Tips for a Successful Mid-Career Change
Switching to a new industry doesn't mean going back to entry level
Have you been feeling bored or frustrated at work lately? Or, do you work in an industry with falling job opportunities? If you’re a mid-career worker considering switching careers for whatever reason, here’s good news:
Transitioning to a new career and industry doesn’t mean that you will need to begin from the bottom. Even if it’s not in the same field, your experience still counts, and can help you skip over entry-level positions.
If you’re considering making a change to your career path, start by evaluating what you want to be doing, and what job would make you happy. Take a look at this advice on how to know if you should switch jobs—or switch careers. Then, see how to create a transition plan to ensure a successful career switch.
Why Do You Want to Transition—And to What?
If you’ve reached the mid-career level, you’ve worked for around 10 years, if not longer. It’s not unreasonable that you may feel a desire for change. The question is, what’s the right change for you? Here are some of the possibilities to consider:
New job in the same field: If you fundamentally enjoy the work your work and are engaged by your industry, you may just want a new job. In this scenario, it may just be your particular job—the co-workers, the hours, the culture, etc.—that isn’t a good fit, rather than this type of job or career in general. Often, mid-career professional workers are promoted into management positions that are less personally satisfying than when they worked directly on projects. If that’s the case for you, you may want to move down the career ladder within your field.
New career in different industry, using similar skills: If your industry is contracting or growing obsolete, or you feel ready for a significant change in focus, a job that utilizes your same skills, but with a twist, might be your best option. For instance, a journalist might want to switch to public relations, still using storytelling and communications skills, but in a different arena.
A total pivot: Sometimes a complete change is necessary. At mid-career, many people want to reinvent their work life (and themselves!) entirely. Think of the corporate worker who yearns to leave the city entirely and work on a farm. That’s a big transition—but it’s doable.
For a strong, successful transition, you’ll need to identify what is currently making you unhappy, and what will make you happy in the future. Speak with co-workers and friend, and get their take. These conversations may help clarify how big a move you should make.
Think about all the jobs you’ve ever held, stretching back to after school and summer job as a teen, for more insight into what you do well, and what you enjoy most. If your first job was in retail, for instance, was it helping customers find what they wanted that was most satisfying, or leaving the shelves orderly at the end of the day?
If you’re struggling to figure out what you want or are overwhelmed with the possibilities, take a look at some of these free career quizzes, aptitude tests, and self-assessment tools.
Create a Plan
Once you identify your ideal job, your next step is to come up with a plan for how to get it. You’ll need to engage with real-world considerations (think: monthly bills; your kids’ schools; etc.) to ensure that your dream career is realistic based on your existing responsibilities. And, you’ll need to evaluate which skills you have, and which skills you’ll need to add. In some cases, you'll be able to change careers without going back to school.
Identify your current skills: What skills and talents do you possess, and how could they be applied to your new field? Remember, as a seasoned worker, you’re in luck: many of the skills employers seek out the most are transferable. Unlike an entry-level employee, you’re not starting from scratch. If you have worked in television production, for instance, but want to move to human resources, your interpersonal skills, as well as problem-solving abilities, and a knack at juggling tasks and managing personalities, can be tremendously helpful.
List out all your skills and abilities.
Identify the skills you need to have: Next, look at job postings for the position you want to have. What requirements are listed? Remember, you don’t need to have every requirement listed on a job posting to apply—but there are some that are often deal-breakers. You may need to take a class or get a degree. You may need to take a salary cut and start at a lower-level position than the one you’re at currently. Or, you may need to think of creative ways to add experience to your resume, such as taking on a volunteer position that allows you to learn new skills.
Use all of this information to create a timeline and to-do list for your transition to new work—this may involve taking classes,
Transition Tactics for Mid-Career Candidates
You’ve identified the transferrable skills that you can bring to your new career, as well as the skills you need to add on. Now, here are a few strategies to make your job search in a new industry a success:
Update your resume: Lean heavily on the summary statement or objective section to express your story and show how your current skills and abilities are transferable. Also, check out tips for what to cut from a mid-career resume, and how to write a powerful career change resume. Be sure, as well, to target your cover letters to the new jobs for which you're applying.
Use your existing network: Don’t feel like you need to start a whole new network, just because you’re switching gears. Inform close friends and trusted confidants that you’re considering a move, and share the details on what you’re looking for. You never know what jobs will come into people’s inboxes. Here’s more information on how to use networking in your job search.
Look within your current company: Who knows you better than your current company? Even if you are making a big switch—from HR to sales for instance—your current workplace may be willing to work with you to make this transition. Because management knows your skills and accomplishments, they may be more willing to take a risk and try you out in a new position.
Expand your network: Start going to networking events in the field you want to work at. Prepare an elevator pitch, and use it while you take classes, socialize with friends, etc. Let everyone know the type of position you want, and how it logically fits with your work history, even if it seems like a bit of a leap.
Do informational interviews: One easy way to expand your network, and learn the lingo of the new field you want to enter, is to do informational interviews.
Prepare for job interviews: When your changing careers you'll need to convince the interviewer that you've got the right qualifications for the job. These tips will help you sell your skills and ace a career change job interview.
One last tip: Consider going slowly, especially with drastic changes. If you have a marketing position, but yearn to do something with hands-on creativity, consider starting an Etsy store, or creating a website selling your wares. Work on this during evenings and weekends, until you have a clear sense if it’s financially sustainable and fulfilling.
At every step of your career transition, think of your years of experience as an advantage, and not an impediment. Your experience is still meaningful and can inform your future career, even if it’s a departure from what you were working on previously.