How to make a career change at 35 (with reasons and steps)
Updated 18 April 2023
Changing your career at 35 can be an intimidating prospect but also potentially rewarding. When you've spent almost 20 years advancing in one field, starting from scratch in a brand new area is effectively the start of a whole new chapter in your life. It might feel counterproductive to change careers after this long, but there are several arguments in favour of doing so. In this article, we examine the benefits available to you when pursuing a career change at 35, with a list of steps you can take and details of further considerations.
Why consider a career change at 35?
Considering a career change at 35 isn't uncommon, regardless of how you might feel about your current job. You may have already decided to change your career path, or you may still be trying to decide whether or not it's worth it. If a career transition is something that might interest you, consider the following and think about how much they apply to you:
You have a better understanding of who you are. Most people enter the workforce in their late teens or early twenties. Back then, you may have thought a career path was perfect for you, only to discover that the realities of the career don't quite match up with your interests and goals.
You want a new challenge. Many people enjoy their jobs because of the challenge they provide. As time passes and people gain new skills and experience, jobs that were once challenging can become easy and unfulfilling.
You have different priorities. It's very likely that your responsibilities have changed since you first started work, as you may now have children to look after, a home to buy and maintain or your personal beliefs and philosophies may have matured. You may desire a new career that matches your newfound priorities.
You want to make a difference. Now that you've developed your life skills after a decade and a half in the job market, you might want to use them for something other than your own personal advancement. Transitioning into a more fulfilling and rewarding role may facilitate this.
You require more flexibility. As your responsibilities change, so does the amount of time you can feasibly dedicate to each part of your life. A new career can grant you a degree of flexibility, which may be particularly useful if you have children or family members to look after.
Related: How to change careers
How to make a career change at 35
Changing careers is different from changing jobs. When you change jobs, you usually only require the skills and experience you already have, and you may work with the same kinds of colleagues, customers and clients. When you change careers, though, you may find yourself in a completely different working environment that requires a number of different skills. Take the following steps to assist you in this process:
1. Take a self-assessment
The first step to changing your career is to assess your current experience and the hard and soft skills you've developed so far. Hard skills are those you learn through training and practice. They're often industry-specific, such as product knowledge or experience with a particular CMS. These might not be applicable in a new field, but you can often use them as a way of helping you learn new hard skills. Soft skills are universally transferable skills required for any career. As these commonly come from experience rather than direct training, they're valuable to recruiters in any field.
For your self-assessment, consider the following points:
List any awards and achievements. This includes any achievements you might have had during your education or professional life. Try to focus on those that show evidence of your skills.
Ask your current or former colleagues for feedback. Getting feedback from colleagues is a great opportunity for continuing personal development (CPD). Ask anyone you respect to give you their honest opinions about your strengths and weaknesses.
Check company reviews. If possible, ask your HR department for copies of any personal reviews they have on file for you. If you've already decided to change careers, consider asking your manager for a review before you leave.
Related: How to write a self-assessment
2. Research your dream job
Look at jobs available in the field you want to move into. Email any organisation that interests you and ask them what they're looking for when recruiting. Look through a number of job descriptions to check that they match your expectations. Assess whether their key duties are things you can do and if there are any elements of the job that surprise you. Consider whether these are jobs that you might apply for straight away or if you require more experience before starting.
These questions also serve to narrow down your search for organisations that you might want to work for and may highlight other roles or businesses that might suit you. Remember that a company's values and the benefits it may or may not provide are just as important as the details of the job itself. Keep notes on what you find to help you build an idea of what you want and how you might get it.
3. Assess your current experience and identify skill gaps
A skill gap defines the difference between the skills you have and the skills an employer's looking for. Understanding what skill gaps exist between you and the job you want allows you to look for training opportunities. Alternatively, you may assess what skills you have that an organisation might be missing. Recruiters use skill gap analysis to determine what they may be missing in their current employees and use it to create job listings. Demonstrating that you possess any of these skills puts you at an advantage during the hiring process.
4. Consider training or going back to school
Depending on the career path you're considering, you may undertake additional training. There are many free and paid online courses and certification programmes online. You can complete these in your own time. Depending on the field you want to enter, you may also want to consider going back to school or university for more formal training. Training programmes also give you opportunities to network in your desired area. For example, if you meet someone who's been enrolled on a course by their employer, it may indicate that their company is looking for more people learning these types of skills.
5. Look for volunteer opportunities
A good way of building your experience and professional network is to find volunteer opportunities. Volunteering strengthens your CV and allows you to pick up new skills. It also shows potential recruiters that you have a significant amount of self-motivation. Volunteering also provides more opportunities for networking by allowing you to meet people outside of your current field. If you're looking at moving into the charity or non-profit fields, evidence of volunteer work is usually a requirement.
Related: How to find volunteer work
6. Update your CV
Your CV is not simply a list of your past jobs, it's how you present your skills to prospective employers. There are many ways to format a CV, depending on the field you're applying for. Consider how best to format your CV and adjust it for each job application you make, highlighting the skills the recruiter is looking for in the job description.
What is a lateral career change?
Changing your career doesn't necessarily require you to leave the field you're currently in. It may even be possible to stay in your current organisation. Larger employers often have different departments where they may be able to offer you a new opportunity. For example, you may work in the finance department of a creative media company, where you can talk to your manager about whether there are any opportunities in a more creative role. Sometimes, organisations pay to retrain their current staff, as this often saves a substantial amount on recruitment.
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