Changing careers at 40: How to transition successfully

changingcareersat40If you are like most people, you chose a job straight out of college. You picked the best you could find at that time, and that was about 20 years ago. Since then, you’ve worked at turning that job into a career. Some ups, some downs, but you’ve stuck through it. But though you have another 20 years or so before you retire, you can’t wait to get out of your job. Well, take heart, you’re not alone. There are thousands of other Americans who share your predicament.

Forty is actually a great time to make a career transition, to something you’re passionate about and that leverages your key strengths. At this age, you have the experience and the maturity to make a better career choice, than you did fresh out of college. However, unlike a fresh college graduate, you probably have a family – a wife and kids – plus a mortgage to take care of. You probably also have elderly parents who need care. This means you need to plan carefully before you take the plunge and transition into a new career.

Are you changing for the right reason?

Are you changing your job because you’re bored? Because you’re not good at it? Is it because you don’t quite feel fulfilled and want to pursue other passions? Make sure you’re not just running away. One of the best reasons is if you’re doing it to grow, to better leverage your strengths, or to get on to a better career track – better either emotionally or financially. If you are a mother, looking to relaunch your career, then this course may help you make a smoother transition. Be clear about your reasons. It’ll go a long way to help you through the ups and downs ahead.

Take your family into confidence

Chances are that by now you have a family, or other dependents. You cannot balk on your commitment to them. Any change that you make in your career, is also going to have an impact on them. Take them into confidence early on. Explain why you feel it is important for you to make these career changes and the growth opportunities it brings for you. Discuss your plans to mitigate the risk, with them.

Make sure your finances are in order

Changing career tracks will mean you’ll be the newbie or the outsider in your new job, at least for a while. They’re unlikely to pay you what you were earning in your previous job, where you were relatively established as a senior. That means your income is going to go down, at least for a while. So before you take the plunge, make sure you take the time and effort to get your finances in order. Make arrangements for the mortgage payments. Save up an emergency, or even an expense fund equivalent to six to twelve months of living expenses, at your current lifestyle. While you’re learning the ropes of your new field, you don’t want to have to be nagged about bill payments being late.

Realistically evaluate your strengths

You may not quite have the luxury of time to explore random fields. To make sure you’re not starting from absolute ground zero, choose a new career area that best leverages your strengths. Don’t just jump into a new field because ‘it seems interesting’ or it’s the latest hot area. You may not want to end up spending years in the trenches. Spend time realistically evaluating your skills and strengths. Which of these is marketable? Identify which field or what kind of jobs your skills and strengths would be a good match for. Capitalise on what you have.

Recce the new territory

It’s important you talk to as many people as you can, who are already in that field. Ask them what it’s like. What does their average day look like? Would you really want your everyday to be like that? What are the most important skills that you need to succeed in this new field? Do they match your current skill set? What is the growth trajectory like? Does that match where you want to be a few years from now? You may not like being in the same rut five years down the line. So do your homework right, before you move.

Compliment your skill set

By now you should have decided which field or career you want to switch to. Does your current skill set match what’s required? If yes, you’re doing good my friend. If not , you may want to step back and sign up for some courses in the related areas. This will help you get your feet wet in the new field. If you’re moving into Engineering, you may want to check out this overview of Engineering careers.

Plan out your transition

It’s in your best interest to make the transition as easy as possible for everyone involved. By now you should have taken your family into confidence. If not, now would be a good time to do so. Depending on the kind of policy you have in place at your current job, drop a hint to your manager a bit before the time line you’re officially required to do so. Once you have things in place and give in a formal letter of resignation, offer to make the transition smooth for your boss, by completing your current assignments. Be professional and also offer to help find or ramp up your replacement. It is always better to leave on a good note, rather than burning bridges. It’s a small world.

Many people are afraid of taking the plunge, of changing their careers. It can be quite rewarding if you are doing it for the right reasons, and you plan it out right. At the end of the day, it is your life, your career. If changing careers makes you happier, go for it!