allow you to continue to live where you currently do, but you need to make sure of this as part of your preparation to change careers. Some jobs, such as teaching and consulting, may require you to relocate to another city or even across the country. Make sure you can uproot your family and adjust to a new city before choosing a career that requires that.
In some cases, you won’t have to move, but you will have to hop a plane at least occasionally. In fact, some jobs require constant travel. Consider whether your current lifestyle supports your need to leave home on Monday and come home on Friday if your chosen occupation requires it.
9. Getting the Required Experience
As you’re coming up with midlife career change ideas, you likely will be all too aware that your resume may need another item or two to qualify you for the job you want. The good news is that there are things you can do that can boost your chances. Consider interning for a few months, if possible, to get that credential. You’ll likely get little to no pay, but if it helps you land a job quicker, it will be worth it.
Instead of an internship, you may decide to get experience in other ways. Volunteering for a nonprofit, for instance, can help you get experience if you’re going into marketing, grant writing or bookkeeping. If you belong to a church, check to see if you can help out in some capacity to get some resume credits.
10. Engage in Networking
If you’ve been in your current career for a while, you probably have a full database of contacts. Those colleagues serve you well now, but a midlife career change means you’ll probably need to broaden your network. A good start is to simply let people currently in your life know that you’re making that change. In many cases, introductions will follow.
A passive approach probably won’t suffice if you want to build a network quickly, though. Look for local networking groups where people in your new industry are likely to spend time. Once you have your new job and some business cards, you’ll probably find that you need to network even further, meeting people relevant to your industry to make the connections you need to get ahead.
11. You’ll Need Friends
In addition to professional networking, you also should put time into building friendships with others who are interested in breaking into your industry. If you take classes or work toward a degree, you’ll probably run into those people there. Those people will be invaluable as you tackle the challenges of making a career shift.
It's also important to not lose touch with your current friend group. Those who were there for you in your previous job can help with the transition. They may even provide a welcome break from the work you’re doing to develop new skills and qualifications.
12. Things May Not Change
Unfortunately, your career switch may simply have you exchanging one set of problems for another. The new job won’t be perfect either. You’ll still have annoying co-workers, too many meetings, daily stresses and whatever other issues you have in your current position.
However, if the work itself isn’t the right fit, a change might be exactly what you need. If you are sure that you’re trading in that Monday-morning dread for a job you’ll eagerly tackle every day, look into a switch. Just make sure you know that the job will be everything you imagine before you get too far into things.
13. Landing a Job
After you’ve gained the credentials you need for the new job, it’s time to start your job search. First, you’ll need to update your resume, but you’ll also need to put work into your online presence, starting with your LinkedIn profile. Recruiters and potential employers may find you there as well as the employers who look you up after you submit your application or resume.
LinkedIn can also be great for networking. To find new connections, select "My Network" and take a look at the suggestions the platform has for you. The more people you add who are relevant to your new career, the more suggestions you’ll get in that area. Set a goal to send connection requests to a specific number of people each week so you can quickly grow your network.
- The Muse: Leaving the Law: 5 Alternate Career Paths for Lawyers
- Forbes: 4 Important Things To Consider Before Making A Midlife Career Change
- The Muse: 6 High-Paying Jobs That Are Great for Career Changers
- U.S. News & World Report: Your College Major Does Not Define Your Career
- Monster: Working for Less: When It’s OK to Take a Pay Cut
- Money Crashers: Top 10 Recession Proof Jobs – Do They Exist?
- The Muse: 5 Smart Networking Strategies for Career Changers
- Rewire: Considering a Career Change? Do These Things First
- Mind Tools: How to Use LinkedIn Effectively
Stephanie Faris is a novelist and business writer whose work has appeared on numerous small business blogs, including Zappos, GoDaddy, 99Designs, and the Intuit Small Business Blog. She worked for the State of Tennessee for 19 years, the latter six of which were spent as a supervisor. She has written about business for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2011.
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