How to Change Careers in Your 40s

Don’t be afraid that being 40 will be a disadvantage when changing careers. Many great businessmen including Col. Sanders of KFC and Jeff Bezos started at 40.
At any age, switching careers can be scary. You can be giving up a social network, professional contacts, a reputation, and even some skills acquired after hard work. When you're in your 40s, have worked hard to establish yourself somewhere, and possibly have additional financial and family responsibilities to take into account, all of this is amplified. Fear not, in this guide we will show you how to plan for a career change at 40 that causes the least amount of disruption to your life.
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You're not alone if you're thinking of leaving a toxic boss, have lost interest in your field, or wish you had more control over your prospects. 

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that from July 2021 to January 2022, about 4 million Americans left their jobs each month. That trend has shown no sign of slowing down.

Perhaps even as you are reading this article, you are assessing the benefits and drawbacks of leaving the safety of your current paycheck, considering how you'll provide for your family, or having regrets that you've wasted half a career in a job you never liked. The whole thing can become overwhelming.

On the other hand, the idea of new beginnings into something that will make you happier is thrilling especially if you have emotionally checked out of your profession. The big question is how can you switch careers without significantly disturbing your life.

This guide explains what to do when you need that change. We have covered everything from the advantages of changing your career at 40 to transitioning without hurting your bank account.

Download Checklist " 10 Simple Steps to Smooth Job Change"

Changing careers in your 40s

Why do people change careers in their 40s? 

Changing careers in your 40s is in fact just the right time to be doing it. This is the mid-way point in your professional life and you have enough wisdom to judge and do what may make you happier towards the later half of your career.

There is no age that is too old for a career change but if you need evidence of this just consider the following people who followed their dreams to a career change at or very close to 40:

  • Colonel Sanders:
    Colonel Harland Sanders
    , the man who started KFC, might be a name you are familiar with. Did you know, though, that he didn't start selling his ‘finger lickin’ good’ chicken until he was 40?
  • Vera Wang:
    Vera Wang is a well-known fashion designer who launched her company at the age of 40, just as she was getting married. She has clothed some of the biggest celebrities, including Michelle Obama, the Kardashians, Victoria Beckham, & Mariah Carey.
  • Tom Freston:
    Tom had to return to the United States in his mid-thirties with little money after the Middle East conflict devastated his business. Two years later, he joined MTV as a founding member and was largely responsible for its enormous popularity around the world in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Jeff Bezos : Jeff had initially made the decision to launch an online bookstore, but by the time he was close to 40, he raised the first IPO collecting $560 million. Bezos went on to transform Amazon into a company that actually changed the way we shop and revolutionized retail.

You, yourself, can also begin a new career at or around 40 if that is what you want. It might require some planning, but it's never too late to make new personal and professional goals that make you feel more fulfilled.

Since starting your first job, you have probably made significant personal and professional progress. 

You might have mastered communication and interpersonal skills learned to cooperate with challenging team members, maintain productivity through self-motivation, and learned to reinvent and even rebrand yourself.

A great way to get inspired and find success with career change is to listen to the best podcasts on the subject and to read the top books by career change experts. We highly recommend this exercise if you are serious about career change.

A Man Working on the Metal Plate Surface While Holding a Welding Machine
Photo by Prakash Chavda

A step-by-step guide to changing careers at 40

The following checklist can help you change careers at any point and make the transfer as smooth as possible:

1. Be clear on why you’re looking for a change

Before you commit, ask yourself why you want to change careers. Make a list of all your justifications for the switch. Then re-evaluate in light of all the positive things you are hoping to gain from your new employment. Are the benefits worth the career change?

This will enable you to decide whether you desire a change of career at 40 or simply a new employer, position, or working environment. In either case, only you can choose whether giving up is worthwhile for you.

Some people prefer to set up their own business to doing a job when they want to switch careers. If you feel you want to test your entrepreneurial skills while wanting to change careers, read this excellent guide.

2. Talk to your family or dependents

Although you will be the one doing the new work, your choice will undoubtedly have an impact on others. Tension may develop later if you don't get their input and deal with their issues right away.

It is important to have all the stakeholders support you as much as possible so that you can focus on making the midlife career change and not get distracted by these other issues.

3. Shortlist your transferable skills

By the time you are 40 you already have a lot of experience under your belt and a number of key skills that any employer will value across industries. Most employers, for example, place a high value on soft skills including good problem-solving, management, and organizational ability.

Find opportunities to build on your most valuable transferable skills by taking on new tasks at work or in your free time. For example, if writing is a key skill that the new career requires then volunteer for a project which requires documentation.

4. Get any essential skills that are missing

Sometimes, you simply might not have some key skill(s) required by your new career. For example, you are a graphic designer in an ad agency but you want to be a photographer instead. 

You are already creative and have a good sense of image composition, but to become a professional photographer you need to learn how to use the camera and understand lighting. A short course in photography can do this for you. 

Consider enrolling in a community college if you have to get an associate’s degree for your needed skills.

 Additionally, you can visit Unmudl for quick relevant courses that offer certificates you may list on your CV to increase your value when looking for jobs.

Here is a list of 7 short courses that can help you start rewarding careers.

5. Get first-hand experience

Having some practical experience would be quite helpful when you change careers. There are many ways to gain real-world experience before starting your first job. 

We have listed some practical ways for you to get relevant experience.

At the current job:

  • Ask to be given responsibilities in your current position or organization that are related to your new profession

In your free time you have several options:

  • Apply for a relevant internship
  • Volunteering for work in your future industry
  • Job shadowing another professional in your future industry
  • Freelancing

6. Seek a mentor

Learn as much as you can from experts in your new industry if you want to advance swiftly. 

Remember that the internet is a terrific tool for finding experts and thought leaders who can provide first-hand advice about breaking into a field.

If you don't personally know anyone who could serve as a mentor, look for groups on social media sites that you may join to post queries and learn from others' experiences.

7. Learn the lingo

Photographers have their own lingo or jargon as does any industry. Watch out for specific words and phrases that are frequently used in job advertisements and on corporate websites in the industry you wish to get into.

Speaking their language will demonstrate to companies that you have done your homework and have a solid basic understanding of their business when you apply for jobs or attend interviews.

8. Update your resume

One of the best ways to expedite your career change is to build a strong CV. Avoid generalizations, be specific, and weave your personal narrative across the entire document.

Remember, you consciously chose to switch careers because you were passionate about this new job. Show that by telling your story in a concise but impactful way.

You can also go through one of our most popular guides on career change. It focuses specifically on helping you figure out what you want if you are unsure of what to do.

Crop estate agent working with computer in office
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

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Advantages of a career change at 40

A very important part of changing careers at 40 is to believe in yourself. Most people are afraid to switch careers because they feel they will have a disadvantage when they try to get into a new field at 40 years of age.

In fact, being 40 there are several key advantages that you have over your younger competitors. 

  • You are already a veteran
    Imagine you are a general and you have to send a small team for a critical surgical mission in a deadly conflict. 

    For one of the team members, you have two options: a fresh recruit who has never experienced the horrors of warfare but has expert sniper skills or a decorated and seasoned veteran who has transferred and acquired fresh sniper skills.

    Highly likely you will want a hand that’s not shaking when the going gets tough. Like the veteran soldier, you've probably been working for at least 20 years if you are now 40.

    Just as in the example above, employers prefer veteran and experienced people even if it requires some on-the-job training to get them up to speed.

    Make use of this extensive experience and highlight it whenever possible.
  • You still have plenty of time

    There’s still plenty of time to make money and advance in a new career if you intend to retire at 67 years old, which is the full retirement age for people born after 1959. 

    55% of US workers, according to a recent report, intend to work past the retirement age giving you even more time to realize your dreams.
  • You can lead a life that gives you more fulfillment

    When you are starting out in your career you rarely have the wisdom to understand what you want in life and what would make you genuinely happy.

    At 40, you have the opportunity to realign your life with your ultimate life goals or true passion. Changing professions can be what you need if you seek a better work-life balance, a thrilling challenge, or a leadership position.
  • A strong network at 40!

    Compared to fresh graduates and even some experienced candidates, it is highly likely that at 40 years of age you have built a good professional network with two decades of work behind you.

    This network can help you both directly and indirectly. For example, you were an accountant and are planning to make a switch to a web developer. I am sure that there will be many people in your network who will either want a website developed or know someone who will want one.
Download Checklist " 10 Simple Steps to Smooth Job Change"

Final thoughts

We sincerely hope that our article about changing careers at forty has motivated you to take action. 

You can switch to your desired career by following our step-by-step guide above. Remember that you have transferable skills and what you don’t have can easily be acquired through a certificate course.

In case it can’t you can always go back to school and get a degree with evening classes.

It won't happen quickly. Remember that experience and age can be a definite benefit on the job market, so take pride in the efforts you've done to get here and have faith in the information and abilities you currently possess.

Finally, build a strong resume that highlights your strengths, transferable skills, and passion while building a strong consistent narrative that tells your story throughout the application process from the cover letter to the interview. We wish you the best of luck with your new career!

Frequently Asked Questions

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