How to Make a Career Change at 40 Without All the Risk

Inside: Making a career change at 40 can feel really risky and scary. But here’s how we can make this process very doable and improve your life.

In a perfect, responsibility-free world, I could shout from every rooftop “Follow your dreams!” and a whole bunch of 40-somethings who are feeling unfulfilled in their jobs could go follow their dreams and be the happiest of clams.

This isn’t a perfect, responsibility-free world though. We know that!

As a 40-something you very likely have a laundry list of responsibilities, including the laundry itself. Plus you have a bunch of people who are counting on you to follow through. Your kids, your partner, your parents, your community – you have a lot going on. All of that makes making a career change feel very risky.

The good news? Staying miserable in your job or running off and joining the circus are NOT the only two options here. There are several OTHER ways we can approach your career change that minimize risk and maximize your happiness.

Sounds pretty great? Read on!

5 Ways to Make Your Career Change at 40 Less Risky

Let’s break down your career change at 40 into some concrete steps. You have enough on your plate as a parent and professional, no need to recreate the wheel here! Your new mom-friend and career coach is here to help.

Get Clear on Your Criteria

We can minimize risk by gathering data and making data-informed decisions. To do that, the very first thing we need to do is get clear on your career change criteria.

I break this data collection down into five categories: Needs, Motivators, People, Day-to-Day, and Future You.

  • What do you need in order to meet your life responsibilities?
  • What motivates you to do your best work?
  • What are the qualities of the people you want to surround yourself with?
  • What day-to-day skills do you want to use?
  • What future goals do you want to set yourself up for with this next move?

This is YOU Data, and when we take this data and use it to write out clear answers to these questions you are building your personal assessment tool AND map. Knowing what you want and need helps you avoid shiny objects, do strategic research, ask important questions, and make great decisions.

To dive deeper into building out your career criteria, check out this free training!

Do the Research

Now that you’re clear on your career change criteria (what you really need to make this career change at 40 feel worth it to you), we need to figure out how a new path matches up.

To collect that THEM Data, we get into research mode.

  • Website Research: Want to know how your target companies or industries are performing or where there are opportunities for growth? Check out CrunchBase and Owler. Use websites like Glassdoor, Fishbowl, and Fairygodboss to find answers to your important culture and salary questions.
  • AI Research: Use AI tools like ChatGPT to better understand the skills and experience needed for your target role. Don’t take on the financial risk of getting another degree if it’s not necessary!
  • Networking Research: Talk to people! Seek out people in your target industry or role and reach out to them. I know this part feels scary but the more good questions you ask, the more good data you’ll collect. Good data (about things that matter to you) leads to good decision-making.

Read more on networking strategy and questions to ask.

Determine What Lever to Pull

Think about your career change as pulling a series of levers. The most common career change levers are:

  • Function: Marketing, Finance, Operations, HR…
  • Industry: Technology, Education, Healthcare, Manufacturing…
  • Level: Manager, Director, Specialist, Individual Contributor…

Pulling all of these levers at one time can be challenging, and it can feel a lot riskier. So much change at one time? Yikes.

But what if you pulled one lever to start, based on your career criteria, to increase your happiness at work and at home, AND set you up for future changes?

For example, pulling the function lever but staying in the same industry and at a similar level can feel less risky. If you don’t love the new function you move into, it will take less effort to push that lever back up and move back into a function you have experience in.

With this strategy, there is less change, less risk, and an easier/shorter job search! Most importantly, there’s potential for a ton of reward if you focus on pulling the lever that will impact YOUR life the most.

Job Craft in Your Role

With your criteria in mind and thoughts on what lever to pull, you can start to make your career change at 40 without leaving your current job! Talk about de-risking the situation!

To do that, consider job crafting as a precursor to job searching.

Job Crafting is all about looking at your existing job and considering what elements you could change that would make you happier in the role and would help you move forward in your career.

For example, if you want to pull the functional lever and you want to use your creative writing skills, is there opportunity in your current operations job to collaborate with the marketing team on email marketing campaigns or writing blog posts? Or, if you want to pull the industry lever, could you ask to shadow the team who manages the healthcare accounts so that you get to know the industry better?

Other ways to job craft include:

  • Work From Home Proposals
  • Cross-Functional Projects
  • Temporary Reassignments
  • Joining a Committee or Employee Resource Group
  • Mentoring Early Career Colleagues

Test as a Side Hustle or Volunteer

Side hustles and volunteer opportunities are two of the most powerful ways that you can de-risk your career change at 40 and beyond. By building a side hustle or volunteering, you are taking full ownership of what skills you want to use and what industry you want to enter without leaving a steady, stable job (yet).

You are also giving yourself the opportunity to test out if the new career path you’re considering is the right fit. This is basically a “try before you buy” “free returns” situation which we all know makes us feel more comfortable before typing in our credit card information.

Here’s how this could look in real life.

  • Starting a podcast focused on your target industry where you interview experts and expand your network
  • Volunteering in your kid’s classroom before taking on tutoring clients or getting your teaching license
  • Joining a direct sales company to test if you enjoy the sales function
  • Coaching youth sports to try your hand at coaching before utilizing your professional experience to build a coaching business
  • Establishing your own social media presence before making a move into social media marketing

Check out 50+ more side hustle ideas here.

Ready to Make Your Career Change at 40 (or 30, 35, 45, etc.)?

career change at 40

A career change at 40 is 100% possible and I can say that based on a lot of experience working with mid-career professionals and parents.

In her 30s, Alix changed careers from fashion design to school garden director.

In her 40s, Caitlin changed careers from healthcare to education.

In her 50s, Hilary switched from a career in music to a career in project management.

And we could keep going with these examples all day!

I know it can feel like a lot. I know it can be scary! But you CAN make this change and you don’t have to do it alone. This is what I do – help mid-career parents land fulfilling jobs they love without giving up the flexibility they need – and I think it’s your turn next.

Start now!

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