5 Things to Consider Before a Midlife Career Change
If you’re in your 40s or 50s and are considering a career switch, you’re not alone. According to a 2014 survey, more than 4.5 million Americans made a career change in midlife, either to pursue a more fulfilling line of work or earn more money.
Another study that looked at workers aged 45 and older by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) found that 82% of those who made a midlife career-switch had been successful. Of these successful career switchers, 60% said they were finally doing something they felt good about, 65% felt less stressed at work, and 70% were earning the same or a higher salary.
Of course, before making any big changes to your career, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons to make sure it’s the right decision for you personally, so here are five important things you should consider before a midlife career change.
Is it what you really want?
It can be difficult to judge whether a particular job or industry will be a good fit until you’ve experienced it firsthand, so even if you think you know exactly what you want to do, you should consider giving your new career a test drive before leaving your current job.
Volunteering or interning are excellent ways to gain insight into an unfamiliar industry, but if neither of these is an option, you could try things like freelancing, attending industry conferences and events, taking short courses, finding someone to shadow for a few days or even just connecting with industry professionals on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks.
Can you afford it?
Switching careers often means starting at the bottom and working your way back up, which may mean working for less money, at least initially. Additionally, even if you have some transferable skills, you’ll likely still need to do some retraining or gain licensing.
Can you afford to survive on a lower income for a while if necessary? Can you afford the cost of the necessary education or retraining? Find out how much you can expect to earn during the first few years in your new career and create a realistic budget based on those figures.
Do you have a strong support system?
Having the support of your family and friends can make all the difference when changing careers, and according to the AIER report, 88% of successful career changers believed family support had played an important role in their success.
Get feedback from friends and family members you trust, and listen to their opinions and advice. This is especially important if you have a spouse or other close loved one who will be personally affected by the change. Discussing your ideas with them and being open to critique will help them understand your motivations and get on board with the plan.
Of course, not having the full support of your family or friends isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to stay in a career that isn’t right for you, but having people you can go to for advice or just confide in when things aren’t going according to plan can definitely make the switch smoother.
Will your new career utilize your current skill set?
One of the most important things the AIER report highlighted is that the most successful career changes were the ones who found a way to apply their current skills to their new career rather than doing something completely outside their skill set.
So although you’ll probably need to brush up on certain skills or even learn a few new ones, your career change is more likely to be successful if you move into a profession that allows you to put the skills and experience you already have to good use.
Think about the career you’re interested in pursuing and how your current skills and experience translate to that new field. If you find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what your skills are, start by making a list of your current job duties and past accomplishments, and then think about the specific skills you use or have used to accomplish each one.
Are you changing careers for the right reasons?
There are many reasons why people change careers, from feeling unfulfilled or unchallenged at work to wanting more flexibility or a better work/life balance. Whatever your reasons may be, though, you should ask yourself whether a new career is really the best solution.
Switching to a new career requires a lot of effort and can be expensive too, so before you resort to a complete career change, do some research to find other, potentially easier, solutions to your problem. Would taking on new responsibilities or pursuing a promotion help you feel more fulfilled? Could a new boss or different colleagues relieve some of your stress? Or perhaps negotiating shorter hours would help you achieve a better work/life balance?
Once you’re absolutely sure that nothing but a career change will solve your underlying issues, you’ll be more confident in your decision and will also have a better idea of what your new career should provide.
Marianne Stenger is a writer with Open Colleges one of Australia’s leading online education providers. She covers everything from life hacks and career development to learning tips and the latest research in education. You can connect with her on Google+ and Twitter or find her latest articles here.
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