Yes, Changing Careers At (Or Over) 40 Is Absolutely Possible

​​So, you’re unhappy at work. Sure, slight changes can be made to create a healthier environment – you can ask for a raise, talk with your boss about your workload, and find coworkers you like for positive social interactions. But, sometimes, you’re unhappy because you want to do something else entirely…like change your career when you’re older than 40.

Leaving a job you’ve known for so long can be daunting, especially when you’ve become well-established. When you’re pivoting careers, it can also be hard to imagine completely shifting gears and trying something new. Can an old dog really learn new tricks?

I have good news for you: yes, yes it can!

There are plenty of ways to switch from art to tech, from science to music, from IT to nonprofit work. Whatever job you’re working – whether you realize it or not – has given you experience that you can bring to your next career. And there are also many different ways to gain new skills, most of which are available at your fingertips. 

So, here are some tips on how to completely switch gears – and continue to thrive.

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Make A List Of Transferable Skills

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Danielle H., CPRW, M.Ed.👩🏾‍💻 (@ellecareerservices)

Transferable skills are EVERYTHING when it comes to pivoting careers, so make a list of every skill you have. Are you a whiz at Microsoft Office? Add that to the list. Do you have any certifications? Don’t leave those out.

The goal here is to write down all of the knowledge that you have, because you’ll inevitably find some skills that will matter in the career field you’re switching to. For example: if you’re a graphic designer wanting to switch to content creation, having the ability to create and edit different types of media is valuable. Or, maybe you’ve been in sales and want to transition to marketing – being able to analyze audience data is a great skill to have. At this point in your life, your list will inevitably be long — and that’s a good thing!

While hard skills are important, it’s also critical to include soft skills. (For more detailed info on what counts as a hard or soft skill, this article is pretty informative.) These include traits like being a good communicator and leader, constantly motivating others, having flexibility, and having perpetual curiosity. They may seem strange to include, but check any job posting – they include personality traits they want applicants to have.

 
 
 
 
 
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Chances are, if you’re changing careers at 40, you’ve racked up a bunch of skills. Now, we move on to step two: updating your resume with them and tailoring descriptions to each job application.


Update Your Resume

After being on one career path for a while, it can be easy to simply keep your resume the same – after all, it lists all your experience. Here’s the thing: as tedious as it is, you’re probably going to be editing and tailoring your resume a bunch as you pivot careers. 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Staffing + Recruiting (@ukeycareers)

First, you should include a brief summary about who you are, why you’d be good at the job you’re applying for, and your achievements. It should be short and sweet – three to five sentences at most. Use this space as a way to convince the employer to keep reading. If you’ve been on a specific career path up until now, mention the years of experience you have. Don’t believe that being younger is better. Show them that you’re experienced and know how to get the job done! 

Next should be the hard and soft transferable skills that are relevant to the job. If it’s a leadership position, mention that you have leadership skills. If you’re switching to a sales career after years in an office space, include administrative skills, like Microsoft Office and Salesforce.

Now, to tailor your resume to each potential job: carefully read job descriptions for positions you’re interested in. What experience are they asking for? If you’re in sales, you analyze data…but if you’re looking to be a peer mentor to children at a nonprofit, analyzing data probably won’t be a priority in the job description. Therefore, on your resume, you may want to take out that line and twist it with – here we go – transferable skills!

Example: Instead of saying “Communicate with clients about ROI initiatives and analyze data post-campaign,” you can say, “By addressing clients’ needs and communicating throughout the campaign, our ROI increased by 30%.” It’s the same thing, technically – you’re just focusing on how you communicated and empathized with the client. This falls in line with a job responsibility such as developing personal relationships with and supporting youth throughout life transitions.

While some say one-page resumes are the way to go, you’ll likely have multiple pages’ worth of experience if you’ve been working for a long time. So don’t follow this rule! You want to list all relevant experience, demonstrating your vast range of capabilities. List as many job responsibilities as possible with the transferable-skill twist.


Take Classes and Earn Certifications

If you have time, taking classes outside of your current job can be useful. And, no, you don’t have to sign back up for college (though if you want to, go right ahead!). 

Websites like Skillshare and Udemy have super affordable memberships, and there are classes on an abundance of topics. (I took one on UX writing, and it was fascinating.) It’s an easy way to gain knowledge on your own time, rather than attending a class at 2 PM each Wednesday. While you don’t get a grade or certification at the end, once again: transferable skills! Plus, you may need to complete a project, and you can add that to your resume.

Certifications are also great to have. For example, Coursera is a site that helps you earn certificates like Data Science from IBM, Google IT Support, and Facebook Social Media Marketing. The number of certifications you earn is up to you, but having these resume embellishments can convince employers that you’re serious about learning and have the knowledge required to succeed in your role.

Think about it: would an agency employer be more inclined to hire a 22-year-old in sales without knowledge in copywriting, or would they hire the 40-year-old sales employee with a Search Engine Optimization Specialization certificate from UC Davis?


 Updating Social Media

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Mindi Rosser | LI Strategist (@mindirrosser)

If you don’t have a LinkedIn, it’s absolutely time to create one. This is a great way to make connections! Your inner circle is most likely fairly homogenous, but they may know people who are hiring. (We wrote an article on this!) By connecting with people you know directly, you’ll receive suggestions to connect with those already linked with your direct network…and then you can ask for an introduction. You can also post that you’re looking for a new job and choose the professions you’re interested in; recruiters will often find you this way.

Another popular way people find jobs: Facebook. There are hundreds of groups out there for people learning how to change careers later in life, and many have regular job postings (it’s how I found freelance work prior to Monet). While you may not find your dream job there, it’s a great way to connect with others who are trying to do the same thing as you. Supportive networks are amazing, and small connections can become good friends.


Be Prepared For “No” 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Sabrina, Career Strategy Coach (@worklessons101)

Unfortunately, you’re going to hear “no” a lot. When you’re switching careers from two different sides of the spectrum, even the most transferable skills may not be enough. It could be because you don’t have the degree, the amount of experience in an agency, or, quite simply, there are candidates who are better matches. Changing careers at 40, no matter the amount of years you have under your belt, can be seen as a risk to employers. But don’t feel discouraged!

The truth of the matter is, you are absolutely good enough to pivot. It will simply take time. Your seniority might get you a job tomorrow, or it might get you a job in two years. The job landscape is unpredictable for everyone. Don’t settle for a job you hate, but also acknowledge that some are important for getting your foot in the door. Changing careers at 40 is completely possible. As long as you dedicate yourself to learning, continue to expand your knowledge, and make use of those transferable skills (I had to include this), you’ll find a job you love — don’t give up!

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Are you thinking of changing careers later in life? If you have, how did you change careers, especially if you were 40+? Share your wisdom in the comments!


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