How to Change Careers Successfully at Any Age
There are many reasons people decide to change careers. Perhaps you fell into your current career because you weren’t sure what you wanted to do right after school. Or you want a career that makes you feel less stressed and more fulfilled than your current job. Or maybe you wish to make more money, have more flexibility, or have more excellent work-life balance.
Whatever your reason might be, you’re not alone in wanting to change paths: a 2021 survey conducted by The Harris Poll revealed that 50% of American workers are thinking of making a career change in the near future because of COVID-19. In other words, the pandemic has forced half of the country’s workforce to reconsider their professional situation and look for better alternatives.
But while lots of people may daydream about switching careers, few make the leap. This is because changing jobs can feel incredibly daunting and intimidating, and not everybody is willing to take the risk. And in some cases, it may also require a ton of sacrifice and effort, especially if you’re changing paths drastically and need to go back to school or go through some kind of training where you need to invest both time and money.
When thinking of switching to a new career, it can also be scary to re-define your professional identity, particularly if you’ve given years or decades of your life to traveling down one occupational path. Depending on your situation, you may even ponder whether taking this step is actually a good idea, since you’re probably comfortable right where you are, at least to some degree. And what about your age? Is it ever too late to make a career change?
The short answer is no: it’s never too late to change careers, no matter how old you are. For starters, most of your working life and professional accomplishments will likely happen after your 20s. That means that even if you switch paths later in life, you’ll still have plenty of time to pursue a career in a field that genuinely makes you feel excited and motivated. And more importantly, you deserve to feel happy and fulfilled in every aspect of your life, regardless of your age.
So, if you’re feeling ready for a change, here are the top 3 things you need to keep in mind for making a successful transition at any age.
Find Your ‘Why’
Making a successful career swap starts with really looking inward and taking stock of your present professional situation: what is it about your job that’s not working? Which aspects of your current profession do you like or dislike? Is your dissatisfaction actually related to your career, or does it have more to do with your place of employment? Spend a couple of weeks creating a list of the highs and lows of your workday and see if any trends keep popping up.
For example, you might find that there are aspects of your job that you actually do like, but you’re no longer connecting with the industry you’re in. Or perhaps you find the opposite: that you love your current industry but absolutely hate your role. These self-evaluation exercises can help you gain valuable insights to help you prepare to move on.
If you’re stuck trying to find your ‘why,’ a brief stint in therapy could be incredibly helpful. Working with a qualified counselor or psychologist can help you figure out your priorities and provide a safe space to work on skills to make the transition to a different career smoother. And as you strengthen your sense of self and learn more about wants and needs, you’ll gain more clarity around your long-term professional objectives and the steps you need to take to achieve them.
Upgrade Your Skills
Once you have a better sense of your ‘why,’ it’s time to hone the necessary skills for landing your dream job. Start by writing down your core strengths (i.e., the expertise or talent that makes you great at what you do) and think of ways you could use them to your advantage in a new career.
At first, focus exclusively on any transferable skills you may have that can be applied to multiple jobs, roles, or industries. Later, you can think of industry-specific skills (known as technical skills) that you may need to develop or hone for your future new career, so you start taking classes, attending conferences, or shadowing someone in that field to gain experience.
Here are a few examples of transferable and technical skills to help you get started:
- Analytical reasoning
- Attention to detail
- Computer skills
- Critical thinking
- Project management
- Time management
- Computer programs & software
- Data analysis
- Digital design
- Graphic design
- Marketing strategy
Set SMART Goals
As simple as it sounds, one of the keys to transitioning successfully to your ideal career is to set distinct goals. But not just any plain old goal: SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. The concept was first introduced by George T. Doran in 1981 to help leaders devise management objectives and improve productivity through measurable, trackable goals.
How many times have you set a goal but failed miserably after only a few days or weeks? Unfortunately, this all-too-common issue is often the result of not setting goals that are specific enough, that are too aggressive, or ill-conceived. Fortunately, creating SMART goals can help solve these problems.
SMART goals allow you to direct your time and resources wisely while continuously monitoring and adjusting your process in a systematic, fool-proof manner. They also set boundaries and define the steps you’ll need to take to achieve them by creating a clear and concise road map. Let’s see an example:
Julie would like to change careers from teaching to digital marketing. Here’s the difference between setting a regular goal and a SMART goal:
- Not SMART goal: “Change careers to digital marketing.”
- SMART goal: “Find a new job in digital marketing within the next 6 months by enrolling in a Digital Marketing Certification course and applying to 5 different positions each week.”
Specific: This goal is very specific: to find a job in digital marketing.
Measurable: Julie can measure this goal easily by keeping track of how many jobs she’s applied to each week.
Attainable: Learning a new skill (digital marketing, in this case) through a course makes this goal significantly more achievable.
Relevant: The goal is directly related to Julie’s desire to change career paths.
Time-bound: Julie is giving herself 6 months to find a new job in digital marketing.
Embarking on a new career journey after you’ve spent years going down one lane is no walk in the park. But if this is something you truly want to do, know that your efforts will be worth it in the end. There’s only one secret to changing careers successfully at any age: preparation.
Think long and hard about why you want to make this change; it will help you identify patterns in your current professional life that could make the transition easier. Next, identify skills that might be transferable to a new profession and decide which new skills you need to cultivate. And finally, consider setting explicit, time-dependent SMART goals to help create your roadmap for success.