Making a career change at any age can be a daunting prospect, but if you’re unsatisfied with your current career, it’s worth it in the long run to look for a path that is ultimately more personally rewarding. In fact, it’s fairly common to enter the workforce at a young age in a field that is convenient - and then to realize that you’re ready for something different as you look down the road.
Fortunately, career changes are fully possible with the right preparation. One approach that tends to help is to break the process down into smaller steps. To begin, it may help to evaluate if this is the right time for you to consider a career change.
P.S. If you're later in your career, read our guide on making a career change at 50.
Why a career change may be right for you
Your first (or even second) career path does not need to define you. This is important to keep in mind as early workforce experiences and college degrees alike can lend to the sensation of being locked into place based on what you already know how to do.
If you are unhappy with your current employment situation - be it due to inflexible hours, low pay, or working in an atmosphere that simply doesn’t mesh with your personality - it may be time to consider a change. A new career, if chosen well, can amplify your skills and your innate interests while providing you with the working conditions you desire.
Upward mobility is an important factor for many. Few things are as discouraging as not having your performance fairly rewarded, especially in the long term. If your current career or position doesn’t allow for future growth, it may be time to look elsewhere.
Lastly, if you have a personal passion (such as working with animals, being a writer, or assisting others in need) that you believe could translate into a comfortable career, you owe it to your future self to consider it as an option.
Choosing your next career at 30
If it feels like the time to look for a new career, your next step will be to consider what you really want to do. Don’t simply base this on what you don’t want to do, as that process tends to be less fulfilling.
Choosing a career with more flexibility, schedules, or pay
One technique may be to imagine what you’d like your work day to look like. Do you appreciate flexible hours? A remote or independent career path may be best. Perhaps you enjoy working outdoors and with the public, potentially leading you to a position with a park service.
Write down what features you’d like your job to have, and rank what’s most important to you. You can use the list to search for your top-ranked features, such as “careers with high pay”, “careers with flexible hours”, or “careers for working outdoors”. Or, see similar jobs or careers as your current one, to see what options best fit your preferences. Often, if the main pain point of your current career involves something like flexibility, work schedules or pay, you may find it much easier to just switch companies or industries, but keeping the same role. Different companies and industries have different company cultures, and you may find that you actually enjoy the same role in a different environment.
Alternatively, you can envision the long term. What would you like to be doing in 5 or 10 years? Some positions (such as upper management or laboratory science) take time to work toward, so you might need to evaluate a series of rungs in the career ladder.
Take an inventory of your personal strengths
A third technique is to take an inventory of your personal strengths. What hard (or technical) skills do you have? What are your soft (personal) skills? Make a list, marking any skills that you have field experience with to add to your resume.
Finally, you can consider if there is something that you enjoy doing so much that you’d do it for free. Obviously, the goal is to get paid, but if you find enjoyment in your work (be it writing, making video games, or welding metal together), your work will come a lot easier to you in the long run.
Finding a job in your new career
Once you’ve got your career path identified, it’s time to pin down a particular job to get you moving down it.
Network with people in your new industry or company
A simple first step is to network with people who work at a company you’d like to work for. Connect with them, either in person at a networking event or online, and gradually discuss the type of work you’re looking for - or ask for an informational interview. 70-80 percent of people get a job through someone they know, meaning networking is a golden opportunity to get in your new field. This process takes time, however, so the sooner you can start, the better!
Consider a strategic move: Move industry or company, but stick to the same role
When looking for open jobs, keep in mind that it’s usually easier and faster to move into your target industry if you can transition over your existing position or skill set. As an example, if you work in sales but want to move into medical administration, look for a job in medical sales. This will help you build familiarity with the terminology and equipment costs - building a bridge to potential employers as you do so.
Always see if you can move to a position in your target industry doing your current job then transition over time. It’s easier to move between roles *or* industries than both at the same time. Use this Career Profiles tool to find out what jobs you can transition into that share similar skills.
Consider re-education if it's necessary
In the midst of your job search, you can prepare yourself to apply by taking any necessary courses or attaining any credentials you’ll need. Depending on what you’d like to do, this can also take time (particularly if college credits are involved). Some companies will hire employees who are in the process of attaining the necessary credentials, however.
A great way to get experience is to see what volunteer options are available in the field. As an example, if you’d like to be an accountant, employ your numerical and organizational skills to help balance the budget of a local nonprofit (such as an animal shelter). At 30, you still have a lot of time to consider re-education if you find it's necessary in your new field.
Sign up to the right job boards and keep an eye out for openings
The job search can be an involved process, or it may be as simple as applying at the right time. Keep an eye out for job ads that match what you’re looking for, and apply to the relevant ones. Talk to your friends and acquaintances about their careers to see if they may have aligning openings at their companies.
Do personal projects or freelance work
As another option, you can work on personal projects that demonstrate your skills to prospective employers. If you’d like to work in videography, for example, this could be a short film, or if you’re a programmer, prepare a functional app.
Having credentials, volunteer work, or personal projects that support your interest in the field are all great additions to your resume, which we’ll discuss next.
Prepare your resume (and LinkedIn profile)
Most jobs will require a resume as part of the application process, so it’s good to get ahead of the game and have it ready to go when you see or hear about an opening.
To start with, consider having a summary at the start of your resume. This should be a 2-3 sentence snippet of who you are and why you are changing fields. For hiring managers, this will give them a quick understanding of why you have a background in other areas. This article provides examples of what to write in your summary as a career changer.
In the work experience of your resume, list your past employers chronologically. Under each employer, use bullet points to list individual resume accomplishments in your background - being sure to emphasize the skills that are most related to the job you’d like to have. Start your bullet points with strong action verbs to have the most impact.
Quantifying your resume and using numerical values speak volumes on resumes (and LinkedIn profiles). Conveying the scope and scale of the work you’ve done and your accomplishments gives an immediate impression of your capability and stands out well on the page. If you haven't yet, make sure to upload your resume to the Score My Resume resume checker.
If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, but think it would be valuable in your desired field, you should build it as soon as possible. You can choose to be somewhat more conversational in your profile (compared to your resume), but you can still use the bullet-pointed accomplishments format (shown above) to convey your experience. Use the free LinkedIn optimization tool to start making your LinkedIn profile work for you and start getting you more opportunities.
Closing tips to keep in mind
Searching for a job in a new career is stressful. Do what you can to minimize your stress during this process and you’ll be able to see opportunities more clearly.
Beforehand, it will help to prepare your finances, including building sufficient savings for 6-9 months (if that’s an option for you). Otherwise, you may want to line up a transitional job to help keep your household afloat during the job search.
If you want to be a self-employed freelancer (such as a writer, landscaper, or graphic artist), you’ll need to gain clients to start having an income flow. Have samples of your work ready to share (in physical and online portfolios, if appropriate). Use a variety of resources (including online social platforms) to find prospective clients and reach out to them. You may not get immediate positive responses, but the solution is always to keep trying until your client list is sufficient for your income needs.
Remember that changing careers takes time, and you should recognize that this may be an involved process. Don’t rush into it, or you may be inadvertently setting yourself up to fail.
Even with all of the challenges and risks involved in changing careers, the dividends can be exponential in their reward. Being able to do what you want for your work is empowering on both a psychological and physical level, and chances are it will lead to positive gains in other areas of your life, too.
It’s never too late to try something new, especially if you think it will lead you to more fulfillment. Like Mark Twain says, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” With that in mind, consider what course you could plot to a horizon with new possibilities.