I spoke to a client last week who said that changing career in her 30s felt like a crazy idea. She wanted to move back in to something she’d only done an internship in a very long time ago. She couldn’t see how the last five years in her unrelated job could help this happen. She felt trapped and couldn’t work how to make the change happen. She asked me what advice I had for someone changing career in their 30s.
So, I thought I’d share my advice here. Whilst I don’t think the below tips are specific to those in their 30s per se, it’s a helpful place to start.
I personally think that changing careers in your late 20s/30s is the perfect time to do this. Usually, by this time, you have a wealth of life and work experience transferable to a lot of roles, and you perhaps don’t yet have too many financial commitments or family responsibilities. You can still be fairly flexible in your career, and follow through on what might be required to change career completely. The longer you leave it, the harder it can become...but, of course, it is by no means impossible, whatever age you are. The sacrifices and compromises are just sometimes a little greater the more financial responsibilities and dependants you have.
So, here is my advice in the form of five top tips to help you as you contemplate or start your career change journey:
1. Get in to action before you’re “ready”
Many clients comment that they’re reluctant to do anything about their career change because they’re not 100% sure what they want to do. Let go of the idea that to start working on a career change you need to know exactly what you want to do. Ironically, moving in to action may even help you decide.
By action, what I mean is: Start collating an Ideas Bank. Write down every idea that you’ve ever had, and ones that pop in to your head over a couple of weeks. Start with these. Find people who do these jobs to speak to about them, how did they start, what could they envisage someone with your background doing in that company or sector, etc. Who else can they introduce you to? What experience would they suggest you build up, and how?
Do everything and anything to help yourself come up with and test out as many ideas as you can. For example, set yourself a short period of time to taste and test out a few key areas you’re interested in. The commitment level at this stage doesn’t need to be any more than that - simply exploring an interest. You could: complete one day, evening or weekend courses; attend talks, debates, conferences, and events; ask people about their jobs - what they do, how they got there; read job profiles online; reflect on who you follow on social media and why; write down your previous and current interests; analyse what you choose to listen to and watch, and why; arrange to shadow someone for half a day. Anything that allows you to immerse yourself in something of vague interest.
If it feels like something you’d like to explore further, then do. Keep exploring until something comes of it. You don’t have to have a fully formed idea to keep moving forward with a career change, which leads me to my next piece of advice...
2. Manage your expectations
OK, a few hard truths when it comes to career change: It’s unlikely you’ll have a lightbulb moment (think dimmer switch instead). It’s unlikely you’ll find a job that’s absolutely perfect (all careers have pros and cons). A complete change is unlikely to happen overnight (think months and years, not days and weeks), nor will it fall in your lap (change takes patience, persistence and hard work).
So, be sure to create daily routines to boost your self-esteem and resilience during your career transition. Practice mindfulness, keep exercising, find fellow career-changers to talk to, remind yourself why you’re doing this, etc.
It may feel like you have 2 or 3 jobs all at the same time at times, especially if you’re working full time, so get good at organising your time and prioritising your career change.
The hard work will pay off though, I promise. Keep hustling, keep persevering. It may feel hard but anything worth doing normally does. It’s OK to do things that are hard and that you’re scared of doing; it doesn’t mean you have to avoid them or stop doing them. Hence, the need to...
3. Step outside your comfort zone
Find a way to put your ego, front brain, gremlin, inner critic (whatever you want to call that sabotaging voice that gives you excuses not to) aside and don’t overthink the task in hand. Acknowledge your fears but take action regardless. Your fear will never go away completely. However, you can learn to accept and manage it, and move ahead anyway.
Put aside any fears about what others might think, how they might judge you, fears of rejection, or coming across as vague. That’s all just your ego telling you it’s risky, working hard to keep you safe by remaining in your comfort zone - but there are no life-threatening dangers when it comes to career change. So, the time to step out of your comfort zone has come. If you stay there, nothing new will happen and, I promise, nothing will change. If you want something different, you have to try a different approach.
4. Work with a Career Coach
Of course, I would say this. However, from working with a coach throughout my own career change, and the value I’ve seen it bring to clients over the years, I really do believe that coaching can help you through the ups and downs of a career change. A coach can help keep you accountable, make sense of everything you uncover, help you connect the dots, keep you on track, and provide a sounding board for all those ideas and thoughts that tend to be quite overwhelming to process on your own.
It’s hard sharing your ideas with friends and family because they’ll always be influenced by what they’ve done with their own careers, and their own values and attitudes towards work. This usually means that the advice they provide is often made through subjective filters and perspectives, rather than providing input that’s objective and purely in your best interests.
5. Build a skills-based CV
To end, here’s a more practical tip. It’s hard to change career when your experience may seem unrelated to what you want to do. Recruiters tend to look for those with very similar experience for the role they’re recruiting for. That’s why ‘informational interviews’ where you use your contacts to make speculative introductions and applications can work better.
In these situations, it might be more relevant to produce a skills-based CV, rather than a traditional one simply based on your previous responsibilities (which on paper may seem rather irrelevant or unrelated). Skills-based CVs give you the opportunity to help the person reading your CV join the dots between your previous experience and the position they’re considering. You have to show them how you’re right for the role, matching up your transferable skills and strengths to what they’re looking for, as opposed to simply focusing on the sort of tasks you’ve done in your career so far, which may or may not be that relevant.
Google “skills based CV” and lots of great templates show up. Use category titles and key words that are bespoke to the skills or strengths required for the job opportunity that you’re applying for, or that you’re looking to create in an organisation.
Also, remember that you’re best creating a bespoke CV for each opportunity you apply for, as opposed to just sending out the same one all the time. This way, it will always stay completely relevant to the role you’re interested in.
Lastly, if you’re considering a career change and want to learn more about how to get into a particular industry, check out Zoek’s useful career guides. Each how-to guide is packed with practical advice and information to help you find your perfect position.
I do hope these tips and pieces of advice have been helpful. I’m conscious they may put you off changing career altogether, but, please don’t let them. Career change may take time, and it may be messy and hard work, but the happiness and delight I see in clients when they move in to something they enjoy and find interesting is simply the best evidence ever that the hard work is well and truly worth it.
If you’d like help figuring out what you want from your career, what ideas you have for what to do next, and how to make them happen then please get in touch.
Alice really helped me to see the bigger picture, that I wasn't completely useless, and that I didn't have to be stuck in a profession I hated forever more. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Alice in the future.