Does it ever feel like culture’s definition of career success belongs only to the hip young entrepreneurs and 30-under-30 listers? Let’s change that right now. The truth is, you can make a career change midlife.
You should do work that brings you joy until you take your last breath. That doesn’t mean you need a full-time career when you’re a great-grandparent, but there’s no reason you can’t do what you’re passionate about just because you hit a certain age. And this idea that you have to be stuck in the same job forever with no hope of making a change—well, that’s just false.
I know this is more intimidating for folks midlife because it’s hard to imagine sitting in a classroom again learning a new skill or leaving the place you’ve called home for 10+ years. But if you follow these seven steps, you’ll see that changing careers midlife isn’t as intimidating—or difficult—as you think.
1. Change your mindset.
Your mind is powerful. It can convince you a lie is true and talk you out of doing things your heart longs to do. That’s why, before you do anything else, you have to change your mindset and overcome the fear that’s holding you back.
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The biggest lie I hear from people who want to make a career change midlife is that at this point in their life, as much as they might want to, it’s not worth it to begin a new career. They feel like they don’t have enough years left, or that they don’t have the time to make a big life change because of family responsibilities or other commitments.
But if you’re going to make any positive changes in your life, you need to change that mindset today.
With the time you do have, you can make progress daily—even if you’re only able to take one small step at a time. Anything worth doing or having is going to take time and is going to require fighting against the fear trying to stop you. Try my technique for fighting fear:
- Name the fear. Get specific! Do some careful self-assessment to pinpoint your exact fear. Fear of failure, fear of financial instability, fear of embarrassment—just call it what it is.
- Write it down. There’s actually a lot of power in looking at the fear on paper, in black and white. Stare it down and say out loud: “Fear is a liar.”
- Replace it with the truth. Truth is essential to silencing fear. Ask yourself: If this is what the lie is saying, then what is the truth? For example, if you fear that you’re unqualified, you have to take a good look at what skills you have and realize that either you do have the right skills, or you have the ability to learn the right skills.
- Repeat the truth. Repeat it so often that it becomes louder than any doubt in your mind!
When you do this, you’re not just ignoring the fear and pushing it down (which makes it worse). Instead, you’re addressing fear immediately so you can confidently say, “Not today. I already dealt with you.”
Side note: As long as you’re taking risks and doing things that challenge you, fear will be part of the picture. That’s healthy and normal. You’ll never eliminate fear completely, but you can deal with it effectively so that it never paralyzes you.
2. Figure out what you want to do.
Listen, the last thing you want when you’re thinking about a midlife career change is to end up in a new job you equally hate. To avoid that nightmare scenario, do your research and make sure you know enough about the industry and role you want to pursue.
Your goal should be to find a position that allows you to work in your sweet spot—the intersection of what you do best, what you love to do most and the results that matter to you. The best way to discover your sweet spot is to ask yourself a series of questions (and I recommend journaling or making a list of whatever comes to mind):
- What are some of my natural talents?
- Of those talents, which am I actually passionate about? Which talents give me energy and make me feel alive?
- What specific group of people would I most love to help?
- What problem do I want to solve for that group of people?
- What solution do I want to/can I provide?
When you sit down to reflect on these questions, you’ll notice patterns appear. Pay attention to those patterns because they’re indicators of what your dream job could be.
If you need help answering some of these questions, try my free Career Clarity Guide. It's a worksheet that will help you get clear on who you are so that you can step into the work you were made to do.
Once you have an idea of what type of job you want to pursue, start researching where you can perform that role. Start in your zip code and don’t discount places in the broader industry of what you want to do.
But also stay open-minded to opportunities outside your zip code. Relocating to a new city or state is worth the effort for the right opportunity. If you end up finding a job outside your city, download our relocation guide for a smooth and confident transition.
3. Find out what skills you need to learn.
Now that you know what career you want to pursue, you should research what—if any—education or experience you need to qualify for that role.
Be honest with yourself. Do you have a skill set that would equip you to pursue that career? Or is there something you still need to learn? The good news is: You can learn any skill at any age (unless you’re 95 and want to play professional hockey—but even then I wouldn’t rule it out completely).
Find out what qualifications you need by looking at a few different job postings for the jobs you’d apply to. Make a list of what education, training or experience they require. Finally, take that list and research (I know, you’ve done a lot of research!) the most affordable ways to get those qualifications.
You’ll want to choose the path that best fits your preferred timeline, personal time constraints, and your financial reality.
4. Make a budget to fund your career change.
It can be overwhelming to think about everything that a career change will require financially—more education, more training or a new location are all possible expenses—but don’t let that discourage you.
You don’t need to be rolling in money to change careers. You don’t even need to be debt-free—you just need enough to get started.
Based on what skills you need to learn to step into this new career, come up with an estimate of the cost to get that education. If it turns out you do need to spend some money on formal education or training, build it into your family’s budget and know that it may take a little longer than usual if you have to work a job at the same time to pay for the training.
Also be prepared to save, make sacrifices, and even sell some stuff so you can fund the dream as you go. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it!
5. Learn those new skills.
Going back to school shouldn’t be your go-to if you need to learn a new skill. Instead, get creative! There are countless ways to get the education and experience a job requires. Here are just a few ideas:
- If you need to continue working at your full-time job, look for night classes at your local community college or online courses.
- Find out if there are any returnship programs in your industry.1
- Look for a company that is willing to train you to do the job, on the job—it’s a thing! A study by Robert Half International found that 84% of companies are willing to hire and train a candidate who lacks the required skills for the job.2
- Take advantage of free resources like podcasts, library books, online articles, YouTube videos, etc.
- Ask professionals in your network if they can mentor you.
- If the position requires a portfolio, create one by asking friends and family if you can produce work for them for free or at a discounted rate.
A lot of people think not having a college degree is a setback when changing careers. But did you know that, in an exciting new trend, companies are now starting to waive their college degree requirements?
On job-search websites like Craigslist and Indeed, job postings asking for a college degree dropped from 34% in 2012 to 30% in 2018.3 Work history requirements have also changed—in 2012, 29% of jobs asked for 3+ years of experience, and in 2018, only 23% did.4
All of that just means that you shouldn’t let your concern about not having enough skills or experience keep you from pursuing your dream job. Go learn what you need to learn and get after it!
6. Make meaningful connections in the industry.
Way too often, people get stuck doing a job they hate just because they think they don’t have any connections in the industry they’d prefer to work in. Folks, that’s not a good reason to stay miserable!
The truth is: You know a lot more people than you think.
And even if you don’t know a lot of people right now, you can make powerful connections by simply getting around the right people and in the right places. In order to do what you want to do, you have to be around the people who are doing it and in the places where it’s happening. And that’s true at any age.
As you start learning new skills (from step five), you’ll naturally meet people who can be meaningful connections in the industry (professors, professionals, peers, etc.).
But you can also build a web of connections by:
- Informing your inner circle of friends and family about the new career you want to pursue.
- Asking your inner circle if they have any connections in the industry.
- Moving outside your inner circle to potential connections at your church, in your neighborhood, parents of your kid’s little league team, at the gym, and beyond.
- Reach out to these connections, meet them for coffee, share about your desired future, and ask for advice (always come with something to offer them as well).
Once you start getting to know people who are doing what you want to do, you’ll find that opportunities will come your way. Someone will know about a job opening, or be able to give you a recommendation, or ask you to come work for them. It’s happened countless times, and it can happen to you.
That, my friends, is the right way to network!
7. Win the interview process.
Okay, we’re in the homestretch, folks. The final step to changing careers midlife is to start applying to jobs and winning the interview.
- Upgrade your resume. I can’t stress this enough: Your resume needs to have a referral from one the connections you’ve made in step six. That is what will set your resume apart. Like I always say, a resume without a relationship is worthless. Check out my resume guide where I walk you through exactly how to format your resume so that it stands out from the pile of resumes on the hiring manager’s desk.
- Prepare for the interview. Interview preparation breeds confidence, and confidence leads to winning. Be prepared to explain why you're changing careers and what you're passionate about. Make sure you research the company's history and culture.
- Follow up after the interview. The way you follow up after an interview can make all the difference when it comes to sealing the deal and getting the offer. Use my touchpoint timeline to follow up like a pro and make the best first impression.
If you need more tips on standing out in the hiring process, check out my Get Hired Digital Course. It's an online video course packed with 11 lessons to give you the tools and strategy you need to get noticed and get closer to your dream job.
This may feel like a lot to handle right now. That’s okay—I know it’s a lot of information. But you know what? You can do this. It’s going to take time, perseverance and patience, but I know you’ve got that in you.
So, wherever you’re at on the journey, know that it’s not too late, you’re not too old, and you do have what it takes to make a career change midlife.
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.