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How to switch careers later in life

Mature man studying on desktop PC during computer class at university classroom.
Back to school later in life. Depending on your new career, additional education or certification might be necessary. (Drazen Zigic via Getty Images)

Changing careers is never an easy thing to do, but it can feel even more challenging as you get older. It’s difficult to step outside of your comfort zone – especially if you’ve been in a certain job for a long time – and age stereotyping can make us feel like we’re “too old” for change, even if we’re unhappy.

In fact, nearly a fifth of UK workers say they think the age limit to switch careers is in their 40s, according to a recent survey of 4,000 workers by St James’s Place Financial Adviser Academy. More than one in 10 (12%) people think this limit is in your 30s.

Age stereotyping, a lack of awareness of opportunities and financial pressures – among other factors like low self-confidence – all hold people back from switching careers. But with the right research and preparation, it’s absolutely possible to find a job you love at any age.

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Read more: How to progress in your job without a career ladder

“After spending many years in a particular career, we become comfortable with our routines, colleagues, and the familiar environment. The idea of starting over can seem daunting and overwhelming,” says career expert Jennie Bayliss, founder of the recruitment firm Office Wings.

“As we get older, concerns about potential age discrimination in hiring practices can make us hesitant to switch careers,” she adds. “There is a perception that employers prefer younger candidates for their potential energy and long-term potential.”

Mortgages, supporting a family or planning for retirement can also make a career switch seem impossible. “Changing careers can mean a reduced salary, the need to pay for training, and a loss of accumulated benefits. The potential financial instability of a career switch can be a significant deterrent,” says Bayliss.

Read more: Why presenteeism is worse for businesses than calling in sick

However, she adds, the way we work has changed a lot in recent years. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a major shift towards remote and hybrid working. For some, redundancy meant having to try something new – or a so-called ‘side hustle’.

Additionally the retirement age is increasing – as is the cost of living – so we may end up working for much longer than we originally planned for. Doing a job you enjoy is important, yet job unhappiness is at an all-time high. According to research by Gallup published in 2023, 60% of employees feel alienated and aimless. More than three-quarters (77%) are “quiet quitting” because they’ve disengaged from their roles, while stress and poor mental health is rife among workers.

How to change careers later in life

Changing jobs or moving to an entirely new career is always daunting, but making the leap can pay off. Here are some important factors to consider before handing in your notice.

Think about your transferable skills

Firstly, you should think about what skills you have in your current career that could be applied to something new.

“It is so important to do things we are good at and enjoy doing – looking for careers aligned to our passions will likely make us happier and more fulfilled. Doing some research into these areas and seeing what jobs and companies could highlight some key points for consideration,” says Bayliss.

It can also help to use your existing network to seek out new opportunities and build new connections with people.

Take into account your needs

Sheila Starr, a career coach, advises looking for organisations that match your personal values and needs. For example, if you need flexibility to look after children or relatives, you may want to consider a career where flexi-working is the norm. Self-employment may also be a way to gain more control over your hours or working patterns.

“Consider your circumstances and ensure any new role meets your needs such as flexible hours, the type of environment and the development opportunities,” she says.

Consider what qualifications you need

“Depending on your new career, additional education or certification might be necessary,” says Bayliss. “Look into relevant courses, degrees, or certifications. This may be costly and time consuming – so it is worth considering the impact this could have on your day-to-day life.”

Speak to your family and friends

Making a big move can feel overwhelming, but it’s important to talk through your plans with family and friends. Their support and understanding will be essential, as changing careers can involve navigating hurdles.

“You know it's right to switch careers when you stop enjoying your job, or when you feel undervalued and aren’t getting opportunities to progress,” says Starr. “It's important to recognise the feeling of being stuck or stressed, and to not be scared to make a change.

“The advice I would give is to take it one step at a time,” she adds. “Make a decision, get clear about what you want to do and take one small step towards a new future.”

Watch: Thinking of making a career change? These are the hot jobs of 2024

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