How to Navigate a Midlife Career Change

Your career makes up a huge chunk of your life. It’s important to spend that time in ways you find rewarding and fulfilling. If you’ve endured years or even decades feeling dissatisfied, frustrated, restless, or unmotivated in your career path, it could be time to contemplate a midlife career change. 

Starting a new career from scratch can be daunting, but the rewards are often worth the challenge. For a successful midlife career change, you need to think about your work experience, goals, values and life situation.

  • Take stock of your soft skills, transferable skills and abilities
  • Research job opportunities and the job market
  • Make a budget. Can you take a pay cut or entry-level position?
  • Get input from mentors, trusted colleagues and family
  • Create a plan with actionable career steps

Reasons to Make a Midlife Career Transition Reasons to Make a Midlife Career Transition

Starting a new career at 35, 40, or 50 is a big step. If you’ve already established a successful career with years of experience, you might be hesitant to chart a new course. It’s important to think carefully about whether a midlife career transition is the best choice for you. Look for these signs that you should change your career path midlife. 

Feeling Disengaged 

If you feel a lack of passion for your work, you are far from alone. Studies have shown that about one in six people between the ages of 35 and 54 are unhappy at work. Only a third of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers say they’re fully engaged at work. Meanwhile, about half are considered not engaged, and 20 percent are actively disengaged. 

Constantly feeling disengaged, unfulfilled or dissatisfied at work could be an indication that it’s time to think about starting a new career. While most people go through occasional stretches of disillusionment at work, the feeling shouldn’t be unrelenting. 

Desire to Make a Difference

Perhaps you like your job just fine -- but something is missing. You feel like your work has little impact, or its mission isn’t furthering the things that are important to you. As much as your aptitude and abilities, your values should play a role in choosing your career path. 

Feeling a sense of purpose is one of the most important factors in work satisfaction. If you can’t find a way to gain that sense of meaning in your current career path, consider what other job opportunities can. 

Overwhelming Stress

Some degree of stress is a normal part of a job. But it’s another thing when the stress reaches a point where it negatively impacts your mental health, personal life, or ability to complete your duties. An excessively stressful job might be the result of a toxic work environment, poor company procedures or a particularly busy stretch. In those cases, you might be able to solve the problem with a change of scenery or a different role.

But if your stressors are inherent to the field or the kind of work you do, ask yourself whether the anxiety and pressure are worth the value you see in your work. If you are frequently dealing with burnout at work, it might be time for a change in career. 

You’ve Plateaued

Perhaps you once found satisfaction in your career, but the magic is gone. You reached your professional goals in your current field long ago and now are left searching for the next chapter. A new career path could help you reinvest in your working life once again. It’s important not to assume a new career will magically solve your problems, but it can help you get excited about coming into the office. 

Untapped Potential

Do you have talents and abilities that are lying fallow? If you don’t see opportunities in your current path to make the most of them, a new career might give you the chance to break them out of retirement. Perhaps the situation is even more extreme -- you have a long-held dream that you’ve always put off. You’re reaching the point in your career where you feel like it’s now or never. In the back of your mind, you know that you’ll have regrets if you never give it a try. 

On their own, these “what ifs” might not be enough of a reason to swerve off your current career trajectory. If you’re happy, satisfied with your job, and earning a stable living, it might be best to explore other pursuits as hobbies or a part-time side hustle. But if you are otherwise dissatisfied with your position, untapped potential can give you focus and encouragement to chart a new course. 

When to Switch Careers Midlife When to Switch Careers Midlife

The average worker changes jobs about 11 times in their life. A study by Robert Half found that 59 percent of workers 35 to 54 believe job hopping is beneficial. 

However, a job change is different than a career transition. A job change might only involve switching roles or companies, while a midlife career change requires reevaluating your whole path. You shouldn’t do it on a lark. For such a drastic life change, it’s important to have confidence that the timing is right. 

How do you know if you’re ready to embark on a new career path? The list below outlines some things you can do to prepare yourself for the leap. None of these are necessary -- but if you’re looking to reassure yourself that you’re making the right decision, think of this as due diligence. 

    • Explore other options. Consider if there are other avenues within your current career that could help you find what you’re looking for. These could include a new role, a new company or a new team. If nothing strikes you as solving your problems, then a new career could be the answer. 
    • Be willing and able to take a pay cut. Learn how much you can expect to make in your new career. Remember, you might have to start out lower on the ladder than you currently are -- maybe as low as entry-level. Get a sense of the sacrifices you can expect to make if you change your career. Make a budget and establish a minimum amount you are willing to take after figuring out how much you’d need to cut back. 
    • Do your research. Learn about the trajectory for the field you’re hoping to enter. Is it expanding or contracting? Are the skills you would develop becoming more or less valuable on the job market? A lucrative, growing sector gives you all the more reason to dive in. 
    • Take stock of your skills. What do you know, and what do you need to learn? You might feel like your personality is a good fit for a certain career, but you might need some training to take on the responsibilities. 
    • Make a plan. Plot out the steps you would need to take to get what you want out of the potential new careers. These could include certifications or degrees, job titles, or professional accomplishments and experiences. 
  • Consult with your mentors, colleagues and confidantes. It never hurts to get outside perspective from someone you trust. Even if you disagree with their assessment, they can help you consider the situation from new points of view. Ultimately, though, trust your own judgment. 
  • Dip your toe in. If possible, take opportunities to work in the job on a volunteer basis, as a freelancer, or part-time before you abandon your current career. No amount of research will prepare you as well as trying out the work for yourself.

How to Choose a New Career PathHow to Choose a New Career Path

If you’ve decided to take the plunge into a brand new career after years of experience in another field, where do you start? Before diving headfirst into a tumultuous, competitive job market, put together a plan that will help you get what you want out of this change. Job searching is challenging for people starting a new career from scratch, so it’s best to be prepared and driven. 

Choosing a new career is hard enough when all your peers are also figuring out their paths. When you’re charting a new course all on your own, it’s easy to feel at a loss of where to start. Try these strategies for picking a new career after a midlife change. 

Personality and Aptitude Tests

If you know that you want a career change but have no idea where to start, there are tools you can use to help make a decision. Different organizations, psychologists and career coaches have developed personality quizzes and aptitude tests that can be useful in determining the right career path for you. These tests offer insights into your strengths, weaknesses and other traits that can help you identify a good fit. 

  • The Big Five Personality Test. Considered one of the most scientifically valid personality tests, the Big Five rates people on their openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
  • Adobe Creative Type. Adobe believes everyone is creative -- but in very different ways. The company’s test determines whether you are an Artist, Adventurer, Maker, Producer, Dreamer, Innovator or Visionary. 
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. One of the most popular personality tests, the MBTI breaks down people into four dichotomies: Introversion/extroversion, intuition/sensing, feeling/thinking and perception/judging. 
  • Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator. This commonly used test sorts people into nine types: The Reformer, the Helper, the Achiever, the Individualist, the Investigator, the Loyalist, the Enthusiast, the Challenger, and the Peacemaker. 
  • Motivational Appraisal Personal Potential Career Assessment. Rather than giving you a personality evaluation and leaving it up to you to figure out a career fit, the MAPP gives you specific jobs it thinks you’re cut out for. 
  • Self-Directed Search. The SDS calls itself the most widely used career assessment in the world. It is based on John Holland’s six types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. 

Career Coaches

If you’re venturing into the unknown territory of a midlife career change, it’s useful to have someone well-versed in the world of career changes to help guide you. Consider hiring a career coach. 

These professionals have dedicated themselves to learn the best practices for navigating a career change. They cover everything from choosing a career, preparing a resume, interviewing, networking and more. A career coach can offer advice, counsel and support if you’re hitting the reset button on your career. Here are some situations where a career coach can come in handy. 

  • You can’t decide on a new career path
  • You’ve submitted plenty of resumes and applications with no responses
  • You freeze up at the interview stage
  • You’re unsure if it’s the right decision to leave your job 
  • You have trouble networking

Remember to be patient. As with any counselor, you can’t expect instant results from hiring a career coach. Even if the guidance is good, the results will ultimately come down to your own efforts -- plus a little bit of timing and luck. 

However, that’s not to say any career coach is necessarily worth the investment. Be sure to look at their experience and qualifications, and don’t hesitate to ask for references. A great career coach will be able to describe in detail how their work leads to results. Clearheaded advice isn’t enough -- you should expect a real plan. Career coaches don’t come cheap, and you want to be sure your dollar will go far. 

Choose a Career Goal and Work Backwards

When you make a midlife career change, you need to be thinking long-term. So when it comes to deciding on a career path, don’t just think about what you’d like to be doing right now. Think hard about what your end-game is, and then trace back the steps that it would take to get there. 

Talk to Other Career Changers

Nothing beats the first-hand experience. If you know of anyone who has made a successful midlife career change -- especially if they entered your chosen field -- be sure to reach out for their advice. They can provide insight into the process of redefining yourself in a new career, networking as a mid-career person in a new field. 

Beyond basic advice like getting your resume seen and acing interviews, those who have lived a career transition can speak to how they ultimately made the decision, how they managed doubts and anxiety, and how they dealt with the aimlessness that often comes with starting anew. 

Follow a Template

Even if you’re an ambitious self-starter, don’t think you necessarily need to carve out a brand new career path from scratch. Look to others who have reached goals like those you have in mind. See the steps they took to get where they are today. These could be people you know personally or just role models in your chosen field. 

Your own path doesn’t have to -- and almost certainly won’t -- follow the same route. But having a model to follow will give you guidance during a confusing time. 

Pros and Cons of Making a Midlife Career Change Pros and Cons of Making a Midlife Career Change

If you’re not certain you want to take the risk of a career transition in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, it’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a midlife career change. Laying out the pros and cons can offer clarity into the best decision for you.

Advantages of a Midlife Career Change

  • Personal growth. A career change is a chance to develop new skills, learn new ways of thinking and doing business, and to put yourself in unfamiliar environments. All of these factors can be rewarding and help you develop as a person and a worker. 
  • Renewed ambition. If you’ve felt uninspired in your work, making a career transition can encourage you with new challenges to meet. This can add a fresh sense of purpose and mission to your life. 
  • Meet new people. One of the perks of starting a new career is to surround yourself with different perspectives and to grow your professional -- and personal -- network. Even if the new career doesn’t end up sticking, those relationships can last beyond the office walls.  
  • Possibility of more happiness. Job satisfaction is a huge factor in our overall happiness. If you’re deeply unhappy in your current job, you’d be surprised how much a better career can make your life as a whole feel more fulfilling. 
  • Staving off regrets. If you know you’ll always kick yourself for not giving a certain career a try, it might be worth doing just so you don’t have to live with that “what if.” 
  • Sense of control and independence. It can be invigorating to take control of your own destiny, rather than relying on the path laid out for you by others. 
  • Potential for reaching new peaks. If you’ve been in one career path for a while, you probably have a firm -- and limiting -- idea of what your future prospects are. While starting a new career might feel like a step back at first if it’s a good fit it could take you to heights you couldn’t have otherwise reached. 

Disadvantages of a Midlife Career Change

  • Less stability. If you’ve built a successful career in one sector of the economy, it’s possible you enjoy a degree of security in your life. Throwing that out of the window for a more precarious career is a possibility not to be diminished. 
  • Learning curve. Studies have shown it becomes more difficult for most people to learn new skills and habits as they grow older. Getting your feet under you in a new career will probably present a challenge at first. 
  • Fear of the unknown. For those who appreciate certainty and careful planning, a midlife career change will lead to just the opposite. A midlife career change requires taking opportunities as they come -- which often means leaving expectations behind. 
  • Less money. Starting a new career often means starting at the lowest rung of the ladder. Make sure you’re willing to bear the financial hit. This isn’t just about salary, either -- you need to factor in the benefits you’ll be getting, and the potential for bonuses and raises. All could be drastically different in your new position. 
  • Self-worth and identity. Some people define themselves by their career. If that describes you, it’s possible you will feel a loss of a part of yourself when you make a midlife career change. 
  • False starts. Nothing worth doing comes easy. After enjoying a comfortable career, starting anew will probably involve its share of false starts, disappointments and even failures. You’ll have to steel yourself to such discouragement if you hope to be successful in your new career. 

Best Careers to Start at Midlife: How to Find the Right JobThe Best Careers to Start at Midlife

The right job for you after a midlife career change depends on a number of factors, including your personal preferences, ambitions, experience and transferable skills. Deciding the best match will vary drastically from person to person. But if you’re at a loss about where to start in your midlife job search, two important factors to consider are pay and future opportunity. 

The Top-Paying, Fastest-Growing Jobs

To find a great opportunity for your midlife career change, consider pursuing the jobs with the highest projected growth rate with high salaries, Here are all of the jobs projected to have “faster than average” growth from now until 2026, at least 50,000 new jobs, and a median salary of at least $75,000, according The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Financial Managers

A financial manager oversees an organization’s finances and plans for its long-term fiscal future. Many have past experience as an accountant, auditor, or financial analyst. 

  • Median Salary: $127,990 per year 
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 19 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 108,600

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers are responsible for educating students past high school, at institutions such as universities, junior colleges, technical and trade schools and elsewhere. 

  • Median salary: $78,470 per year
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Doctoral degree, sometimes a master’s degree or doctoral candidate
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 15 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 197,800

Management Analysts

Management analysts are tasked with making organizations more efficient and profitable, according to the BLS. This field also encompasses management consultants

  • Median salary: $83,610 per year
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Bachelor’s degree. A Certified Management Consultant designation sometimes preferred.
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 14 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 115,200

Medical and Health Services Managers

These workers handle the administration of a medical facility or department. These jobs might also be referred to as healthcare executives or administrators. 

  • Median salary: $99,730 per year
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Bachelor’s degree. Master’s degrees are common. 
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 20 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 72,100

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners are healthcare workers who are able to coordinate care, interpret tests, diagnose patients, and handle other healthcare duties beyond the scope of registered nurses. 

  • Median salary: $113,930 per year
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Master’s degree, along with state licensing and national certification. 
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 31 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 64,200

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists (PTs) help to rehabilitate people dealing with injuries or other physical impairments. Patients rely on PTs to cope with chronic issues and recovery. 

  • Median salary: $87,930 per year
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Doctoral or professional degree, specifically a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, in addition to state licensing
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 28 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 67,100

Software Developers

Software developers conceive of, design and create computer programs. 

  • Median salary: $105,590 per year
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Bachelor’s degree in computer science is common, but coding and programming skills are the main requirements
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 24 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 302,500

Changing to a Career in Logistics 

If you are considering a new career, logistics presents ample opportunities. Logisticians are involved in moving items along a supply chain. They develop, enact and coordinate the processes that allow companies to get their products to consumers or other companies as efficiently as possible. 

The opportunities for logisticians are growing at about the same rate as the United States job market at large. The growth of e-commerce has made successful logistics more important to companies than ever before. To stay competitive with businesses like Amazon, businesses are rethinking the way they operate their supply chains. 

If you pursue a job as a logistician, this is what you can expect: 

  • Median salary: $74,600 per year
  • Entry-level Education Requirement: Bachelor’s degree, or associate’s degree in some cases
  • Job Outlook/Growth Rate through 2026: 7 percent
  • New Jobs by 2026: 10,300

Easy Career Changes That Pay WellEasy Career Changes that Pay Well

Are you changing careers because you want to make more money fast? Here’s the hard reality: If there were an easy, surefire way to make a lot of money, everyone would do it. Jobs usually pay well if they require specialized skills that are in high demand, or if the role otherwise produces revenue for an organization. The competitive job market means that “easy” careers are brimming with workers willing to do the work -- so companies don’t have to pay as much for a good candidate. 

If you want to make more money through a career change, expect to put some work into it. For most people -- those not born to advantages or connections -- no one is handing you a great-paying job unless you’ve shown you deserve it. 

All that said, the two fastest-growing occupations with the best job outlook don’t require advanced degrees. If you are looking for a promising career opportunity with lots of openings and a relatively low barrier of entry, consider becoming a solar photovoltaic installer of wind turbine service technician

Solar Photovoltaic Installer

The fastest growing occupation in the United States is a solar photovoltaic installer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These workers install solar panels onto homes and other buildings. The number of jobs is expected to more than double between 2016 and 2026. The median salary is $42,680 per year. 

The role requires a high school diploma or equivalent, so changing to this career does not require specialized knowledge. However, training courses at community colleges or technical schools will give job seekers a leg up in this area. New employees can also expect on-the-job training. 

Wind Turbine Technicians

Wind turbine technicians fall just behind solar panel installers in the list of fastest-growing jobs. The number of jobs is expected to nearly double between 2016 and 2026. The median salary is $54,370 a year. 

To get this job, job seekers will need to learn the trade at a technical school and receive on-the-job training. 

What Not to Do When Starting a New CareerWhat Not to Do When Starting a New Career

If you are eager for a new opportunity, you might be vulnerable to false promises. It’s important to be on your guard of anyone assuring an easy path to success and high pay. 

For-profit colleges, for example, tout classes in growing fields. But in many cases, these schools lack the proper accreditations that make degrees and certifications valuable on the job market. 

Similarly, multi-level marketing programs dangle the promise of working on your own schedule and being your own boss while making money. But often, they require your own investment and lead to dubious results. The company is usually the only ones making money, leaving hopeful entrepreneurs with the bill. 

Midlife Career Change to Programming

Computer programming jobs might not be as plentiful as you expect. In recent times, those stuck in a career rut are often told to “learn to code.” Computer programming is seen as a promising career path. However, projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tell a more complicated story about finding a job as a computer programmer. 

The BLS job outlook estimates that the computer programming opportunities will actually decline by 7 percent in the United States between 2016 and 2026. That’s a loss of about 21,300 jobs. As the BLS explains, computer programming can be done anywhere, and companies are increasingly outsourcing these responsibilities to other countries. This shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you from taking up computer programming, but you should be aware of the high level of competition. 

That’s not to say that opportunities aren’t plentiful in the world computer programs and applications. Those interested in this field for their midlife career change might be better off pursuing opportunities in web development, software development or computer systems analysis. All three are expected to see thousands of new job opportunities by 2026. 

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