Guidelines to Navigate a Career Change in Your 30s and 40s

If you’re in your 30s or 40s and looking for a career change, you’re in the majority.

Inflation and growing fears of a recession have impacted career confidence and job security. According to a recent report, more than 70% of survey respondents conveyed they were actively seeking or considering changing careers. Concerns about job security seem to be a driving factor, with nearly two-thirds of survey respondents communicating that they’re either “extremely concerned” (32%) or “somewhat concerned” (31%) about their future prospects.

Although embarking on a midlife career change can seem difficult, it also can be an opportunity for increased job satisfaction, personal growth, and a chance to pursue your interests and passions. With the right planning and professional guidance, you can successfully design and launch a career change at this stage.

Motivations for a Midlife Career Change

Before we jump into the challenges and guidelines to navigate a midlife career change, let’s look at what drives many people to consider changing careers.

When people get to their late 30s or early 40s, they’ve typically reached somewhere between the one-third and halfway mark of their careers. At this point, they have sufficient experience to know what engages them and what drains them at work. Their lives also likely have become more complex, with priorities and interests competing for their attention.

They also may begin wondering, or fearing, if the decisions and choices they’ve made along the way have helped or hindered them getting where they expected to be by this time in their career.

It’s quite common for a range of thoughts and feelings to creep in here – everything from restlessness to regret or even curiosity – that leads people to consider changing their career direction. This goes beyond a job search. They’re looking to shift and do something significantly different from anything they’ve done so far.

Think of this as quarterbacking the mid-to-late second quarter of a football game.

Here’s how it goes:

  • The initial adrenaline and excitement you felt at the start have subsided.
  • You know what’s working and not working for you.
  • You’ve gained an understanding of the opportunities and challenges you face.
  • You must decide if you’re going to stick to your game plan or if pivoting and adapting are necessary for your success.

Career Change Challenges in Your 30s and 40s

Career change challenges in your 30s and 40s can be quite different from those encountered by younger individuals. The obstacles people might encounter can include:  

External factors

  • Conflicting priorities caused by family, social, or other pressures or constraints.
  • Lacking specialized or specific education, skills or experience required for success.
  • Insufficient resources or savings to cover a potential disruption in earnings.

Internal factors

  • Lack of awareness of how their skillset can apply to a new career.
  • Knowing what they don’t want but struggling to express what they do want.
  • Worries about jeopardizing financial security or taking on too much risk.
  • Fear of failure or making a mistake.
  • Low confidence in launching something new without experience.

Guidelines to Navigate a Midlife Career Change

Switching careers can feel daunting, overwhelming, exhilarating, empowering or any combination of emotions in between. Managing those emotions begins with understanding the thoughts or interpretations that drive those feelings. Gaining control of your thoughts so they fuel sustaining and productive actions requires raising your perspective and increasing your awareness.

Start by building your awareness in the following areas:

  • Gaining clarity on your interests and identify your transferable skills. In addition to making a list of these on your own, you can take the Strong Interest Inventory to explore potential career paths that align with (strongest) interests and (greatest) strengths.
  • Understanding your leadership style and personality traits. This will enable you to know the kind of company culture you’re attracted to (or are likely to create), as well as the behaviors and performance factors you’re likely to reward or discourage. The Hogan Assessments are a suite of valuable tools to deliver insights on behaviors and traits that enhance or inhibit your leadership effectiveness and presence.

Shifting from awareness to action, you continue by designing your transition strategy:

  • Identifying high priority focus areas to pursue: Review the areas of overlap among your strongest interests, greatest skills, and leadership traits.
  • Creating your development plan: This will help you get current and gain new and complementary knowledge, skills, and experiences. Research formal training and development opportunities along with less structured approaches – subscriptions, one-off conversations, industry conferences – according to your learning needs and style.
  • Building your own personal “board of directors” (BOD): A group of people who represent your career “inner circle,” tap into them to consult for advice and feedback. Not only can your personal BOD help with networking and making introductions to key contacts, but they also can challenge you, hold you accountable for commitments (to yourself and others), and assist with brainstorming or stress testing ideas.
  • Refreshing your credentials: Update your resume, LinkedIn profile, correspondence, etc., to frame your experience in line with your new direction.
  • Activating your network: Identify who in your professional network is already doing the work, is in the space where you want to be, or can make some high-impact introductions for you to connect with others who are but aren’t close contacts of yours.
  • Implementing your outreach strategy: Set up informational or informal meetings to gain insights into experiences, challenges, and tips and advice for making your transition. Show enthusiasm for your new direction and appreciation for their time and perspective, and see who else they might know who can be helpful to you.

Team Up with a Career Transition Coach

Partnering with a coach on your career transition encourages you to identify, challenge and overcome obstacles that hold you back from having the career fulfillment and satisfaction you seek.

Specifically, your coach helps you:

  • Challenge limiting beliefs about yourself or the world in general.
  • Shift your mindset to develop resilience.
  • Reduce judgment and shift to curiosity and discernment.
  • Eliminate fear.
  • Gain confidence as you develop and execute your plan.

A career change in your 30s or 40s is more like chess than checkers. Your success can come from designing a series of well-planned steps instead of making one big “jump.”

For more insight on how coaching can support you in your career transition, check out these two articles from The Leader’s Edge:

To find out more about 4D Career Transition Coaching by Leading Edge, follow this link to schedule a complimentary discovery session.