Making a Mid-Life Career Change

The average American will change jobs nine times before reaching their 33rd birthday. Some estimates suggest Americans experience a career change (changing not just jobs, but fields) a total of seven times, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track this information. And with Americans spending an average of just 4.4 years at an employer before moving on – a figure that is far less than the average throughout the rest of the industrialized world – chances are, you’ll change jobs sooner rather than later.

I have had 7 jobs so far (5 of which were during high school and college), but since graduating college, I’ve only switch jobs once, when I moved across the country to be with my now-wife. This change was a career change as well, from working with databases and programming to, after a brief stint of self-employment, online advertising.

The thing is, whether you’re looking for a new job or your first job, the process of choosing a career that’ll be a good fit for you – not just today but tomorrow, next month, next year, next decade – is much the same.

Finding Your Passion

Have you ever met one of those people who is quick to say they’ve never worked a day in their life, as they love what they do with such a passion that their job doesn’t feel like work? I have, and I’ve found myself being jealous of those folks. Finding your passion is the key to longevity in a particular career field. After all, there’s a reason for that old adage, “Do what you love, love what you do.”

But just how do you go about finding something that suits you? Taking a personal skills assessment can help you narrow down your strengths and weaknesses, the things that excite you and those that bore you. However, if you’ve  ever taken one of these, only to be told that your personality is ideal for working as a tax collector or prison guard – definitely not your dream jobs – then you may want to try a different method.

Instead, take a good look at the things you already do in your life that give you pleasure. Do you love working with children? Maybe education is right for you. Do you love learning about personal finance (that’s why you’re here, right?)? Working in the business world could suit you. Don’t rush this step; it’s all about taking the time to evaluate what makes you tick.

Test Drive A Career

There’s a community college in my area that has billboards up that read “Test Drive Your New Career.” I think this is a crucial element of any new job, whether you’re just starting out or well into your career. Talk to people who are already in the profession; ask them what they like and what they dislike, what they’d change if they could. If possible, shadow someone in the industry to which you’d like to make a career change or go even further, taking on an internship (often unpaid – a hindrance if you’re making a mid-life career change).

I know plenty of people who went to college with a certain career in mind, despite the fact that they had no idea how that particular field operated. After graduation, they spent a year or two in the career before realizing it wasn’t for them. Had they taken the time to “test drive” it beforehand, they could have made a far more educated decision.

Do Your Research

For some people, money is no object. I have friends who would be as happy earning a million dollars as they would $20,000, so long as they were doing something they loved. But this mindset isn’t for everyone; for some people, money does buy happiness, at least to a certain extent.

Visit a website like the Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare the salaries for various careers. Of course, salaries vary from company to company and even location to location, but getting a general idea of how much you’ll make on your chosen career path could ease financial anxieties down the road.

Start Small

Making a career change – particularly if you’ve already invested years of education or on-the-job experience – is a monumental task. Simply launching the exploratory process can feel overwhelming, like you’re turning your back on your past.

That’s why it’s crucial to start small. Once you’ve decided to change jobs and have narrowed your choices down to one or two, sample them by taking on freelance work, volunteer work, or even a part- time job. Getting your feet wet slowly, instead of jumping all in, can help you avoid hasty decisions. On top of that, it can also help you avoid the financial pitfalls of job jumping.

Get Qualified

While you may be able to make a career change from journalism to media relations without batting an eye, changing jobs from unrelated fields – say, from education to medicine – takes far more time and preparation. It’s important to understand what qualifications, specialized training, or degrees you’ll need to break into your new job. Set a timeline for earning those qualifications, deciding on a financial plan and educational course of action to get you from point A to point B. With more involved career changes, be prepared to deal with the financial implications such as having to take out student loans or even cost of living loans to cover the gaps in your income while you make the switch.

Reader, have you ever made a career change? What motivated you?

6 Responses to Making a Mid-Life Career Change

  1. I have changed fields. Before the recession I was a banker and now I do online marketing. I think the main cause for so much change is because it has become the norm. People get bored with their jobs and sometimes it is important to make lateral moves in order to make vertical moves within a company.

  2. Daniel,
    I was thinking about this the other day. It seems worthwhile to apply for jobs even when you’re not trying to make a career move. It’s good practice to keep your resume fresh and your skills sharp.

    It might seem discourteous to an employer, but you’re just looking out for No. 1, right? After all, maybe you can get a great offer to use as leverage with your current employer.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  3. I made several career moves. Some came because I never knew what I wanted and so other enjoying what they did so I thought I would like it. Until I actually did it and decided it wasn’t for me. I have gone into industries because the money but it didn’t fit me character and personality. Now I am in a career that I love and started doing as a internship. 3 years later I am making more then at any other jobs and I am happy. In a nutshell I think its hard to go to school and be something and you never “test drove it first to make sure”

  4. I have made different career moves because I wasn’t one of those people that got to test drive my career, which would probably would have prevented me from changing jobs so much. Also it is more important for me to find my passion than just get a monthly pay check. Thankfully I have found that passion, which makes me want to work to realize the full benefits.

  5. The career test drive is a great opportunity! In business school we had a class about personalities and they did some great tests to show is what we were made for (depending on how our brain thinks, intro/extroversion…) and what would be our ideal job. Many people didn’t listen and 10 years later are doing that midlife career change back to what they were told at school.