Everything You Need to Know About Making a Career Change in Your Thirties

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Hey, it’s not too late.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Don’t laugh – if the answer isn’t “exactly what I’m doing right now”, there’s a good chance you’re not in your forever job. And, hey, that’s okay – after all, how was your 18-year-old self meant to know what career choice would make you bounce out of bed for the rest of your days?

Some people nail it right out of high school and others take a few false starts to find their calling. The good news is, it’s never too late for a do-over – even if you’ve already invested a decade (plus an expensive degree) in your industry.

“A bit of perspective helps,” says career consultant Raelene Campbell from Career Take 2. “Considering that many people continue to work well into their sixties, switching careers during your thirties can be an investment in future happiness for a significant period of your life. Whatever age you are, even one day in a job that makes you miserable needs to be seriously reconsidered.”

Of course, the thought of starting again after the big 3-0 can be mighty overwhelming – so we’ve found answers for the doubts holding you back. Prepare to be inspired.

“I’m not sure what I really want to do”

No biggie – you just need to do some research on yourself. Think about your core values and the factors underpinning your current discomfort – maybe you’re looking for more creativity, flexibility or a higher salary. “If you know what your non-negotiables are, your search will be more targeted, and your motivation to achieve it will be greatly enhanced,” says Raelene.

Then, get curious – start exploring the fields you suspect will fill you up. “Treat it as an information-gathering project, remembering that there is a difference between exploring and commitment to change,” Raelene suggests. “Exploration can help you uncover interests that you may not have even known you had, without putting pressure on yourself – this can change the entire process from fear to fun.”

“I don’t want to start at the bottom again”

It’s normal to expect that a switch would mean knocking on an entry-level door, but it’s unlikely you’ll have to backpedal too far.

“Quite often, a career change is not a case of starting from the beginning again, but rather leveraging off existing skills to transfer into a different role,” says Raelene. “Consider your entire range of skills, including technical and soft skills (communication, critical thinking and research, to name a few). If you’re not sure what your strengths are, ask former colleagues, friends and family. You’ll be surprised at how others spot strengths in you that you may not have recognised within yourself.”

Once you know what unique talents you bring to the table, you can use them to plug the experience gap in your new resume and hit the ground running.

“But I’ll have to re-train”

Well, yes, it’s likely that you will need to spend a little time cosying up to some textbooks. But you know what? Even if you stay put, you’ll probably have to learn some new tricks eventually. “The reality is, whether you decide to remain in your current career or make a change, life-long learning is an essential ingredient to career success,” Raelene notes.

Thankfully, learning platforms are pretty flexible these days. You can study online, part-time, on the job or a combo of all three. Do yourself a favour and find out which courses are highly regarded by your dream industry to avoid collecting useless qualifications.

“I can’t afford to work for free”

We get it – you’ve already done your time interning to get a foot in the door, and now you have bills to pay. Instead, cultivate a “portfolio career”, suggests Raelene. “This is where you perform multiple roles, gradually reducing the hours in your existing role and steadily increasing the workload in your new role as budget permits,” she explains. “Remember, career change doesn’t have to be about instantly stopping one thing and starting another, and it may take some time to build your reputation in the newly chosen field.”

“I don’t know anyone in the industry”

One of the biggest mistakes Raelene sees career switchers make is attempting to go it alone. “People can waste a huge amount of time, effort and energy through not engaging the support of others,” she says.

This is not a time to be meek. Raelene suggests reaching out to people in your target industry, and ensuring you make the connection mutually beneficial – perhaps you can offer them contacts or a sounding board in exchange for their advice. Later, they can offer a glowing character reference when you’re ready to apply for your dream job. Good luck!

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