Making a Career Change in Your 30s, 40s, or 50s: Strategies for Success

Making a Career Change in Your 30s, 40s, or 50s: Strategies for Success was originally published on uConnect External Content.

It’s easy to mythologize our grandparents’ and parents’ careers.

Many of them worked in the same industry – or even at the same company! -throughout their lives. They earned healthy pensions, were promoted regularly, and came to view their peers as lifelong friends. 

But if this was ever entirely true, and not just nostalgia, this one-career professional life certainly isn’t the reality for almost anyone in the 21st century. Nearly everyone works at multiple organizations, and many change careers at least once. 

The average number of career changes Americans make in their lives is difficult to define. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the number of job changes individuals make but not how many distinct fields they leave and enter. Most statistics suggest that each person will change careers three to seven times during their working lives. 

Despite how common it is, it can be intimidating to consider changing careers if you’re a mid-career professional in your 30s, 40s, or 50s. If you start over in a new field, you may worry that you’ll have to take a pay cut or climb a step or two down the career ladder. 

However, if you’re not happy in your current field, then you’re likely harming your mental and physical health, as well as your motivation levels. So, if you want to make a mid-life career change, you shouldn’t talk yourself out of it – and you’ll be in good company. 

Here are our top strategies for ensuring you’re making a fulfilling career move. 


✅ Make sure it’s your career field – not just your particular job – that needs changing.

You may be unhappy in your job, but are you certain that it’s your career that needs to be shifted?

Sometimes, we think we need to change fields entirely when all we really need is a job change – something that is certainly easier to make happen. 

Executive Coach Erica McCurdy tells jobseekers to check in with themselves to decide if it’s the career or the job that isn’t working. 

“Is it because you are truly unhappy with your career? Or could it be the environment, geography, or something else that is causing the unrest? Gain clarity before going after the change. You will be asked at some point to explain your reasons. You will be able to give a more positive and engaging answer if you have reached a personal comfort level with your decision first,” she said.


✅ Identify your values.

Once you’re certain you want to change careers, you can start thinking about the field or fields you want to explore.

Some career changers are certain about what they want to do – perhaps they’ve always had an unexplored passion – while others just know what they don’t want to do. 

The first step is to identify how you would like to be spending your time. Do you want to do work that fits into your mission and values? What tasks get you into a flow state, and which ones do you dread completing? 

“Take a good look at your values, interests, personality, and skills (sometimes shortened as VIPS). These are just pieces of the puzzle. You have to find the common themes and threads – and they can change over time. But the bottom line is: if you’re not interested in something, it won’t work,” said Leslie Helmuth for Harvard Extension School.


✅ Research to determine the right field for you.

Once you’ve figured out your VIPS, you can start hunting for the right field for you.

There are two parts to effective career-changing: research and networking. 

First, make a list of the careers that interest you. Then, start doing basic research to rule out fields using the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop research page. For instance, you might discover a career that interests you and pays much less than you would be willing to accept. 

When you have a manageable list of potential careers, track down people on LinkedIn who hold these jobs, ideally at companies where you would want to work. After all, you can’t know what a career would be like until you interview professionals who already do that work. 

So, your goal is to hold informational interviews where you can ask questions about the “behind the scenes” of careers and industries you find interesting. 

Wharton Business School suggests that you may already have contacts in the fields you’re researching on your LinkedIn. 

“Search your connections to find contacts who work in the industry or at similar jobs to the one you want. Send them a note to update them on your status and ask them what’s going on in their professional worlds. Use LinkedIn to strengthen networking relationships instead of just pushing your own agenda,” they suggest. 


Decide if you want to quit entirely or just freelance in your new field.


This research can take months to complete, so you should decide if you want to quit your current job while you’re looking for a new one. One alternative is to dip your toe into your new career by freelancing – as of 2019, 35 percent of the American workforce freelanced in some capacity. What better way to know if you’d actually like to work full-time in your newly-chosen career? 

Making a Mid-Life Career Change 

If you’re succeeding in your current field, it can be intimidating to consider a mid-life career change. You may worry that you’ll have to take a significant step backward or be deemed “too old” to start over. 

But most experts report that the average American changes careers at least three times, so you won’t be alone in your endeavor. Instead, you might discover that you’re much more aligned with your new profession than you thought possible – and wouldn’t that be worth the struggle to get there?

Still not sure if you want to make a mid-life career change? Read our article “Steps To Decide If a Career Change Makes Sense For You” for more advice.