What You Need to Know About Making a Career Change at 40

Changing careers when you’re older than forty is a big decision; these 10 tips summarize what you need to know about making a career change at 40. Robert Herjavec and Richard Bolles are bestselling authors and successful businessmen who share career advice, cautions and strategies for switching jobs.

“Start by being honest with yourself,” writes businessman, bestselling author, and Shark Tank investor/star Robert Herjavec in You Don’t Have to Be a Shark: Creating Your Own Success. “Know what it takes to make you happy, and admit your limitations as well as your goals and skills. Having a vision and seeking to fulfill it are wonderful, but fooling yourself about your chances of success is risky. It’s fine to want a job at a large legal firm, for example, but unless you have a law degree from a fancy school, your chances are probably zero. So what can you do?” Below, Herjavec shares exactly what you can do and what you need to know about changing your career at 40…

When you’re changing your career after forty or any age, you must believe that you WILL land on your feet. Work towards what you want to achieve in your career, and do not let fear or uncertainty distract you. Hold on to the hope and faith that you will progress towards your career goals every day. You have options and choices, and you can move in any direction you want. You must believe your new career will suit you perfectly, you won’t have any regrets, and you are moving in the right direction. Trust and believe in yourself.

Your confidence and belief in yourself is the most important part of making a successful career change at 40 or any age. Yes, this is a major life decision and yes, you may feel afraid! But don’t let fear dictate how you live your life.

If you need to make money during the transition from one career to another, read 10 Highest Paying Jobs for College Students. I know you’re not “college age” – though you may be going back to school. Those college jobs are low stress and high pay, which is exactly what you need when you’re changing careers. Keep your options open, and be prepared to take unexpected jobs changing your career. Sometimes a “pit stop” is necessary when you’re making a major pivot in life.

Richard Bolles is the author of the bestselling What Color is Your Parachute? book series. He encourages people over 40 to start moving in the direction of their new careers by starting up a blog or website devoted to the new job or career path. If you’ve never blogged, read How to Blog About Something You Love.

For instance, if you’re currently an employment counsellor at a community college and you want to be an organizational psychologist, start blogging about making career changes for people in their 40s and 50s. This may help your graduate school applications, give you additional information about the the psychology of the workplace, and add to your credibility.

10 Smart Tips for Making a Career Change at 40

When I was 42 I went back to school, to get my MSW (Master of Social Work) – so I understand what you need to know about how to make a career change.

Are you considering going back to college or university? Feel free to ask me questions in the comments section below about returning to school as a mature student. Even better, read Should You Go to Grad School for a Master of Social Work (MSW)?

1. Focus on one change at a time

If you’re changing your career, try to avoid other major life changes as well. Keep your home life, social life, relationships, and health as steady as possible right now. Make your career change your number one priority right now, and let everything else take second shift.

“You need a place to stand, when you move your life around, and that place is provided by the things that stay constant about you: your character, your relationships, your faith, your values, your transferable skills,” writes Bollees.

If your ambition is to work at a big law firm or Google and you have no experience, Robert Herjavec recommends pivoting towards a job with a similar function and status, perhaps working as an intern in a government department or public service organization, where you can build a reputation as someone who can handle challenging assignments.

2. Start with what you want to do, not what the job market says

Avoid taking the media or industry’s advice on the “hottest new careers” or “best places to find a job.” Instead, figure out what you want to work at every day. This will help you find long-term job satisfaction and help you decide on a meaningful career change at 40. Boles guarantees that unless you look dirty, wild, and disreputable – and you smell really bad – an employer is looking for you. If, that is, you know what your talents and skills are.

“You’ll have to accept fear and find courage,” writes Herjavec in You Don’t Have to Be a Shark. “You will also to ignore the ‘I wish I had…’ syndrome that keeps reminding you of the chances you’ve lost and the time you’ve wasted. Making a career change often involves rejecting much of your working life to this point. Don’t waste time regretting the fact that you didn’t make the move earlier, and refuse to beat yourself up about it. Along the way you gained knowledge and experience. Now is the time to use them.

3. Free yourself from old patterns

career change 40
Making a Career Change at 40? 10 Things You Need to Know

Often, we fall back into the patterns we’ve been living all our lives.

Look around for any type of career that interests you. Instead of plodding along in the same career direction, talk to people who are working in fields or jobs that intrigue you. Why stay in the same job market when you’re changing careers at 40 – why not push the edges a little?

“I’m sure that a huge proportion of the situation you are facing is out out of your control,” says Bolles. “There’s nothing you can do about it. But that proportion can’t be 100 percent. There’s got to be some proportion – let’s say it’s even just 2 percent – that is within your control. You can work on that. Who knows what a difference that may make?”

What old patterns are holding you back? Don’t underestimate the power you have, even if you feel lost and even helpless when you’re learning how to make a career change at 40. It will get easier, and you WILL get through this!

4. Take your time when deciding on a new careeer path

This is an important caution about a career change at 40, because it may be the last time you take this big of a risk in your professional life. The more time and thought you can give to choosing your career, the better your choice will be.

“Changing careers brings a whole new raft of options that are worth exploring,” writes Herjavec in You Don’t Have to Be a Shark. “Exploring your options is worthwhile because making a major career change is naturally uncomfortable at the beginning. You can raise your comfort level by being aware of all the new choices you have and selecting the most promising among them.”

Don’t make the mistake of dwelling too long on this process. If you spend too much time weighing and analyzing your options, you may find yourself caught in the “paralysis by analysis” trap. “This happens when you focus too long on things that can go wrong,” writes Herjavec. “At some point you have to admit you can’t anticipate all the bad things that might occur, and start taking action anyway. There is never any certainty of success in business or in life except this one: if you don’t make an effort to realize your ambition, you will join all the others through history who, at the end of their lives, were forced to admit ‘I never even tried.’

If you’re discouraged and unsure where to start, read How to Find Your Dream Job – No Matter How Old You Are.

5. Expect to make mistakes

If you open yourself up to the expectation that you will take a wrong turn on your career path here and there, you’ll be more likely to take healthy risks. You have time to correct and recover from a bad decision – and the only way to know it’s a bad career choice is if you try it. Take a risk, and learn to be okay with making mistakes. This is a good life tip, not just a caution about changing careers when you’re forty!

Here’s a practical tip on how to make a career change that will help you identify mistakes you may not even be aware you made:

“A vast majority of employers now Google your name before they’ll consider hiring you,” writes Bolles in the 2014 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? “There’s your new resume…What we know for sure is that somewhere between 35% and 70% of employers now report that they have rejected applicants on the basis of what they found through Google. Things that can get you rejected from a job interview are:

  • Bad grammar or gross misspelling on your Facebook or LinkedIn profile
  • Anything indicating you lied on your resume or job application
  • Badmouthing of previous employers
  • Any signs of racism, prejudice, or screwy opinions about stuff
  • Anything indicating alcohol or drug abuse; and any – to put it delicately – inappropriate content

Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your online presence, especially if you’re active on various social media sites.

6. Learn to enjoy the process of changing your career

Sure, making a career change at 40 can be scary…but it’s also a very exciting time in your life. This is your chance to create a new life, start fresh, and use your brain and body in a whole new way. Bolles says if you’re not having fun changing your career, you’re not doing it right.

Not only will lightening up and having fun will help reduce stress when you’re changing career at 40, it will help convince potential employers that you are easy to work with. Light to carry. Flexible. Adaptable to a new team and work environment.

7. Remember there are no guarantees

“Don’t get a college degree in some career field just because you think it will guarantee you a job! It will not,” writes Bolles. This ties into the second tip about career change at 40, which is to use your interests and passions as the foundation of your decision. Don’t rely on the industry, job market, or even college recruitment posters to help you decide what career to choose.

Herjavec adds that you need to prepare yourself to accept the messy parts of changing your career at 40 or any age. “Stuff happens,” he says wisely. “Sometimes it’s messy stuff that you didn’t expect and don’t need. When this occurs, just clean up the mess and keep going. Good stuff can happen as well. That’s what you should be prepared for – the unexpected windfall or golden opportunity that can accelerate your career and speed your way to success.”

8. Learn healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety

I think these tips for a career change at 40 can be applied to a career change at any age – or even when you’re 16 and trying to decide what you want to do with your life.

What You Need to Know About Making a Career Change at 40
What You Need to Know About Making a Career Change at 40

In some ways, making a career change when you’re over 40 isn’t any different than switching jobs when you’re 20 or 30. Except, you may feel the pressure of age – and old age. You may be a bit more stressed at 40 because you have mortgage payments, student loan debt, kids’ expenses, car payments, etc.

It feels scary to take a job risk or make a career transition at age forty, but it may be the best thing you could do at this point in your life.

Here’s my favorite quote from What Colour is Your Parachute:

“One of the saddest lines in the world is, ‘Oh come now – be realistic.’ The best parts of this world were not fashioned by those who were realistic. They were fashioned by those who dared to look hard at their wishes and gave them horses to ride.”

If you’re wondering how to change careers when you’re 40, dare to face your dreams head-on.

Don’t forget to consider your personality traits! If you’re an introvert, read Best Jobs for Introverts and People Who Like to Work Alone.

The last two tips for making a career change at 40

I found a great career website that helps people change their careers at all ages. Here are their recommendations for changing careers at 40 or older…

9. Have a niche

You are definitely going to have a lot of choices when you change your career, but choice is really not helpful in the sense that you’ve got to get clear and very specific about what you want to do. When you go to market you want to be “one of one.”

In other words, be specific in identifying a niche for your career. This way you’ll have less competition from other, more general job candidates.

10. Get help specifically geared to making a career change at 40

Think about what help you’re going to need when you’re making a career change at 40, and where that help is going to come from. Some of it will be close to you – obvious and free. Some of the help you need might not be so obvious and you might need to buy into it. For instance, you may need to become a member of a career development club to make use of its tools, support and community.

Or, maybe you need to hire a job coach or employment counselor to help you navigate the stress and fear that comes with changing a career when you’re 40 plus.

These last two tips on changing your career are from 10 Ways to Get Focused on Your Career Change, on the Position Ignition website.

Resources for Making a Career Change at 40

how-to-change-your-career-at-40In What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, Richard Bolles says, “Hope depends upon taking care that we have at least two alternatives in every situation, with every task confronting us.” This Parachute edition features the latest studies and perspectives on today’s job-market, including proven strategies for finding jobs even when everyone tells you there are none.

Bolles also encourages us to stop living for weekends. When you’re passionate about your job, you won’t drag yourself to work every day. “There is a vast world of work out there in this country, where at least 111 million people are employed in this country alone – many of whom are bored out of their minds. All day long. Not for nothing is their motto TGIF – ‘Thank God It’s Friday.’ They live for the weekends, when they can go do what they really want to do.”

career change at forty plus“Plan on being a lifelong learner,” writes Robert Herjavec in You Don’t Have to Be a Shark: Creating Your Own Success. “Learn how to bounce back. Among all the things that will happen when starting out as an entrepreneur or a professional salesperson, here’s one you can count on: you will make mistakes. No one avoids them entirely in business, in sports, or in life generally. Mistakes injure your pride and sometimes your pocketbook. That’s the bad news. The good news is that mistakes are an opportunity to learn from experience, understand why they happened, and ensure they do not happen again.”

When you’re changing careers at 40 plus, the path to success isn’t short and straight. Rather, it’s full of switchbacks, turns, and detours. In You Don’t Have to Be a Shark, Herjavec includes “10 Things You Need to Do When Making a Career Change in Your Life.” I highly recommend his book because it focuses on how to sell yourself. And make no mistake: no matter what job or career you choose, you have to sell yourself!

Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type is by Paul D. Tieger (et al) is especially useful for millennials and baby boomers experiencing midlife career switches. That’s you, if you’re searching for tips on how to make a career change at 40! This book leads readers step-by-step through the process of determining and verifying which Personality Type they are. Then it identifies occupations that are popular with each Type, provides helpful case studies, and offers a rundown of each Type’s work-related strengths and weaknesses.

And remember: When you see someone successful, you only see the public glories – not the private sacrifices it took to succeed. Be prepared to make sacrifices if you’re making a career change at 40…or any age. It’ll be worth it.

Your thoughts are welcome below! What’s your biggest reason not to change your career? What’s holding you back, and how are you coping with the stress of making a career change at 40?


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