How to Make a Career Change

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Are you feeling stuck in your current career? Frustrated and uninspired? Do you feel tempted to make a big career change, but conflicted because of your age? Let’s find out how to choose a career path that works for you now!

How to Make a Career Change

Wanting to find a new career path at 30 is not uncommon. Consider this career advice: If you plan to retire at 65, you still have 35 years left to work! You deserve to spend those years doing something that excites and enriches you.

A second-act career change at 40 might make you feel like you’re throwing years of experience away, but if you can’t advance, unhappy with the work environment, or feel satisfied in your current career it may be worth considering a change.

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Even a career change at 50, when you’re so close to retirement, isn’t a waste! Those remaining 15 years of employment can either fly by or drag on for an eternity. There are so many career choices for any age – so let’s start your

The point is, no matter your age, if you’re unhappy in your career it may be time to consider something different. And if you’re not sure how to make a career change, we can help!

How to Choose a Career Path in 5 Steps

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Step 1: Assess your current job and your interests

Before you consider a new career path, you need to take time to genuinely and thoroughly evaluate your current position.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when thinking about your career options:

  • What do I like about my current job?
  • What things about my current job make me feel proud, accomplished, or satisfied?
  • What things get me excited about my current job?
  • What do I dislike about my current job?
  • What things about my current job make me feel frustrated, powerless, or stuck?

Be sure to answer these questions over a period of time so that your responses aren’t tainted by a particular workday/week.

As you review your responses, try to determine whether they are influenced by the work itself, the company, or the individuals with whom you work. This will help you decide whether a career change really is appropriate, or perhaps moving to a different workplace would resolve the bulk of your problems.

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Next, assess yourself! If you do decide it’s not just your workplace and you want to change careers at age 30, 40, or 50 years old, you will need to do some self-evaluation.

Think about your past jobs, volunteer work, hobbies, interests, and personality type. What excites you? What will keep you motivated and engaged? What special skills and experience do you bring to the table? Questions like these can help you brainstorm career ideas, and from there you can do job search research to see what qualifications you may need.

Review job descriptions for positions, they provide a lot of insight into the tasks that the job entails so you can see if they are something you like to do or wouldn’t want to do.

Step 2: Establish short-term and long-term career goals, acknowledge risks

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Most adults don’t change careers just for the heck of it; they have goals in mind. Ask yourself: What do you hope to get out of this career change?

Are you considering this change in order to make more money? Are you looking for something with a better or more flexible schedule? More or less travel? Are you hoping for more advancement opportunities in this new career? Or perhaps your goals are more personal.

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Are you hoping your new career will help you feel more accomplished? More energized? Are you looking for something that will better use your inherent skills? Something you feel proud to tell others about? Acknowledging these specific goals can help you ensure that you’re making a wise career assessment and that your new career will be a better fit than your current one.

At the same time, you must also acknowledge the risks associated with a career change. What risks are involved in leaving your current career? How will you afford your bills and insurance until you find a new job? What other perks will you lose? Are you going to have to do training programs?

What sacrifices will you have to make? What sacrifices might your friends or family have to make? How will you handle childcare or other obligations if you have to go back to school? What if your new career has different hours or travel requirements? It’s important to be aware of your goals and the risks you’re taking when you make such a big decision.

Step 3: Test the waters for your career change

manager shaking hands with a job applicant

Fortunately, you don’t have to jump into a new career blindly! There are several ways to test out a new position before making a big career change.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to try something new, and has the added benefit of helping others! If you have children, check with their school(s) for possible volunteer opportunities.

You could volunteer in the classroom or help in the computer lab to gain insight into careers in education or information technology, for example.

Freelance

Freelancing is another good way to test out a career, and you might even earn a little money. You can tackle small jobs after work or on days off and get a sense of what it might be like to work in that field full-time, before making the switch.

If you’re considering graphic design, for example, you could help build a website, layout a newsletter, or design a logo for a local business.

Step 4: Talk to others, Job shadow if possible

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In addition to volunteering and/or freelancing, you should try to get first-hand information from someone who currently works in the career you are interested in with informational interviews.

If you already know someone who fits this description, reach out to him or her. If not, you can speak to a career counselor or get in touch with the career office at the college you attended or plan to attend. They can help connect you with local professionals or alumni who mentor or offer job shadowing opportunities.

The first thing you want to do is ask the professional for their honest answers to the questions in the beginning portion of Step 1. Learn what they find satisfying or frustrating about their job and why so that you will have realistic expectations.

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Next, set up a time to job shadow. This may be just for an afternoon or for a full week, whatever works for you both. Job shadowing will allow you to observe day-to-day activities get a general sense of what this career entails.

Another benefit to job shadowing is the contacts! In addition to the professional you’re shadowing, you will meet his or her bosses and coworkers and a variety of other individuals who may be helpful resources as you research this career path, or even once you’re ready to apply for jobs.

Step 5: Get educated

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Chances are you will need new skills in order to change careers. But the extent of that depends on how big of a leap you’re taking!

If you’re staying within the same industry, but want to transition into a different role, the process should be simpler. Your existing degree/education and your work experience have value, and you will simply need to upgrade your skills to fit the new position. To do this, you may need to attend some seminars, take some classes or earn a certificate, which you could do at night, on weekends, or online at your own pace.

But if you are considering a career change into a whole new field, you should expect the process to require more time and effort. You wouldn’t expect someone with a degree and work experience in Advertising Sales to quickly transition into a career as a Dental Hygienist, right?

To research what kind of educational investment may be necessary, visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) online and search for the career you’re interested in. The site will give you a sense of the salary, expected growth, and most importantly, “how to become one.”

You may also wish to talk to someone who hires professionals in your desired career and/or to a career counselor to determine what steps you will have to take to make this transition and how long it might take. Learning how much education you will need – whether you’re talking about a few seminars or a whole new degree – is a key step in determining whether it’s worth making a career change at age 30, 40, or 50.

Are You Ready to Choose a New Career Path?

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Trying to figure out how to change career paths can be overwhelming, so take the time to answer these important questions and consider the risks and rewards.

You likely have people who count on you – children, a spouse, other family members, maybe even coworkers – and will factor into your decision. But remember, it’s you who has to go to work each day, and you deserve to find fulfillment in your second career.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making this change for yourself whether you are 30, 40, or 50. It’s never too late to do what you enjoy!

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.