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Career Change in My 30s: Is it Too Late?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 23 Sep 2016 | comments*Discuss
Career Change 30s Role Industry Employer

For many people, the typical path to a career goes something like this - pick a career, graduate from a recognised university degree program and then start working. Hopefully from there on, you get to climb the ladder to roles within your chosen industry that bring you greater fulfilment and more money. Sound familiar?

But what happens when your chosen career just doesn't meet your expectations? It's just not the right fit. Or perhaps it starts out seeming right but your life experiences leave you a changed person and you are left re-evaluating what you really want from your career. You are not alone. Psychologists believe this is normal and particularly common for people in their 30s. In fact, it is often when a person is in their 30s that they reach a point where they feel as though they have accomplished much of what they want in their career. Yet at the same time, the prospect of working in the same job for another twenty to thirty years is depressing.

Is it Really a New Career I Want?

Before considering a career change, make sure it's for the right reasons. Bad reasons to change careers are:
  • Hating your boss
  • Wanting to meet new people
  • Working too many hours

All of the reasons above can likely be overcome with a new job in a similar role and industry. However, if you want to use your creative skills and accounting isn't doing it for you, then this would be a good reason to consider a career change.

50% to 80% of People Are in Wrong Career

A number of studies have been undertaken on this topic and results show anywhere from fifty to eighty percent of us end up in the wrong career. Although you may wake up one day with an epiphany that you are in the wrong career, for many people it's a progression of dissatisfaction with their current employment path. Putting that dissatisfaction into action, however, requires careful planning and action if you want your new role to bring you the happiness you deserve.

Can You Simply Drop Your Current Career?

Few careers will allow you to simply drop your current one and make a change. It can happen but more likely it is less of a role change and more of an industry shift. For example, moving from a marketing role in a luxury goods environment to one in food products. These kinds of changes can be realised with some CV tweaking, networking and the ability to sell your enthusiasm and quickly learn a new industry.

Other regulated professions such as nursing or social work involve education and internship experience with membership to the appropriate governing body. The con is that they will require a return to university. The pro is that once you are qualified and registered, you have excellent work prospects.

Depending on how big the career change, you may manage to convince a potential employer to subsidise the costs of your education and/or provide company training for the role. If you can convincingly adjust your CV to show strong potential for your new career, this would be a real possibility.

Reviving Your CV and Cover Letter - Focus on Skills

Many people think that by changing careers, they are giving up their skills. Quite the contrary - they are often surprised to learn that they are putting their skills to better use. Every person who wants to change careers absolutely must revive their CV and tailor it to their new profession. If you are going into a career that involves little to no further education, how you present your skills and capabilities will be even more critical to finding employment. Try these tips on reformatting your CV:

Bring your skills up front - If your education is in a totally unrelated area, keep it in there but move it to the end of your CV. Focus on a functional style of CV. Identify transferable skills and give any concrete examples in your current job that will relate to your new one.

Write a targeted mission statement/profile - Link your skills to your career aspirations to show right away why and how you should be in a new role.

Connect accomplishments to specific and relevant skills - Include a brief list of key accomplishments and highlight skills that relate to your new career.

Your cover letter should always - start out by explaining why you want to work for the company. This remains true whether you are changing careers or not. To give it added value, however, be honest about your current path and why that particular company is where you want to make your career move. Smartly done flattery will give the company's human resources department good reason to read your CV in the first place.

Make Positive Online Impressions

Many people who want to start a new career don't consider what online trail they have left behind. Try searching your name to see what comes up. Some ways to improve your online image include:

  • Start a blog that relates to your new career. Employers are impressed when you devote your free time to career relevant subject matter.
  • Get active in online forums. Find others who work in your dream job and get busy with social media. Participate in discussions and you will begin to establish yourself as a credible member or leader of your field.
  • Join professional networking sites. Sites such as LinkedIn are a good way to connect with others in your field, especially in terms of finding a new job.

Kids, Mortgages and Other Practicalities

Part of your decision to change careers will not just rely on the logistics of training and associated costs, but also other commitments such as your family. By the time many people realise they are ready for a new career, they have acquired significant responsibilities such as a mortgage and children. Read the questions from our readers below and see what you have in common.

After 10 years of maths teaching I have decided that I am in need of a change of scene. Unfortunately my mortgage is huge and I have young children so money (and time) is quite tight. If anyone has any suggestions (not in teaching) as how I could proceed, I would be grateful.

As you can see from our reader comments, time and money are a common issue when embarking on a career change. Gone are the days of being a student at university when parents offered support and you could live in shared flats. You are likely to be in a flat or house that is not shared, plus you may have car payments and other expenses that make it unfeasible to give up your job whilst going back to college.

I want to move into a career caring for children with learning difficulties or as a classroom assistant for children with learning difficulties. I have no formal training and can't afford to leave full time employment to return to college. How would I go about gaining qualifications?

University programmes may be offered part-time and in the evenings, which is practical for adult learners who must maintain their daytime employment to pay mortgages and other debts. Also, for our reader with a wealth of experience in maths teaching, there are other options outside of teaching that won't necessarily require further education. For instance, multinational companies will consider teachers for their product-training department. Alternately, there may be roles within the research sector that don't involve teaching.

I have been working for 13 years within magazine publications, I have felt for years that I would love a career change and nursing has been something I would love to do, especially with cancer patients. I am a very confident person and love a challenge and feel I have the skills that I could give with in the nursing sector. I have small children and I am not sure what financial help I would receive if any.

Small children are a challenge for any parent who is settled in their career, let alone one who is embarking on a new employment path. Fortunately, there are some options. Depending on whether you already have a degree and in what area, there are postgraduate programs that can provide you with qualifications in areas such as nursing. These are typically faster than those at the undergraduate level. The UK government offers a range of grants and bursaries for adult learners. You must apply to the organisation that offers the funding. There are also childcare grants for adult learners to help subsidise the costs of education. Some are paid directly to you whilst others go directly to your childcare provider.

Is it Worth the Risk?

It's a tough question but a critical one, especially if pursuing a new career requires a major financial and educational investment. It is worth taking the time early on to number crunch and determine feasibility. Ask yourself:

  • What will my source of income be during the transition?
  • Is my partner's income sufficient? Are there luxuries we can do without?
  • Will I have enough time to succeed?
  • Can I balance my time between studying, working and family?
  • Have I done my research? Have I talked to people working in my potential new career?
  • Am I confident I will truly enjoy the role?

Ultimately, if you decide it's not worth the risk, all is not lost. Whilst you may choose to continue in your chosen profession - at least for now - you can still connect with your career aspirations. Some people choose to volunteer with charities that operate in their dream career. For example, our reader who wants to work with children who have learning disabilities may find it's not the best time for the career move. However, there may be volunteer opportunities at a community centre to plan and participate in activities with disabled children.

Family and Friends - What to Say

Once you have a plan, you are faced with the task of telling family and friends. But be prepared for backlash. Not everyone will support your career change, especially if you've experienced what those on the outside consider success in your career. You may be accused of being "crazy" or "irresponsible" for doing what is perceived as jeopardising your livelihood and perhaps that of your partner and children for changing careers. Given the global recession, it's a popular belief that you should be lucky to have a job and it's foolish to change it.

Those who have been successful in handling negative comments have done so by avoiding long discussions. Be succinct and brief in what you share. It's reasonable to say you're looking at other options without giving all the details. If you know someone else who successfully works in your new career, use this person as an example.

Changing careers does mean being brave and taking a leap at times. There is rarely a success story where a job fell into someone's lap. Starting a new career requires research and commitment. Above all, it takes one step at a time and courage for each one.

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I left school to join the family business, easy option at the time and a sense of security in that it's a "job for life" 20 years on, my mother passed away 5 years ago and my father has now retired so it's my ship to sail. We have had an unbelievably difficult period both personally and in business and despite my efforts to grow the business it's becoming more and more clear that I'm fighting a losing battle. To be honest I'm tired of the pressure and the responsibility. Staff are a nightmare to keep happy, they all want holidays at prime times which means I barely see my own children in the school holidays. My wife also works in the business so our entire financial structure comes from it and we are both just absolutely done with it. What should be an enjoyable career being my own boss feels more like a noose around my neck. I want to change but our business is 70 years old and we'll respected so the pressure to keep going is huge. Plus I'm 37 with very little qualifications and a CV that shows I've only ever worked for my parents. Really don't know what to do, I feel trapped in a business that I don't enjoy and life is just drifting on by. I need to get out of the 4 walls and try something different, would I regret it though...?
Qwerty - 23-Sep-16 @ 6:04 AM
Having experienced excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations, I'm trying to leave primary school teaching and enter into a different profession. So far, I have nearly completed my health and safety qualification (level 6) and have strong transferable skills. Yet, I'm frustrated as I have been applying for a different industry and the attitude has always been from numerous employers that the applied industry is 'different to teaching'. I know this, hence why I am applied for the job! One recruiter suggested that I 'had no skills' as a teacher, since 'teachers are overpaid baby-sitters'. Really?! Anyway, I have been gaining interviews, yet it's down heartening to feel that career changing is a stigma for teachers. Any words of wisdom would be ideal.
David - 24-Aug-16 @ 5:34 PM
Chacha - Your Question:
I am 32, just recovering from heart failure, I spent long hours in retail and what little time off I had being very busy. I need to change my career, I spent 15years in retail now I don't have a clue what to do when I am ready to return to work. Any ideas?

Our Response:
It's never too late to change your career and there are lots to choose from. Hopefully you will find lots of information on this website. At 32 you could still even consider a completely different approach and choose a university course to get you underway. There are bursaries/funds/grants for adult learners. After years in retail, you'll have great customer facing skills so could also using this as a basis for choosing what you do next. Try the National Careers Service for specific help.
ACareerChange - 21-Jun-16 @ 10:54 AM
I am 32, just recovering from heart failure, I spent long hours in retail and what little time off I had being very busy. I need to change my career, I spent 15years in retail now I don't have a clue what to do when I am ready to return to work. Any ideas?
Chacha - 20-Jun-16 @ 4:23 AM
I am 33. I have been in recruitment for over 6 years, with customer service and retail before that. I am passionate, creative and intelligent...just very frustrated with my current path and/or industry. Any advice on suitable changes would be greatly appreciated.
David - 6-Apr-16 @ 11:28 AM
hello I am writing you as I need an information regarding the path I need to take to change my career. I have a degree in food science I obtain in Romania. I worked as a Nursery Teacher for the last few years in London. I would be interested in changing my career to become a paediatric nurse as I feel I am ready for more?Also having a degree would be a help for an entry to one of these courses? thank you for your time and looking forward to your reply regards, Daniela C
dani - 1-Mar-16 @ 9:35 PM
@jane. take a look at part time/evening classes at your local college of further educaiotn that you could fit around your job. If your job involves shift work, you could maybe request specific shifts to enable you to fit the classes in.
ACareerChange - 30-Mar-15 @ 10:09 AM
I'm currently in employment and have been for 12 years in care now i would like a career change like do a course in hairdressing was one of my choices since school but i have a debt of 3.000 how would i work round doing a course as well as paying off debts aswell I am a 38 year old female Hope to hear from you soon Sarah
Jane - 25-Mar-15 @ 2:51 PM
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