Thinking About a Career Change at 40?

What You Need to Know Before You Take Your Next Step

40 year old colleagues at workshop
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At age 40, you are almost two decades into your career. If you have continued to work in the same occupation in which you started, you have a great deal of experience by this point. You may have even made progress climbing up the ladder. No telling how far you will go if you stay in the same career. Pity is, you don't particularly like what you're doing. Or maybe, you have realized you actually can't advance any further and, in spite of the fact that you do like your career, you don't want to get stuck in a dead end.

What can you do? You may be worried that it's too late to make a career change. Although it may sound trite, it's never too late. That doesn't mean your transition will be simple or that you can make it without making a great deal of effort. Change is hard, even if you prepare well for it. The truth is, though, that going to work every day, to do something that you don't enjoy, or that isn't gratifying, is far more difficult.

What's Good About Making a Career Change at 40?

Many people report an increase in confidence when they turn 40. Could there be a better time to make a career change than when you feel like you can take on whatever comes your way? 

If you are planning to retire, as many people do, at 65, you still have 25 years of work in your future. Even if it takes you a couple of years to prepare for a different occupation, you will have over two decades left to spend in a satisfying career, if all goes as planned.

And if due to financial needs, you have to work until you are over 65, you will be thankful to be doing something you enjoy.

A career change will affect your life, health, and relationships, probably for the better. Not only is being in the wrong career stressful, deciding whether to make the transition can be overwhelming.

Once you figure out what you are going to do, it will probably come as a great relief.

What Makes Changing Careers at 40 Difficult?

Forty-year-olds have many responsibilities that could make this transition more difficult than changing careers at 30 would have been. At age 40, you are more likely to have children for whom you are financially responsible. You may have purchased a house during the last few years and have a mortgage to pay. The National Association of Realtors reports that the median age of first-time homebuyers was 32 in 2016 ("First-time Buyers, Single Women Gain Traction in NAR's 2016 Buyer and Seller Survey." National Association of Realtors. 2016). 

Annual expenses are higher for 35 to 44-year-olds than they are for 25 to 34-year-olds. Approximately $7,900 goes toward food, $20,600 toward housing, and $3,200 toward healthcare ("3 Reasons You'll Spend More at 40 Than at 30." CNN Money. August 3, 2016). Unlike a 30-year-old who may spend $6,200 on food, $17,900 on housing, and $2,200 on healthcare per year, a 40-year-old may have to dip into savings if he or she intends to take time off from work to prepare for a new career. Alternatively, one may have to continue to work in his or her current occupation while getting ready for a new one.

How to Make a Career Change at 40

Try not to be discouraged by the difficulties involved in making a midlife career change. If you decide you want to make this transition, try to find a way to do it. It may take a bit longer than it would have if you were 10 years younger, but if you do it right, it will likely be worthwhile. Since this will be an effortful endeavor, it is ever so important to make sure you give a lot of thought into choosing a new career.

A self-assessment, your first step in the career planning process, will allow you to learn about your interests, personality type, aptitudes, and work-related values. What you discover at age 40 may be quite different than what you would have unearthed had you done this assessment when you were younger. So, if you remember taking a "career test" when you were in high school or college, don't bother looking for your results.

 Do it again. When you have completed this step, you will end up with a list of suitable options.

Take time to explore the occupations on your list. Your self assessment may indicate that a career is a good match for you based on your traits, but at age 40, you have other things to consider. For example, your financial responsibilities may not allow you to commit a lot of money to training and education. With a family to care for, spending a lot of time studying may not be something you want to do right now. Speaking of preparation, while you still have approximately 25 years left of your career, you may not want to wait several years before you can begin working in your new occupation. If you want to transition into a new career fairly quickly, you should choose one that doesn't require a lot of preparation.

One of the best things about your accumulated years of work is that you have a lot of experience. You may be thinking, "what good will my experience do for me if I change to a new career?" Two words: transferable skills. These are talents and abilities you have acquired from doing one type of work that you can use in another. For some careers, you may even be able to substitute your transferable skills for formal training. When deciding between a career that requires additional schooling and one for which you can use your transferable skills, you may decide to choose the latter. It will allow you to transition more quickly and with less effort, at an age when you may want to limit your expenditure of time, energy, or money. That's not to say you should not choose an occupation for which you will have to formally prepare, but it is nice to have options.

In addition to getting the facts about educational requirements, also learn about duties, outlook, and median earnings. Once you have gathered all your data, evaluate it to decide which occupations are most suitable. Compare job duties in order to decide which ones you like and which you don't. If there are any tasks you can't see yourself performing—remember you don't have to love every one of them, but you must be willing to do it—remove the occupation from your list. Make sure the salary will cover your expenses, let you contribute to savings, and allow you to do things you enjoy, for example, travel. You must also consider the job outlook because if your ability to get a job will be limited, another occupation will be a better choice.