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Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips

Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips

October 11, 2023

By the time you are 40, you might have been working full-time in your chosen career for around 19 years. This is plenty of time to master your chosen career path and ultimately decide that it isn’t right for you.

There are many reasons individuals choose to change careers around the age of 40. This is a common time to start a family and this can reveal changes in your priorities. You might start looking for a career path that offers more flexibility and time to enjoy your hobbies and family life.

This is also a common age to want to take a sabbatical and this might lead you to rethink your priorities and goals in life. Whatever your reasons for getting itchy feet in your career, the good news is that a career change at 40 is not completely unheard of. Many people make drastic changes to their careers at this age, leading them to find happiness and fulfilment in other roles.

How common is a career change at 40?

The average age for a career change is actually between 38 and 39, so deciding that you’re ready for something new at 40 is not completely uncommon. This is thought to be because, by the age of 40, you are at a midpoint in your career. If you aren’t thriving and still finding the work engaging, you might feel stagnant and decide that it’s time for a change.

Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips CMD Recruitment

What are the advantages of a career change at 40?

There are so many advantages to changing careers at 40. Ultimately, if you are unhappy in your current role, then changing careers can only be a positive step. You will also have an opportunity to redirect your attention to the things that matter the most to you.

By the age of 40, you might have increased financial stability, and this will allow you to put passion before profit. When you are younger, you are more likely to chase financial rewards, but getting older might give you the freedom to explore careers that interest you or that are more focused on giving back. 

What are the disadvantages of a career change at 40?

While there are plenty of advantages to changing careers, there are difficulties you can expect to face. First and foremost, you risk losing momentum in your career if you decide to switch direction at 40. You are likely to be quite senior in your organisation, so you may have to start at the bottom and build your way up again.

Another disadvantage of moving careers at 40 is that you might need to take some time off for training. You’ll need a financial buffer to be able to achieve this.

And finally, changing careers at 40 can also impact your pension in the future. If your final pension is based on what you are earning when you retire, this could be lower if you decide to switch careers. You will be behind in your career development, so this could leave you out of pocket when you retire.

Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips CMD Recruitment

Steps for a successful career change at 40

Still thinking about switching careers? There are a few things you will need to do before you make a successful switch. First of all, you need to determine where you are heading. Is this a complete career change? Or are you just taking a step backwards and choosing not to pursue every promotion that comes your way?

Next, consider if you will need a safety net or a buffer. Some people can change careers by retraining in their spare time and getting their next role lined up before they cut ties with their current employer. Others will need to take an extended chunk of time away from work to retrain and get ready for the next step in their career.

These steps will help you to prepare and make sure you are doing the right thing before you burn any bridges or walk away from your current role.

Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips CMD Recruitment

Take stock of your career

First things first, you need to look at the skills you have developed so far in your career so you can determine how best to sell these to prospective employers. 

When you go for job interviews, you will be up against candidates who have been working their way up to this exact role. Whereas you will be coming from a different direction following a complete pivot. This can make some employers nervous, but you can paint this as an advantage if you present it in the right way.

Think about the skills you have developed in your career that are useful and applicable to any job, not just your current career. This could include leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, creativity and communication.

Make a list of your skills and then think about how these apply to your chosen career path. For example, if you have worked in retail sales your whole life and now want a shot at working in the marketing department at the head office, then you need to think about how your experience on the shop floor will translate to a marketing role. 

  • You have the communication skills to speak directly to the customer. 
  • You have extensive brand and product knowledge.
  • You have creativity, demonstrated through your visual merchandising skills.
  • You have the leadership skills, shown through training new staff members.

You might need to go back to school to develop your skills in digital marketing, but you will already have the soft skills you need to succeed in this role. You will actually stand out from other applicants because your approach to the role will be very different to those who have been heading on the same career path.

Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips CMD Recruitment

Speak to an advisor

Not sure how to translate your skills and experience to a new role? Speak to someone with experience in the sector. A recruitment consultant is ideal in this situation, as they will have extensive experience in tailoring CVs to make them more enticing for employers.

They will be able to advise on current hiring trends and help you to decide which qualifications would be most valuable for you to secure.

Go back to school

When changing careers at 40, you can expect to need to head back to school and undergo some additional training. Unless you’re going to start at the bottom of the career ladder and learn on the job, you’ll want some formal training to help accelerate the process.

You could take an evening course before you leave your current role. Or you could go back to university and earn a second degree or Master’s degree – if this is a requirement for the role. Examples of career changes that would require you to go back to university would include things like teaching or nursing.

To train in a career like Law, you could take a Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which has been introduced to phase out the old-style Law Conversion Course.

Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips CMD Recruitment

Gain some experience

Before you jump ship on your current career, it’s important to gain some experience to determine if you have realistic expectations. It’s easy to assume the grass will be greener in your new career, but you need to remember that the grass will be greener where you water it.

Try gaining some experience in your chosen sector through job shadowing, volunteering or work experience. It can be difficult to achieve this when you are older and competing with school leavers for these opportunities, but you can set yourself apart from the competition by highlighting your extensive experience.

Companies are accustomed to work experience placements requiring a lot of hand-holding and guidance, but you might be able to bring some genuine value to your placement. You can also use this as an opportunity to get your foot in the door of companies that could facilitate your career change.

Career Change at 40: Ideas & Tips CMD Recruitment

Be clear on why you are making a change

During job interviews, you can expect to be grilled on your intentions. Employers will want to understand your motivations for making a change. You need to be able to articulate this clearly and turn every possible negative into a positive.

For example, if you are changing careers because you felt stagnant in your previous role, you need to highlight the positive impact your career change will have on your mental health and how this will translate into improved performance in your next role.

Another example would be moving careers because you feel a lack of purpose in your previous career. By choosing someone who is more closely aligned with your values and goals, you’ll be far more invested in your success.

Practise talking about your career change and think about the different ways you can present this to make your application as attractive as possible to prospective employers.

Closing thoughts

Changing careers at 40 is not as uncommon as you might think, and it would be hugely beneficial to your long-term career plans. With some careful planning and a considered approach, you should have no issue navigating a career change later in life.

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