A lot has changed over the past three years. Since the pandemic, loads of workers have been re-evaluating their lives and their careers. Now, in 2023, it’s really brought things to the fore. Working from home has become more popular, workers crave a better work-life balance, and many industries are struggling. Questions such as, “Do I want to be stuck in this career that I’m not particularly enjoying because it’s easier?” or, “Is it time for a change as no-one knows what is around the corner?” are being asked all over the US.
Back in the day, before this job upheaval on a national scale occurred, most employees took one path, down one career, to retirement. It was much easier than re-training or starting from the bottom. If you were settled in a career, you’d never dream of planning a career change at 40. It just wouldn’t have entered your mind.
But things have changed. 40 isn’t considered old anymore. It’s barely even middle-aged. 40 is the new 30, after all. So you’ve got it all—life / professional experience and straight-up knowhow. You might lack a bit of youthful ambition and energy, but you make up for it in so many other ways.
If you’re looking for a career change at 40, then look no further than this article for advice, hints, and tips on how to approach it.
Why do you want to change careers?
What is it about your current career that is so dissatisfying? Or maybe there’s nothing wrong with it, you just fancy a change. Also known as the mid-career pivot, if you want a career change at 40, or any time during your middle years, you need to pinpoint exactly why and what you want to change to.
To follow neglected passions
Confucius put it best when he said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Too often, people leave their true passion behind in exchange for financial gain or security, only indulging themselves in their passion as a hobby or a weekend delight, be that baking, producing music, acting, or whatever floats your boat. But experience has shown you that there is more to life than a fat paycheck.
There is nothing more important in your career than being fulfilled. Whether it is starting your own business or starring in a Broadway play, pursuing your passion is an excellent reason to change careers.
To reduce stress
At some point, stress is going to creep into your job; it’s inevitable. When that happens, there could become a point when it just isn’t worth it anymore. You might have thrived on stress back when you were in your 20s, but now, aged 40, you have a different perspective and different values. Or you might have put up with it because the money was so mind-blowing. Either way, you’re sick and tired of the unrelenting stress. It is time for a change.
Top tip: Ensure that the stress you feel is due to your career, and not just your specific job or company. Think about what is truly causing the stress in your life before jumping the gun and changing careers.
For a change of pace
Are you sick of moving at breakneck speed? Or maybe the sloth-paced atmosphere of your career path has become tiresome? Either way, a change of pace could provide a resurgence of energy and motivation.
Similar to stress, this may be a product of your office environment, and not your career per se. So take a step back and evaluate why your job is paced the way it is. If that style of work is unavoidable in your career, it is time for a change.
The advantages of a career change at 40
If you are going to do it, do it now.
You might actually find that it’s easier to change jobs in your 40s than when you were younger. Let’s look at some advantages of pursuing a career change at 40.
You are already a professional
If the calculations are correct, and you started work fresh out of college, you have probably been part of the workforce for about 20 years. Your skill set will be amazing! Not only that but many of them are likely to be transferable, such as interpersonal qualities, communication style, and time management skills.
So lean in on your years of experience, as they could come in very handy when you undertake a career change at 40.
You have loads of time still
Assuming that you plan to retire at the age of 67, which is the current retirement age for those born after 1960 when you can start to receive benefits from Social Security, you have still got plenty of time to develop and flourish within a new career, and save money for your retirement years.
It will give your mental health a boost
Trudging through the work day, or night, in a position that’s stressful, that you don’t enjoy, or that gives you the Sunday evening blues, can really take its toll. You find yourself snapping at your partner, unable to sleep, or feeling concerned all the time, your heart fluttering and pumping abnormally. If this carries on, it could lead to anxiety or depression. Seeking some support is worthwhile in the short term. Changing careers could make you feel energized again.
You will be more fulfilled
For some people success is charted by money, money, money. It’s what makes the world go round, isn’t it? Not necessarily. A career change at 40 gives you the space to reconfigure things, and how you want the rest of your working life to pan out. Are you looking for a more balanced life, where work isn’t the be all and end all? We spend a third of our lives working, if in full-time positions, so it has got to be right. Prioritizing wellbeing and giving yourself a second chance to do something truly satisfying has got to be a good thing.
The disadvantages of a career change at 40
While there are many pros of considering a career change at 40, be aware of some of the potential drawbacks before taking the leap.
“Am I going to be good enough?” “What if I fail?” “How will I manage financially?” All these queries are worth facing head-on in order to come up with reasonable and viable solutions. Having self-doubt is perfectly natural, as you are about to undertake a major change in your life. If we think that we’re incapable of achieving something, then we might not try as hard, if at all.
But don’t let this self-doubt sabotage your dreams. Let go of those fears that are holding you back, such as imposter syndrome or thinking that you are too old. Being successful isn’t just about longevity in one role or a single sector.
Head off those doubts by concentrating on all the goals you have already achieved over your career so far, as well as all the skills you have picked up along the way. Don’t view your age as negative, but proof that you have a lot to offer, especially over younger, less experienced candidates.
More responsibilities to consider
At this stage of life, you probably have a number of responsibilities--children, a mortgage, or as a carer to an aging parent. If you’re required to re-train for a new career, which is likely, this could create an uneven balance between your career goals and the other areas of your life.
Taking a pay cut
The reality is you will probably have to take a pay cut when changing careers at 40, or start at an entry level position. This might be a hard nugget of information to swallow, especially if you were on a decent salary in your previous career. But these are the difficult things to consider, and choices to make, so do your homework beforehand.
Will you be able to afford to live on a much lower salary? Will you mind being the “older” member of a new team, where everyone else still seems to have teenage spots, and talks about music that you have never heard of?
The way you live your life will certainly be different than when you were in your 20s. Gone are the days when you didn’t mind living off 99 cent noodles for a week. You need to plan carefully in order to cover your mortgage, healthcare responsibilities, plus other expenses, let alone the kids’ school shoes and residentials.
It’s not all about you anymore
In your carefree 20s, with no dependents or real responsibilities, you could jump from one job to another without a by-your-leave. Now, at this time in your life, you have other people to consider--your partner / spouse, your children, elderly relatives. If you need to rely on your partner to make ends meet while you switch careers, make sure they’re behind you all the way! Talk to them before making any major decisions.
It is tough. You have got to weigh up between your needs and goals, against their considerations and requirements. It might make you risk-averse, holding you back from taking the plunge. But look at it this way--if you don’t do it, you could end up feeling really miserable and totally unfulfilled. And that is a risk in itself.
Where to start?
Now that you have a good idea of the pros and cons of a career change at 40, let’s take a look at how you go about it.
Making the decision to quit
First off, carefully consider the reasons why you are not happy in your current profession. Just because you had a bad week, doesn’t mean you should jack it all in on Monday. It’s not a great idea to be impulsive at this juncture. Also, separate your career from your current role, as it might be the actual position or company you work for that isn’t hitting all the right spots.
Starting a new occupation from scratch is going to be hard, it doesn’t matter how old you are. So think it through thoroughly, over a matter of weeks or months, before coming to a final conclusion.
Maintain professional relationships
Once you are absolutely certain that you want to quit your job, do it in such a way where you can still maintain your network. After all, you meet people going up the career ladder, as well as coming down! So don’t dismiss previous work colleagues, and leave under a cloud.
Having been in a professional environment for at least a decade, you know how important networking is, no matter what profession you are in. It doesn’t matter if you are going from accountancy to opening up a pastry store, each and every connection you make along the way matters.
How to choose your next career
By virtue of reading this blog, you probably have a good idea of where you want to go next. It has been calling your name for some time now, and there’s nowhere else you’d rather be headed.
If you are planning on starting a business, then you are pretty much set on your next move. This is the same for anyone considering a career change at 40 to follow their heart, and turn their hobby or passion into a job.
Or you might be the sort of person who fancies a change but is not quite sure what to do or how to go about it. Taking a career test, where you answer a bunch of questions, and it advises you on a career path, is one way of going about selecting your next career.
Finding a new occupation that lies at the intersection of your passions and skills is a great choice. For example, if you have had a successful career as a Computer Engineer but crave a more social role, why not think about taking up a position as a Computer Science Teacher?
Make sure you are qualified
Most professions require qualifications and / or specific skills in order to do the role. So are you ready to go back to college? Conduct extensive research into those requirements and qualifications needed for your chosen career direction before making any bold decisions.
The likelihood is that you will have to re-train, taking time out of work to do so, in order to gain a new certificate, or even a degree. Undertaking online courses--ones you can do in your own time--are useful at this stage, as it might mean that you can train for your new career while continuing to work in your old one. It will be tough, putting you back amongst those fresh-faced students again, but if you are determined and willing, it will be worth it in the end.
Either way, before you make a career change at 40, ensure you have the right tools to make it a success.
Once you have earned the appropriate qualifications, you can start on the job search, as well as brushing up on your interviewing techniques. Having a high quality and compelling resume will make a world of difference as you navigate your way through this period. Update it with your latest qualifications, putting them front and center, so they reflect your eagerness for your new chosen career.
Top tip: Optimize your job search by cultivating a professional network within the new sector you’ve opted for.
Leverage your current situation by requesting references from your managers. Then tie up any loose ends and understand that you will probably have to survive on less money for a while.
We’re not saying it’s going to be easy. Opting for a career change at 40 can be tough and require a lot of work on your part. But you know how the world works, and you’re ready to use that to your advantage, so go for it. Stay positive, and make sure any decisions you take are well thought out, as this will make the transition for a career change at 40 much smoother and easier.
A major part of a career change at 40 is getting your resume into shape by creating a compelling and well-crafted document. Before you start applying for jobs, take advantage of ZipJob’s free resume review for pointers on how to draft the best resume for you!
Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer, Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer
Elizabeth Openshaw is an Elite CV Consultant with over 12 years of experience based in Brighton, UK, with an English degree and an addiction to Wordle! She is a former Journalist of 17 years with the claim to fame that she interviewed three times Grand Slam winner and former World No.1 tennis player, Andy Murray, when he was just 14 years old. You can connect with her at Elizabeth Openshaw | LinkedIn.