Changing careers at 40: What you need to know

Once upon a time the career you chose in your teens stuck with you for life. Now, it seems the concept of a career has changed with more than 134,000 Australians in their 40s studying at the time of the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics census.

If you’re thinking of changing careers out of necessity, to get out of a rut, or do something you’ve always dreamed of, then think positive. It can be done, and there are opportunities out there for you.

Every year thousands of 40-something Aussies pull themselves out of their entrenched routines and change careers. Take Sydneysider Catherine O’Gorman for example. Catherine fell into IT work in her younger years but found as she got older that there was something missing. She wanted a career that was more beneficial to others.

With the support of her family Catherine enrolled into a four-year psychology degree in her mid-40s and now works in the psychology department while also completing a PhD. She finds her new profession of more value personally than her old job. “It’s all consuming,” she says.

How to change careers in your 40s

While changing careers is a big life move regardless of your age, there are some smaller steps you can take and ideas you can put into action to get you where you want to be. 

Study to upskill

It’s no longer just the kids that are enrolled in TAFEs, universities and colleges. In fact, 41% of all students in Australia are older than 25. It’s common for people switching careers in their 40s to find that they need to retrain, or study completely new skills.  In the 21st century study doesn’t necessarily mean going back to uni full-time or sitting in a classroom either. Studying online in your own time is a possibility. If you’re unsure if you could do it,  find people in your circle who have managed to complete a qualification whilst working and learn from their experience, or check out online resources for tips on managing study, family and work commitments.

Seek advice

Changing careers can be a huge decision, particularly if you feel like you may not have the opportunity or drive to change again in your 50s or 60s. A career coach can help steer you in the right direction by helping you find the best course to meet your career goals.

Get a mentor

Find someone in your new industry who will mentor you. A mentor can be a valuable resource when it comes to making contacts and securing a job as well as developing new skills.

Involve your family

Catherine’s advice to others is to communicate with the people around you because they will be part of the journey. Also, consider how you and your family will cope with reduced income if you need to cut back on work in order to retrain, and how your loves ones can support and motivate you throughout your study.

Work on your transferable skills

We all have skills that would be useful in another profession. That might be computer skills, soft skills, customer service experience, design or a host of other talents that younger job seekers may lack. Write an inventory of your skills and fill the gaps with study or by getting involved in projects at work or community organisations.

Retrain at your employer’s expense

If it’s possible to move from career A to career B at your existing organisation, then you might want to consider corporate training or having your employer partially pay for study.

Be prepared to start from the bottom

Sometimes it can be challenging to humbly accept the menial tasks required if you’re starting at the bottom of a new industry – especially if you know you have a wealth of experience in another field. If you can adopt a flexible and enthusiastic mind-set it will shine through at job interviews, and you can show-off your talents even more once the role is secured.

Make use of contacts

In a 20-year career you’ll have met many people with valuable insights, knowledge, and connections. Find out what your old school buddies, friends, and colleagues are up to and consider getting in contact and networking. People are often honoured to be asked for assistance, so don’t hesitate to call upon the expert advice of a good friend or previous mentor.

Plan ahead

Write yourself a career change plan, break it down into bite-sized actions and set time frames for each step. Review your progress regularly to ensure you’re moving ahead.

Need advice for changing careers in your 20s, 30s, or 50s?