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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Change Careers Successfully When It Seems too Late

How to Change Careers Successfully When It Seems too Late

The wake-up call often comes when you least expect it. Maybe you’re enjoying a relaxing get-together with your old college buddies when someone turns to you and says, “Wow, I never thought you’d become an investment banker. I always thought you’d write a novel!” If this leaves you wondering how to change careers, you’re not alone.

Before you know it, you find yourself remembering your old dreams—and comparing them to the career field where you are now. Life rarely goes according to plan. Marriage, kids, and grandkids often come earlier than imagined—or later.

Maybe you pursued one career path because you were considered the breadwinner, but now someone else in the family is the breadwinner. Conversely, maybe you landed a job, thinking you’d stay for six months, and now you’ve been there for sixteen years.

A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out that “baby boomers held an average of 12.3 jobs from ages 18 to 52″[1]. For millennials, who are more technologically apt, that number is likely to be much higher.

As this proves, it’s perfectly normal to change careers and begin a job search even when it seems too late! Steering your way through a career change is part calculation, part chance, and part leap-of-faith.

If you feel stuck and are ready for a career change, take these steps to guide you.

Step 1: Be Mentally Prepared

These points can help you master the psychological aspects of a career change at any age.

Now or Never Is a Fallacy

For most professionals, there is no cut-off age for striking out in a new direction. People do it at all stages of their careers.

If you’ve ever dreamed of leaving a large company to start your own business, you are not alone. Similarly, thousands of entrepreneurs and people working for one-man shops decide each year that they’d like to work for larger organizations.

You’ll find hordes of baby boomers looking for a redo alongside mobs of GenXers and Millennials—especially as the boomers now remain in the workforce longer than their predecessors.

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Your Career Is not a Straight Line From A to B

You don’t have to have your career trajectory completely decided from the start. In fact, that’s an unrealistic expectation, no matter how methodical you are.

People change. Industries merge, morph, and in some cases, disappear. Careers rarely follow the straight and narrow.

Many careers can be compared to journeys—there are the adventurous patches, boring patches, downright scary patches, and the hills and valleys, too. The trick is to try to have a little fun while you’re charting out your various careers.

Don’t panic if you find you need to change your career. It may take some work as you sort through job posts, write cover letters, and pursue your dream job, but you’re up for it.

Career Changers Are Among Good Company

Consider these well-known trailblazers whose careers took a radical turn:

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, studied computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton, went on to establish himself as a Wall Street prodigy, then quit to launch Amazon.com.

Sara Blakely, a billionaire businesswoman, was a fax machine salesperson before creating her signature slim wear line, Spanx.

Jonah Peretti, co-founder of the media sites Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, initially taught computer science to middle schoolers.

Be Ready to Take on the Naysayers

Expect plenty of advice—usually of the discouraging kind—from friends and family when they learn that you’re exploring a career change. Those you know best are often the most vocal in trying to thwart your plans.

Be prepared to field a flurry of pessimistic conjecture and doomsday scenarios. Know, though, that when your loved ones question your judgment, they’re not necessarily doubting your talent but trying to look out for your wellbeing. Stepping out of your comfort zone will make anyone close to you uncomfortable.

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Keep in mind that pessimists avoid the unknown, while optimists invite new challenges. Above all, believe in yourself and follow your instincts. Don’t let your fear of change paralyze you from seeking out your new career path.

Project an aura of enthusiasm, energy, and passion. You’ll find it’s contagious.

Step 2: Be Proactive

These tips can help you master the practical aspects of changing careers at any age.

Take Baby Steps

Ease into your new direction. Start building the skills you’ll need to make the switch.

Find out what skills you will need, and do whatever it takes to add them to your skills arsenal. Make the time to invest in additional training.

Start by devoting a half-day each week to your new pursuit until you’re ready to confidently make a move.

Clearly define where you want to go and what you’ll need to do to get there. Take an inventory of your strengths. Read trade magazines, and study up on industry trends.

Volunteer

Charitable organizations are often looking for volunteers to help them with their outreach, social media, and engagement. You can show up without the requisite skills and learn as you go in a fun, convivial, low-pressure environment, which will help you expand your experience and skills.

Take Online Courses

Today, LinkedIn and many other providers offer online courses in everything from accounting software to time management to mastering Excel. For extra credit, see if you can find classes that award online badges for completing each course.

Don’t be shy about adding these certificates to your online profile. Keep your profile fresh by adding more and more skills to it.

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Take a Temp Job

Depending on your field, it may be possible to freelance at a company where you learn on the job.

Remember that you can’t just show up at a potential employer’s claiming you have the skills. Taking a temporary job that allows you to polish your skills is proof that you’re serious about your career change.

Network!

Build a family tree of contacts. Explore beyond the main branches of your work acquaintances, industry groups, and social contacts. Join your alumni organization. Tell everyone.

Ask friends and friends-of-friends to meet you for coffee to explain what it is they do and tell you which skills you’ll need to succeed in your chosen field[2].

When you want to learn how to change careers, start by networking!

    If you have friends or associates with ties to the organizations where you want to work, ask your contacts to make an introduction. The majority of today’s jobs are found through one’s own networks. When jobs open up, companies invite informal recommendations from internal and external channels.

    Step 3: Take It Online

    This last step can help you master the online aspects of a career change at any age.

    Develop an Online Presence in the Field of Your Dreams

    Reconfiguring your online presence will be a critical step in your career change. Fine-tune your digital identity to reflect your new direction, tailoring your profile to the role and industry you’re after. Include keywords that are relevant to the industry so that recruiters can find you.

    Craft a clever personal statement that states your interests, your values, and your dreams. Once you’ve zeroed in on your message, also pick and choose which outlets make the most sense for it.

    Will your personal statement resonate on LinkedIn? Or is it highly visual—making it a better fit for Instagram?

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    Polish your sites until they gleam, then get active so others take notice. Add insightful content to your social media pages that goes deeper than the information on your resume, such as commentaries on something taking place in your newly chosen field.

    For more on how to build an online presence, check out this article.

    Final Thoughts

    Americans spend 1,800 hours or more each year working. That’s nearly one-third of your life, and it goes without saying that your job satisfaction and career goals have a great bearing on your life’s happiness barometer.

    Set out to intentionally pursue career satisfaction, looking for opportunities to fine-tune your working life so that you find fulfillment.

    If playing the piano is your personal bliss, could you meld your love of music with your clinical psychology background and find a job using music to promote healing? Perhaps there’s a foundation that would fund you in a multiyear study.

    Or, if you’re a movie buff for whom every encounter has the makings of a screenplay, why not sign up for an evening class and see if your years of writing advertising copy could morph into a career move into the film industry?

    Achieving your career change successfully will occur when you mentally prepare, take a proactive approach, and mine your personal and online networks. The pay-off will be in a life well-lived in a successful career.

    More Tips on How to Change Careers

    Featured photo credit: Jason Strull via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Vicky Oliver

    Author of 6 best-selling books on job-hunting and job interview questions, business etiquette, frugalista style, advertising, and office politics.

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    Published on March 24, 2021

    8 Easy Steps To Finding A Career Right For You

    8 Easy Steps To Finding A Career Right For You

    In the U.S., workers on average spend 90,000 hours of their lives working.[1] This means that it is likely you will spend more time working than with your spouse or partner. For this reason, it is especially important to love your job. When you are in a job you love, it feels custom-made just for you. You feel your values reflected in the company’s mission. You feel rewarded just for working there — “Thank God it’s Monday,” you think each week, and the paycheck is nice, too.

    Here are 8 steps for finding the career that fits your personality like a glove.

    1. Look At Yourself Carefully

    Firstly, Look Inside

    Some diagnostic tests help you assess who you are and what jobs make a good fit. Among free assessments you can take, the Myers-Briggs personality test is among the most popular for gauging how you perceive the world and make decisions. It consists of some 90 either-or questions that indicate whether you consider yourself an extrovert or introvert, and what influences perceptions.

    Knowing yourself and the qualities associated with your personality type can help you decide whether you would be more comfortable in a front- or back-office setting, are more of an “ideas” or “execution” person, or prefer an open office or a quiet, enclosed setting to do your best work.

    Career Explorer is another diagnostic careers tool, and offers a free Career Test to reveal how your interests and goals match up against some 1,000 careers. The test asks your general interest in a handful of random careers, along with your career satisfaction in previous jobs, and predicts career matches that fit your profile.

    Then, Look Outside

    Your friends and family members often know you better than you know yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask them, “What kind of career do you see me in?” or “How can I find a career that’s right for me? and pay attention to their answers.

    Also, think back to talents you enjoyed in your younger years, particularly those that elicited comments from others along the lines of “You’re going to make a great ___________ some day.” Others often see special abilities in you that you may have overlooked.

    2. Write Lists

    The perfect career awaits you if you do your homework. Keep careful lists of the qualities you possess and which types of businesses will reward those qualities.[2]

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    Similarly, when your friends have ideas for you, write them down. You want to be able to go back and reflect on different career paths.

    Putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboards — and allowing yourself to follow ideas where they lead is a valuable step for finding the career that is right for you.

    What elements of past or current jobs and experiences stick out as the most enjoyable? List them. Think of careers where you could recapture some of those elements.

    Write down the activities where you find real joy. Do you love decorating or rearranging your living room? Could this translate to fulfilling work in interior design or merchandising? Or do you find children endlessly entertaining? Perhaps you would find teaching or youth development a rewarding career path.

    Generate a list of ideas, no matter how eccentric they may seem, and see if any patterns emerge.

    Write a Master List of All Your Strengths and All Your Weaknesses

    Be as specific as possible. If you hate waking up before 11 a.m., it is going to be hard to hold down a 9 to 5 job (unless you can work remotely in another part of the country with a different time zone). If you love talking to people, maybe the back office of a research department is too isolating for you.

    Are you high energy or laid back? Do your strengths or weaknesses tend to make you a natural leader or more of a maverick? Own your particular personality strengths and quirks, and think about the various work environments where you could make the most of them. Do you like receiving direction or chafe when someone gives you feedback?

    3. Set up 15-Minute Informational Interviews

    All of this introspection will help you narrow your search criteria, but then it must lead to action. Ask around to see if there is anyone you know who would spare a few minutes to discuss her field with you. It could be a friend or a friend-of-a-friend or even one of your parents’ friends. You may be surprised to find that people often want to offer advice on the steps to take to start out in their field.

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    Prepare some questions in advance, for example: ask how the person ended up in her field, what best prepared her for her career, which aspects she most enjoys, and how the field is changing.

    Depending on how forthcoming the person is, you might also ask if she would mind if you sent a resume to keep on file in case of any future openings.

    4. Read Job Postings

    Before you apply for a job, start reading job postings in the two or three fields that excite you. You can find postings on LinkedIn, MonsterJobs, Indeed, Glassdoor, and Simply Hired. Do you feel goosebumps zipping down your spine when you read about certain jobs? It could be an indication that this is the job of your dreams.

    Familiarize yourself with job descriptions to learn common industry terms, roles, and in-demand skills. Glassdoor, for example, gives you an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to work for a given company — but keep an open mind, too, knowing that former employees with a grudge are usually the most motivated to post reviews.

    5. Write Your Resume

    Your resume should reflect the skills you possess and the specific skills sought in a job. But be sure to customize and change your resume appropriately for each position you pursue. Don’t be afraid to parrot some of the words on the list of requirements back to the company. Many times, companies will actually use the key words mentioned in the job posting when screening resumes.

    Research the organization that you are targeting and try to work in examples that have relevance to their customers or clients, or to issues taking place industry-wide. State how you can add value by quantifying results you achieved in former jobs or even volunteer activities. For example, “coordinated silent auctions for children’s advocacy organizations that brought in $29,000.”

    Ideally, you will want to concisely recount your skills to make a riveting impression as a professional ideally suited for the position.

    Check out these 10 Killer Resume Tips to Nail Your Dream Job.

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    6. Watch a Movie or Two That Features a Character Working in the Field

    While movies tend to exaggerate, you may see something that either confirms that you belong in that environment or scares you away from it. Career conflicts are a genre in themselves — you can find most any job represented in some form on the big screen.

    The character played by Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada,” who successfully navigated her nightmare boss played by Meryl Streep, showed the ups and downs of working on a fashion magazine. Meanwhile, “Legally Blonde” likely inspired a whole horde of young women to enter careers in law.

    7. Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Risk

    When it comes to job-hunting, the biggest risk is not taking a risk. Write a cover letter that truly reflects your own personality. Remember that you need to stand out, not just blend in to the hundreds of “blah-blah-blah” letters.

    So, if you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, adopt a more measured tone. If you’re intellectual, use bigger words. Be you, not what you think you should be. When you’re authentic, it improves the likelihood that the career you find will be the right fit for you.

    Think of ways to show passion for the career path you are pursuing — and then make the case for why it is the right fit for you. Hiring managers look for candidates with dynamism behind their desire to work for the company. Choose words that reveal that you are passionate, not passive: instead of “helpful,” your findings were “game-changing.” Instead of “useful,” your discoveries proved “transformational.”

    Here’s How to Write A Cover Letter That Stands out from 500 Applicants.

    8. Thank Everyone Who Helped You — and Especially Everyone Who Interviewed You

    The gracious job-hunter lands a job faster. Even if you don’t snag a job the first time around, when you remember to thank the people who granted you an interview, those people will remember you and think of you for other opportunities. Thanks should also go to those who provided you with a recommendation or who took time with you for an informational interview.

    While it may seem old school or downright quaint, a handwritten thank-you card still carries cachet. It shows that you took time to be appreciative. Or, if you send a note electronically, sincerely show gratitude and help the person remember you by bringing up something he said that you found helpful or insightful.

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    A thank you to one person should not be able to be swapped with a communiqué to any other person who helped you in your search.

    You Are on a Campaign to Land a Job until You Land the Job

    You will likely have to meet several people in a company. Inevitably, those people will talk to each other. Make sure the emails that you write them are different from each other instead of canned notes with different names attached. Take a look at these tips on how to write a thank-you email.

    Show unwavering cordiality and professionalism to everyone whom you encounter in the company. Even if you come across the receptionist entering the restroom at the same time as you, politely hold the door. Your good impression will travel throughout the office network.

    Bonus: Return the Favor When You’ve Landed Your Job

    Congratulations! You finally landed! Now it’s time to pay it forward.

    Remember all those who helped you follow the key steps to your sought-after career, and never pass up an opportunity to help others land jobs they love.

    Returning the favor will make you even more appreciative of having found the right career for you. And, when you look for your next job, you will find that you’ve built a network of helpful people on whom you can rely.

    More Job Hunting Tips

    Featured photo credit: Saulo Mohana via unsplash.com

    Reference

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