How to Make a Career Change at 40
If you are not happy in your current job role or feel yourself longing for a new challenge, it is not too late to change paths.
Whilst changing your career two decades into your working life may feel daunting, the experience you have gathered along the way should provide you with the confidence you need to take the plunge.
By the time you reach 40, it is likely you have taken on larger amounts of responsibility at work, have experience in management and have learned how to work well with colleagues.
You are at a stage in life where you should have confidence in your skills and abilities and possess strong transferable skills that can be applied to a variety of new careers.
Changing career direction is never easy, and it will take effort and an element of risk. Remaining in an unfulfilling career will, however, weigh heavily in the long term.
It is worth putting yourself out there to secure a new career that will render satisfying work for the next 25 years.
There is nothing worse than feeling under-stimulated, undervalued or unfulfilled at work, particularly when you have been working hard to build your career for the last twenty years.
If you don't look forward to going to work every morning, it may be that a career rethink is needed. A new career path may reinvigorate your work life and purpose, with satisfying new routines and challenges.
Consider, though, if you are feeling unfulfilled, it may be your current role or company is not quite right for you.
Before considering a complete career change, it is worth evaluating the extent to which your current work environment or daily responsibilities are influencing your feelings.
If you work within a large firm, there may be the option to change departments within the company, allowing for change without starting completely afresh.
Once you have decided whether it is the environment, tasks or general routine that is the cause of your malaise, you will be able to find the proportionate solution to address it.
If you work long hours or have a job that involves large amounts of travel, you may be finding that this no longer fits with your lifestyle.
We look for different things from our careers at different ages, and there is no shame in admitting that what you thought you wanted – and have been working hard towards for years – is no longer right for you.
If you are carrying the stress of work home with you and letting it impact your relationships, that may be a flag indicating it is time for a change.
Perhaps you feel your job is requiring you to make personal sacrifices that you are no longer comfortable making and would prefer more flexibility and time to spend with your family.
Your career should be a part of your life, not your whole life. If it has become the latter to the detriment of your relationships with family and friends, it may be the right time to reconsider your priorities and make a positive change.
If you have always had a hidden leaning towards a certain career but never acted on it, now could be the time.
If you are still considering a career path you debated in your twenties, that says something. People are often nervous about taking a chance and retraining for a new career, but it might just be that it is your calling.
In reality, at any age, the scariest thing is not knowing what you want to do and feeling as if you don’t have a calling. If you still have a particular aspiration or an alternative path you are seriously considering focusing on, it is worth committing and following that ambition.
It is true that to enter certain industries, you may need to retrain. Becoming a mature student is more common than people think and should be seen as a great opportunity to re-enter a stimulating learning environment.
No one wants to live with regret, left wondering about the potential they could have had in a different career. If your heart and your head are trying to tell you something about your career, listen.
Although 40 may feel rather late to be making a career change, the truth is you likely still have 25 working years left.
If the idea of sticking things out at work for another year (let alone a decade) fills you with dread, this may be an indication it is time for a radical change.
It is easy to overlook how being unhappy in your career can spill over into other aspects of your life. This is unsurprising, though, as your job occupies a large proportion of your week. It dictates your routine and habits, and even the friendship circles you move in.
You may feel discontented in general, and may not have previously connected this to your feelings of dissatisfaction with your career.
Perhaps you once enjoyed your job, but now feel stagnant and uninspired. A career change may be just what is needed to shake up your schedule, provide new stimulation and awaken your positivity.
Another common reason for considering a career change in your 40s is the feeling of having reached your peak in your current company, role or profession.
Perhaps there are no further opportunities for a promotion, or you feel as if you have offered all you can to the field. Even if you enjoy what you do, feeling like you are progressing, growing and developing is important.
Without new challenges and tasks, inspiration and love for a job is lost.
You may have achieved all the career goals you set yourself in your 20s and be wondering "What next?", or you may have realized that your career path has led you away from achieving your personal and professional goals.
If you feel you have reached a wall, a career change may be a brilliant way of employing your skills in an exciting new scenario.
One of the main reasons for hesitancy around changing careers at 40 is the weight of greater responsibility. Personal, financial and professional factors all play a part.
By 40, you will likely have larger financial commitments than at 30.
If you have a family to support, you will need to consider how any adjustment in your income may impact your lifestyle. You will also likely have a mortgage and will need to ensure you can keep up with repayments.
If changing your career would involve taking a pay cut, it is worth doing a trial run with your revised finances. This is a good way to check whether changing career would be viable.
It is also worth reviewing your expenses to see if any adjustments can be made. It may be that with a few small sacrifices, pursuing a new career with a lower salary would be financially possible.
If you would need to retrain to pursue a new career, it is important to consider the costs in terms of both time and money. Higher education courses are expensive, and you may need to study part-time in the evenings to sustain your current job whilst you retrain.
Think about what your limits would be and consider carefully how any time commitments you take on will impact your life.
Changing your career at 40 can also feel difficult on a personal level.
Transitioning from an experienced or senior position in one career to starting something new is a daunting adjustment.
It is common to have doubts about your ability to excel in a new field or concerns about whether you will fit within a new environment. If this career change is something you really want, though, don’t let self-doubt hold you back.
When changing your career at 40, you should consider whether the career path you are contemplating is compatible with your lifestyle.
Consider carefully how a change in pay grade, working hours or location would impact you. If you have family commitments, consider the flexibility of the career and whether it matches your priorities.
A new career will provide a new work-life balance – make sure it will provide the right balance for you.
If you do not have an undergraduate degree, this should not be seen as an immediate or unsurpassable barrier to changing your career.
It depends on the career switch you wish to make and your circumstances as to whether the lack of a degree is a substantial hurdle.
If a degree is required for your chosen field, bear in mind that most degrees can be studied part-time.
However, if you do not have the financial flexibility or free time to become a mature student, then returning to education may not be an option.
So what can you do?
There are a great number of career changes out there that do not require a degree. In fact, most employers value hands-on experience over an education certificate.
After all, working successfully in an environment is what proves your skills and worth as an employee.
There may also be suitable advanced qualifications on offer instead of a degree. This may be a viable alternative as they tend to be less expensive and not as much of a time commitment.
If you do not have a degree, don’t panic and rule yourself out from pursuing a certain career. It may just be that your experience will come to speak for much more than a certificate.
When making any large life decision, it is important to take the time to understand your motivations and what you hope to gain by making the adjustment.
A good place to start is to reassess your personal and/or professional goals and think about the changes that are necessary to achieve them.
Once you understand why you are feeling unfulfilled and stuck in your current career, you will be able to identify the type of change needed.
Recognizing your own needs will help you to decide what to prioritize as you progress with your career research.
Adequate research into the possibilities and realities attached to a career change at 40 is a crucial step in the process.
In taking such a large step, your decision needs to be highly informed.
Look into potential careers, noting:
- The educational requirements (and any caveats)
- Skills requirements
- Experience needed
- Average remuneration
- Working hours
- Opportunities for advancement
- Average daily routine
Speak to those who work in the fields you are considering and learn what the job is really like. It may also be worth speaking to others who have made mid-life career changes to gain some perspective and tips on navigating the process.
If you have been working for the last two decades, you have likely built an extensive professional network.
You may not realize it – or even consider it as a ‘network’ – but friends and colleagues from throughout your career may be the best place to start seeking new opportunities.
Past contacts may know of openings in related roles that could provide the change you crave. They may also be able to open doors into new fields based on how their career paths have developed.
Past managers, colleagues or clients know the quality of your work and will likely offer to help if you reach out to them with a quick query or favor.
Make the most of your existing advocates – the chances are they will be more than happy to assist.
Focusing for too long on the risks or barriers to making a mid-life career change can cause you to become overwhelmed and lead to inaction. Decide to make a change and commit to the process.
Take the logical first step for your career change, whether that is registering for an online course, applying to university, signing up with a recruitment agency, reaching out to friends and colleagues, or looking for an internship or volunteering opportunity within the sector you are interested in.
The first step does not need to be large. It just needs to be decisive and reflective of your new mindset.
If you feel as if your career so far has lacked the fulfillment of impacting the lives of others and the chance to work in a dynamic people-oriented environment, then teaching could be a good career option.
Teaching qualifications are needed to gain a full position in a primary or secondary school but you can also consider roles such as teaching assistant whilst studying.
For more information about study and work pathways with and without a degree, explore our comprehensive article on How to Become a Teacher.
If you have a passion for health and fitness, it may be time to consider whether it could be a tangible career option.
Working as a personal trainer enables you to design your work schedule whilst helping others to achieve their fitness and health goals.
Instagram has given personal trainers a great platform for exposure and marketing, whilst a growing number of accredited online courses can enable you to study remotely and rapidly.
Personal trainers will need gym space to train their clients and are often affiliated with a certain gym. Many take on part-time gym shifts – working on the gym floor and leading group exercise classes – between working with their clients.
If you are into fitness, becoming a personal trainer is a mid-life career change that you can enact quickly.
If it appeals to you, it is worth asking your local gym if there are any opportunities after your next workout session.
If you are looking for the chance to be creative and escape from an office environment, but still employ your organizational skills, switching to a career in event planning may be the choice for you.
As an event planner, you will be required to liaise with clients, secure suppliers and manage event budgets, contracts and teams to deliver events. The scale and type of event will depend on the remit of the agency you work for.
This role is good for career changers as additional qualifications are not usually necessary. Past career experience in cultivating client and supplier relationships will be a strength.
There is also the possibility of setting up your own business after gaining some initial experience – and setting your creative vision.
If you are looking for a career change but prefer an administrative role, working in HR may be a possibility.
It is a good role for career changers, as there is always the possibility of changing departments within your current firm.
HR managers are responsible for recruiting and staffing processes, ensuring that legal requirements and obligations are met.
Career changers in their 40 will have years of experience within companies and know company processes and protocols well. They understand the work environment and are therefore well placed to work in an HR role.
Whilst HR often requires a qualification, there may be the possibility to study for this alongside your current role – particularly if you are seeking to remain within a company. Any past administrative or customer service experience is a strength.
If you have always wanted to work in healthcare but lack the hefty educational qualifications, working as a patient care technician may be the career change you have been seeking.
It is a hands-on role that enables you to have a direct impact on patient experience.
Patient care technicians work in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, assisting nurses and doctors. Duties may include assisting with examinations, liaising with a patient’s family or recording patient information.
The roles tend not to require any specific qualifications, so are well suited to career changers who want to work in the healthcare field.
Making a significant career change at any age is a daunting prospect. Fear of failure and rejection holds people back from taking a risk on a more invigorating and fulfilling career.
If you are 40 and dissatisfied in your current career, it is not too late to make a change.
Whilst it is important to consider your options and the potential impacts carefully to make sure the change is viable, do not let uncertainty prevent you from segueing into a new career or starting afresh.
If you need to retrain to be able to do what you want to do with your life, there is still time. Bear in mind that there are lots of flexible study and work arrangements available.
Many successful careers have been launched by people in their 40s who took their years of valuable experience and channeled it into something they felt passionate about.
It is worth taking the chance for a career that leaves you feeling fulfilled and inspired.