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How to Change Careers Even If You Think It’s Too Late

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Many of us are working jobs we don’t like. What’s worse, many people fall into the trap of staying in these ill-fitting positions or industries for years, and by the time they start to think seriously about leaving, it seems like it’s “too late.” They think they’re too old to start over and build up enough of a reputation in an entirely different field.

But whether you’re 25 or 55 when you come to the decision to make a change, there are things you can do to make sure that your transition will be a successful one.

Here’s how to get started on your big change:

Seek out happiness

That’s at the heart of this, isn’t it? The first question anyone looking to change careers should ask is at once simple and incredibly difficult: what do you want to do?

If you already know the answer to this question, congratulations, because you’re ahead of the game.

If you don’t know, think long and hard about what makes you happy and explore whether any of those things could become a viable career. Still not sure? Look into taking a few adult education courses that interest you at your local community college and see if something stands out.

Take stock of yourself

After you’ve come up with a few potentially interesting career shifts, look inward and try to be honest about your skills and abilities. Sure, becoming a professional daredevil sounds cool, but is it really right for someone with a fear of heights and poor balance?

Cross ideas off the “dream” list until you find those that seem plausible in terms of your abilities and interests.

Learn before you leap

In changing careers, age matters a lot less than how much you know about the industry you’re looking to move into. The smartest way to change your career is to spend as much time as you can researching and planning how to make that leap before you actually do it, so you’ll be better able to deal with the realities of your new role and improvise effectively when the unexpected occurs.

If possible, take classes for free using your company’s professional development programs that are geared towards doing the kind of work that really interests you.

Build with a safety net

Doing something completely different from your current career can be terrifying, which is why you should try to ensure it’s the right move while you’re still getting a regular weekly paycheck from your current job.

If you can freelance in the industry you’re considering, seek out a few clients for night and weekend work to create a portfolio and work on forging long-term relationships. Volunteering is another way to get experience in your new career field. And if you can’t find a way to get hands-on experience, see if you can find an opportunity to shadow someone who has the job you want or at least take them to coffee to learn more about their day-to-day experiences.

Put a financial plan in place

Regardless of how much building you do ahead of time, it’s doubtful that you’ll find instant financial success in your newly chosen career. In fact, it’s likely you’ll have to take a pay cut.

Because of this, you may be tempted to back down from making the change because you can’t imagine living with less money, even if it’s just temporary. However, if you make a comprehensive budget of what you’re really spending, there’s a great chance that you’ll see things that you can trim without feeling like you’re losing out on too much.

Whatever you do, prepare for the worst by making sure you have sufficient savings to pay for at least six months of living expenses. Figure out how long that money will last if you’re only earning 80 percent of your current income. Or 50. Or 25. It may seem horribly depressing to look at numbers like this, but knowing you can likely survive for several years making less money can take a lot of the pressure off and let you focus on achieving your dream.

Redefine success

Finally, don’t forget to focus on what you want. Is it a Scrooge-McDuck-like money bin where you can swim through your cash? Is it fame and respect? Is it more time with your family and work you love doing every day? All of those are equally viable desires.

The next time you start thinking it’s too late and finding reasons to put off the switch for even longer, think about this: every second you spend in a career you don’t like makes it that much harder to finally take the plunge and seek out something that will truly make you happy.

Patrick Del Rosario is a Filipino business and career blogger. He is part of Open Colleges Blog. If you want to feature his writings on your site, connect with him at Google+ or drop a line at patrick (at) oc.edu.au.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • RedajmonDajopnyhne

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  • Resa

    This is a very good article.

    I am 52 years old and in the process of transitioning from a scientist to a teacher. On a recent interview for a teaching position, I was told by the interviewer that my 20 minute sample teaching session was the best teaching she had ever seen. I attribute this to the fact that I learned everything I could about the school and the type of education environment it fostered or wanted to foster. Once I discovered the school’s focus, it was a matter of reviewing a few mini-courses on Youtube, reading teaching blogs and articles, and practicing.

    It is never to late to teach an old dog new tricks.

  • Charlesingram

    Great article. I’ve been in corporate sales for nearly 15 years now and
    would love to go into table tennis coaching on a full time basis. I’ve been
    playing the sport since the age of 7, however because it did not pay much I was
    forced to go into the corporate world. I started doing coaching courses a year
    ago and the tips listed here will go a long way for me to achieve my dream to
    develop the sport.
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