General Education

How to Change Careers in Your 30s: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Change Careers in Your 30s: A Step-by-Step Guide
By approaching a career change in your thirties with your eyes wide open, you can avoid disappointment—and take advantage of every benefit. Image from Unsplash
Elen Turner profile
Elen Turner July 14, 2019

Whether you're in it for a higher salary, better work-life balance, or simply a change of pace, switching careers in your thirties is no small feat. Here's what you need to know before making the move.

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Making a Career Change in Your Thirties

__Thinking about switching careers in your thirties?__ You're not alone. It's totally normal for your interests to change with age. For most people, what you enjoyed at 23 is not what you enjoy at 32; perhaps you want to make more money, find work-life balance, or use your career to make a difference in the world. Your reasons might even be a mix of all these. Whatever it is, you’re in your thirties and have realized you want—even need—a career change.

Where to begin? For many, choosing a career path begins in high school or college, and is often assisted by family, friends, school counselors, or mentors. As an adult, you may feel as though you’re on your own. Will you need to go back to school and start from scratch, or can you look to a course or certification program to learn any necessary skills? Can you survive a pay cut, even temporarily? What if it doesn't work out? Before we answer any of the above, let's start with some basics.

In this article, we'll cover:

  • The pros and cons of changing careers in your thirties
  • Steps to changing your career in your thirties
  • Educational requirements and options to changing careers
  • Tools and resources for people in their 30s who want to change careers

Pros and cons of changing careers in your thirties

By approaching a career change in your thirties with your eyes wide open, you can avoid disappointment—and take advantage of every benefit.

The impact on earning potential

  • Con: By changing careers in your thirties, you may need to take a pay cut—at least temporarily—as you retrain or start from scratch in a new career path.
  • Pro: It's possible that your new career will pay better in the long-term. Plus, don’t assume that you're starting at the bottom of the ladder again. You have far more transferable skills and experience than you did when you entered the workforce.

Paying for school when you have other financial responsibilities

  • Con: Grad school, certificate programs, and other forms of training be expensive.
  • Pro: Having a steady job—however much you dislike it—can help you put money aside for the cost of training, especially if you're planning on grad school. Scholarships are also readily available, as well as less-expensive degree options through online programs and community colleges.

The competition is fierce

  • Con: Ageism, even in your thirties, is a reality in the workforce—as is the young coworker with an incredibleskill set and bad attitude.
  • Pro: At your age, you have ample education and work experience under your belt, not to mention, the energy of someone who is decades away from retirement. If you think that's an opinion, think again. Studies show that you're in prime position to meet the challenges of a new occupation—so yes, go right ahead and present yourself to hiring managers as the ideal candidate.

Starting over from scratch

  • Con: Even if you’re not in love with your current career, you’ve invested ample time into growing skills and knowledge that are specific to it. By leaving it, that growth could be wasted.
  • Pro: Many skills are transferable, even in as drastic a career change as shifting from the humanities to science, so don’t assume that your old career can’t inform your new one. Soft skills, in particular—like your ability to communicate effectively, stay organized, and solve problems fast—are highly desired in any field.

Risk of failure

  • Con: It might not work out.
  • Pro: If your career change really doesn’t work out, you can always fall back on your old job or head back to school to pursue something different. You don’t know unless you try, right? It's just as possible that your career change will be one of the best decisions you've made. Who knows? Your experience could be so productive, that your pro-tips for job newbies go viral on social media.

Steps to changing careers in your thirties

If you're sensing the gut-feeling that your current career is no longer right for you, consider taking these steps.

1. Think about whether you need a total change, or to tweak your current career. Could you make a lateral move and preserve the knowledge, skills, and contacts you have without starting over again? Could you use your existing knowledge and skills for work in a related field? Would you need further education, training, or upskilling? It's crucial that you think carefully to ensure you’re making the right decision—and avoid leaving your job without a plan.

2. Identify a new career. This may be obvious to you, but if not, consider your personal interests, current knowledge and skills, financial concerns and the career lifestyle factors that are most important to you, such as schedule flexibility, team size, benefits, or anything else that comes to mind. Which jobs could allow you the best combination of all of these? Talk to friends about their careers and browse job openings in your area (or elsewhere, if you’re open to moving).

3. Speak to a career counselor. They can help identify a possible new career by highlighting your strengths, creating a career plan, and providing honest feedback throughout your search. If you don't know where to find professionals, the National Board of Certified Counselors can help you find accredited career counselors in your area.

4. Talk to people who have the job you think you want. Set up informational interviews with people who work in the field or for the organization you’re interested in. The experience will allow you to gain insight from knowledgable professionals as you pursue a career change, and also help you grow your network and practice for job interviews later on.

5. Add to your savings, if possible. This is an especially important to-do before handing in resignation at your current job or committing to any long-term courses. If you need to complete a training or degree program, you may need to go without a regular salary for a while and then possibly spend some time unemployed while job hunting.

Educational options for changing careers in your thirties

A career change in your thirties might require some retraining or upskilling, or even going back to school.

Earn your bachelor's degree

If you haven't completed a bachelor’s degree, now could be the time. College graduates typically earn more over than those who have only finished high school, and they're also hired to more jobs. According to a Georgetown University study, nine of out ten new jobs created in 2017 went to those with college degrees.

Unlike learning on the job as previous generations once did, employers now prefer candidates to be better trained and even possess advanced skills in particularly fast-growing fields, which is helped through higher education.

Consider going to grad school

Grad school may be a good option if you’re passionate about an area of study and want to pursue it more in-depth. There's also chance it will be obligatory, since career opportunities that require a masters-level of study or higher span almost every field.

If you choose a path of this type, take time to think critically about your options before making the commitment to continue your education. That means considering the length of time and cost of your program, as well as your ability to juggle school with work, family, financial, and any other obligations. All of this will factor into the format (on-campus, online, or hybrid) and schedule (full-time or part-time) you choose.

Look into taking online courses

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are offered by universities around the world and are ideal if you want to learn about an industry without making as hefty of a financial commitment as you would seeking a degree. Through courses facilitated by expert instructors, you'll complete assignments, participate in seminars, and connect with peers as you grow your understanding and within a potential field.

Tools and resources for changing careers in your thirties

When mapping out a new path, having a variety of tools at your fingertips can make a huge difference in helping you feel confident at the start of your journey and later, find success and gratification in a new career. These resources will come in handy whether you're fine-tuning your strengths, weighing industry options, seeking help with school loans, or looking to network in a new industry. Best of all, they're free.

  • The MAPP Career Test offers insight into what jobs may be the best fit, as well as the educational requirements needed to secure them.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook is useful for learning about salaries, job growth, and many other factors across hundreds of occupations.
  • If you plan on continuing your education, consult the Federal Student Aid for Adult Students guide for information on what types of aid are available, how to apply, important deadlines, and tips for reducing education expenses.
  • Once you find your groove in a new career, Jobstar's list of professional associations and organizations by industry will provide plenty of professional development opportunities to help you build relationships in your field.

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