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Build Your Career Get Ahead

Midlife Career Change: How to Make a Smooth Transition

Midlife Career Change: How to Make a Smooth Transition
Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

When you first started your career, you probably decided what job track best suited you and started building your path toward advancement. But sometimes that plan doesn't work out the way you envisioned, and you may decide you need to switch gears.

Most often, people want a career change because they have a strong desire to do something more fulfilling with their lives, said Dean Niewolny, CEO of the Halftime Institute, an adult educational program. Typically, these individuals have spent the first half of their careers accumulating the money necessary to provide for their families, and as their family starts to grow up and move on, they seek a different, more meaningful path of employment.

"People want to be significant and make a difference in this world," Niewolny told Business News Daily. "They want a job, but they really do care about leaving a legacy. They're saying, 'There has to be more to life than sitting in this office every day and hoping I get the next raise or promotion.'"

According to Gary Mangiofico, associate dean of Fully Employed and Executive Programs at Pepperdine University, people often begin to feel this desire for meaning in their mid- to late 40s or early 50s. But Don Charlton, chief product officer at JazzHR, noted that people consider career-path changes at various points in their lives.

"Often, it stems from curiosity about another profession or dissatisfaction with their current career," Charlton said. "The best reason to make a career change is because of a passion that motivates you to do so." [See Related Story: Ready to Move On? A Complete Guide to Quitting Your Job]

Of course, making a career change in your 40s or 50s is far from easy. After all, you spent the past few decades climbing the ladder in one industry, and now you're back to square one. Some skills are transferrable, but you may find that your much-younger peers are far ahead of you, especially when it comes to technology.

Mark Newman, founder and chief customer officer of video recruiting platform HireVue, said it's important for candidates to identify both their strengths and potential challenges when transitioning to a new company and career.

"An older worker restarting their career in a new field will face stereotypes regarding their lack of knowledge about technology," Newman said. "If the career is heavily reliant on new technology, they might also require additional training, and have a steeper learning curve. Also, older workers will likely face subconscious bias when going through the traditional interview process."

Going back to school or enrolling in a certificate program can help you get ahead if you're trying to close your skill gap for a new career, but it can present its own set of challenges if you're trying to pursue an education on top of your current full-time job. In addition to finding the time and money to make the commitment to your program, you need to find one that fits your personal learning style and career needs.

"The amount and diversity of educational resources available online nowadays is staggering," said Octav Druta, senior product manager at Udemy, an online learning marketplace. "The problem is that they're not combined into a learning experience targeted towards acquiring the minimum viable knowledge and skills required to kick-start a career in a new field. Ideally, [you should] not only learn new concepts but also create something that you can add to your portfolio in order to show it to potential employers."

Druta noted that working with a mentor in your new field can help you stay on track with your studies and connect you with the real-world skills you'll need to excel in that work environment.

Although you'll almost certainly have some new skills to learn, your second career may rely on skills you've developed over the years.

"One of the most underrated but valued skills in any industry are soft skills," Charlton said. "These developed skills are something that you can, perhaps, thank your past career for. Soft skills encompass everything from solid leadership qualities, adaptability, good work ethic and team-player attributes."

"You have all your previous experience to draw from, and will discover skills you thought would never prove useful," Newman added. "Also, you have a vast network of connections that younger generations have yet to develop, and can provide added value to your new position."

Mangiofico cautioned career changers not to rely too heavily on their past. "Your past success may open the doors to new opportunities, but it doesn't guarantee success in a new career, because the dynamics and circumstances have changed," he said.

If you're making such a significant life decision, you need to ensure it's the right fit, especially because you'll likely be starting at a lower salary.

"It's hard to sort through available job opportunities to identify the ones where you can make a contribution but also grow at the same time," Druta said. "Hunt for entry-level positions [where you can] build your way up with the help of your new team members."

Once you find the right job in your new field, be humble and open enough to accept the experience of starting from the bottom.

Above all, "Make sure it's the right decision for you," Charlton said. "Candidates need to understand the challenges behind a career switch. If you're simply disgruntled in your current job or becoming complacent, that's not a good reason to make a career change. If you have determined the career change is motivated because of your passion for something, that's the time to make a change."

Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Shannon Gausepohl

Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field, and is currently a staff writer at Business News Daily. Shannon is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.