When is it too late to make a career change?

Posted on October 29, 2016 in

I’ve met a number of people over the years who feel they are locked into their current occupation or too far down one career track to change. For many of us, it can take years or even decades to figure out ‘what we want to be when we grow up’. And by the time we’ve figured it out, it seems too late to change.  Despite what many people think, it’s never too late to make a career change! However there are usually some consequences – you just need to be ready and willing to deal with them.

One of the biggest and most worrisome impacts of a mid-life career change is financial. Starting afresh in a new career can mean giving up an established role with a good salary and benefits. Other consequences include loss of status or identity, having to do further study, or having to start at the bottom of the ladder. The key question to ask yourself is “Am I prepared to accept short term pain in order to achieve greater job satisfaction in the longer term?”

Here are five tips for making a successful mid-life career change:

  1. Know what it is that you’d like to move to (or at least have some ideas). Do your homework around any jobs or businesses that interest you. Find out as much as you can about entry requirements, skills, remuneration, and market opportunities. Try to experience exactly what it will be like by talking to people already in a similar role or by volunteering. There’s no substitute for test-driving your new career to find out whether it really is for you.
  2. Get your key stakeholders on board. You’ll need the support of your spouse, family or significant others – make sure you take them on the journey with you. Otherwise they are likely to be resistant and create barriers.
  3. Try to find ways to make a career transition rather than a sudden change. Can you reduce your hours in your current role to allow time to explore other options? Can you start studying part-time? Can you use your spare time to work on building your network, doing volunteer work or creating your own business? Any new venture will typically take time to get going, so if you can start while still employed elsewhere, it can reduce the impacts.
  4. Set yourself up financially. Where possible, make adjustments to your financial situation to set yourself up as best you can for a period of reduced income. For example, reduce mortgage payments to the minimum. Get some savings behind you as a buffer for any rough patches. Negotiate with other income-earners in the household about increasing their work hours. Get a loan from family or a bank. Whether you are able to adjust your income and lifestyle in order to make a career change will depend very much on your personal circumstances and may need considerable pre-planning.
  5. Create a SMART goal supported by an action plan. It’s important to give yourself a timeframe and to know exactly where you’re going. An overall goal needs to be supported by a step-by-step plan. Be prepared for a transition that may take between 1-5 years, especially if further study is required.

Getting professional help from a career coach can be useful if you’re struggling, particularly with steps 1 and 5. Remember, the longer you delay, the harder it will be to change!