Changing careers can be daunting at any age, but especially so when you’re over 50. If you’re comfortable and well-established in your current career, it can be difficult to find the motivation to make that change. But finding a new career doesn’t have to be scary. Whether you’re considering moving to a new role, shifting to a different industry, or completely starting over, we’ve got your next step sorted.
What To Think About When Changing Careers
Know your strengths
By this stage in your life, you’ve probably figured out what you’re good at. Why not play to those strengths? If you excel at communication and teamwork, maybe look at public-facing or management positions. If you’re thorough and analytical, maybe working with numbers and data is more your thing.
Also, think about what parts of your current job you enjoy — and what you hate. If you can’t stand long meetings, moving from finance to marketing isn’t going to solve anything. If you live for the moments when your job takes you on-site, maybe look into a more active or outdoorsy role.
Consider your motivations
Ask yourself: What’s the driving force behind wanting to change careers? Are you bored or burnt out in your current role? Do you want less stress and a better work-life balance? Finally pursuing your dream career? Or are you simply looking to shake things up? The outcome you want should determine the path you take to changing careers. It also might be possible to achieve your goal without shifting careers entirely — your current industry, or even your own company, may have roles available that are different enough from what you’re currently doing to satisfy you without requiring a radical change.
Understand the risks
Changing careers can be rewarding, but it’s also not without its share of risks. The biggest one is financial — if you’re starting over in a brand new industry, chances are you’ll be starting at the bottom. If you’re making a major change, having a decent chunk of savings built up is a good starting point — just in case.
The other major risk is assumptions — yours and others. Ageism is unfortunately real, and it can show up in unexpected ways. You may also have to find yourself adapting to an environment that looks a lot different from the last time you were job searching. Be prepared to challenge preconceptions and work hard to overcome biases people may not even know they’re holding.
It also might be possible to achieve your goal without shifting careers entirely — your current industry, or even your own company, may have roles available that are different enough from what you’re currently doing to satisfy you without requiring a radical change.
The Step-by-Step Career Change Process
If you’re still not sure how to begin, take a look at our career change checklist. Here’s a quick rundown of the most important steps.
Discover your path
The first step when looking for a new career is figuring out what kind of role you’re looking for. This is especially important for people who’ve been in the same job or industry for a while — if you settled on your current career years or even decades ago, it may have been a while since you sat down and thought about what it is you actually want to do.
When you’re choosing your new career, be specific. Narrow your target down to a single industry or role. While it might sound appealing to cast a broad net, it’s much easier — and more effective — to focus your job search efforts in one specific direction. Start with a limited scope and gradually widen your search if necessary, rather than the other way around.
Once you think you know what job you’re looking for, dig a little deeper to find out if it’s really right for you. The reality of some jobs can be very different — and less appealing — than the way they look from the outside. Speak to people who actually work in the industry before you dive in headfirst.
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you probably have a lot of contacts who’ve moved on to other industries. Reach out to old friends and colleagues, search LinkedIn for connections, and try to set up one or two informational interviews. Who knows — you might even find that these connections end up generating valuable job leads, too.
Tailor your resume
Updating your resume is arguably the most crucial step of the career change process. Whether or not your target jobs have much in common with your current career, one thing you have on your side is experience — so make the most of it.
Firstly, make sure you’re highlighting transferrable skills. Soft skills like written and verbal communication, time management, teamwork, leadership, and research and analytical skills are always in demand. Make sure you’re using your resume to showcase specific experiences or accomplishments that demonstrate these skills — show, don’t tell! If you’re struggling to find relevant examples, consider including a resume summary to contextualize your experience.
Next, target your resume to the industry and role you’re trying to move into. Look carefully at the job description and pull out relevant skills and keywords to get past the initial screening hurdle. And don’t neglect the importance of a cover letter — a great cover letter can make all the difference, especially for nontraditional applicants.
If the job you want requires specific skills or qualifications, you may need to look into further education or training. In some fields, this is pretty black and white — if you want to be a doctor, you’re going to have to go to medical school — but in others, it may not be. Before you jump straight into retraining, make sure it’s actually necessary. As part of your networking, ask people who work in the field what qualifications employers are looking for. You might find that a short online course is just as relevant as going back to school for a second degree.
We know you have a lot of experience under your belt — but is it the right kind? If your work history to date is in a completely different field or role, the best thing you can do is gain some relevant experience. This doesn’t have to be paid experience — volunteering can be a great place to start. It shows that you’re committed to your new field, gives you some talking points for your resume and interviews, and doesn’t have the high barrier to entry that paid work does. Start-ups are good for the same reason. They may not pay well (or at all), but if you’ve got some savings built up, it’s well worth taking the salary hit to build up your experience.
The Best Fields for Career Changers
Ready to take the next step, but aren’t sure which direction it should be in? Here are some of the best careers for midlife career changers.
For better work-life balance: Recruitment
Recruitment is perfect for a robust job history of their own under their belt. Recruiters can work in-house or run their own business and are judged on the quality of their referrals — not the quantity. For similar jobs, think human resources (if you prefer to work directly for a company) or consulting (if you like the freelance lifestyle).
Average recruiter salary: $51,330
For embracing your creativity: Web development
When we think about creative jobs, we often picture an artist in a studio, but there are plenty of ways to be creative. Technology-forward jobs like web design, software engineering, and mobile development are a great way to flex those creative muscles in an ever-growing industry.
While web development typically requires technical skills (e.g. programming ability), there are a number of options to help you learn the skills you need to know in a short period of time. For example, bootcamps and online courses could be a great way to bridge the gap.
Average web developer salary: $59,917
For helping others: Education or coaching
Teachers will always be in demand, but that doesn’t mean education is limited to the classroom. Building a coaching business to help others in fields that you enjoy or have expertise in could be an excellent option to reuse your personal and professional experiences to help others get through their challenges.
If you're interested in more formal teaching, becoming a teaching assistant or substitute teacher can be a great way to get your feet wet if you’re considering it. If a classroom environment doesn’t suit you, roles like driving instructor, curriculum design, or school administration can be excellent alternatives.
For working independently: Data analyst
If your dream job doesn’t involve working closely with others, why not work with data instead? Data analysts, financial planners, accountants, and actuaries all get to engage their brains — and make a decent salary doing it.
Average data analyst salary: $61,112
For reducing stress: Dental hygienist or part-time medical role
Not all roles in medicine and healthcare are high-stress. Dental hygienists and other types of medical assistants benefit from standard hours, good pay, and excellent conditions without needing to be on-call or placed in life or death situations.
Average dental hygienist salary: $60,291
For living vicariously: Planning or project management
If organization and planning appeal to you, you could also consider going into event planning or project management! This could be a great way to turn your hobby into your profession.