Making a Career Change at 40? 10 Things You Need to Know

These cautions and tips for changing your job when you’re over forty will help you decide what step to take first. Making a career-changing decision at 40 is easier with these practical, inspirational Blossom Tips.

When you’re changing your career at 40 or any age, you must believe that you WILL land on your feet! Hold on to the hope and faith that everything will be all right. You have options and choices, and you can move in any direction you want. You must believe your new career will suit you perfectly, you won’t have any regrets, and you are moving in the right direction. Trust and believe in yourself. Your confidence and belief in yourself is the foundation of making a successful career change at 40 or any age.

If you need to make money during the transition from one career to another, get ready to take a step or two down the career ladder. Read articles like 10 Highest Paying Jobs for College Students, and remember that it’s only for a little while! When you’re making a career change you need to keep your options open and be humble. Sometimes a “pit stop” is necessary while you’re changing careers.

In this article bestselling author Richard Bolles shares his cautions and tips for changing your job when you’re forty or older. I also include several smart snippets of career advice from his books.

Richard Bolles is the author of the bestselling What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers book series. He encourages people over 40 to start moving in the direction of their new careers by starting a blog or website devoted to the new job. For instance, if you’re currently an employment counsellor at a community college and you want to be an organizational psychologist, start blogging about making career changes for people in their 40s and 50s. This may help your graduate school applications, give you additional information about the the psychology of the workplace, and add to your credibility.

If it seems like too much work to blog about your job (and blogging is hard work, believe me!), consider creating a job that aligns with what you love to do. Read 25 Odd Jobs and Hobbies That Make Money in Creative Ways for ideas.

10 Tips for Making a Career Change at 40

When I was 42 I went back to school, to get my MSW (Master of Social Work) – so I understand what you need to know about how to make a career change.

Are you considering going back to college or university? Feel free to ask me questions in the comments section below about returning to school as a mature student. Even better, read Should You Go to Grad School for a Master of Social Work (MSW)?

1. Focus on one change at a time

If you’re changing your career, try to avoid other major life changes as well. Keep your home life, social life, relationships, and health as steady as possible right now.

“You need a place to stand, when you move your life around, and that place is provided by the things that stay constant about you: your character, your relationships, your faith, your values, your transferable skills,” writes Bollees.

2. Start with what you want to do, not what the job market says

Avoid taking the media or industry’s advice on the “hottest new careers” or “best places to find a job.” Instead, figure out what you want to work at every day. This will help you find long-term job satisfaction and help you decide on a meaningful career change at 40.

Boles guarantees that unless you look dirty, wild, and disreputable – and you smell really bad – an employer is looking for you. If, that is, you know what your talents and skills are.

If you don’t know where to start, read Help Finding Part Time Jobs for Seniors and Retirees (I know you’re not a senior or retiree if you’re searching for career change tips for people over 40, but the tips are timeless :-) ).

3. Free yourself from old patterns

Look around for any type of career that interests you. Often, we fall back into the patterns we’ve been living all our lives. Instead of plodding along in the same career direction, talk to people who are working in fields or jobs that intrigue you. Why stay in the same job market when you’re changing careers at 40 – why not push the edges a little?

“I’m sure that a huge proportion of the situation you are facing is out out of your control,” says Bolles. “There’s nothing you can do about it. But that proportion can’t be 100 percent. There’s got to be some proportion – let’s say it’s even just 2 percent – that is within your control. You can work on that. Who knows what a difference that may make?”

What old patterns are holding you back? Don’t underestimate the power you have, even if you feel lost and even helpless when you’re learning how to make a career change at 40. It will get easier, and you WILL get through this!

4. Take your time when you’re considering a career change

“The more time and thought you can give to choosing your career, the better your choice will be,” says Bolles. “There is a penalty for seeking quick and dirty career fixes.”

This is an important caution about getting a different job, because it may be the last time you take this big of a risk. On the other hand, you must remember that sometimes the only way to figure out what you want to do is to start moving forward. Then, the open and closed doors will help you decide what step to take next.

If you’re discouraged and unsure where to start, read How to Know What Job You Should Have.

5. Expect to make mistakes

Making a Career Change at 40If you open yourself up to the expectation that you will take a wrong turn on your career path here and there, you’ll be more likely to take healthy risks. You have time to correct and recover from a bad decision – and the only way to know it’s a bad career choice is if you try it. Take a risk, and learn to be okay with making mistakes. This is a good life tip, not just a caution about changing careers when you’re forty!

Here’s a practical tip on how to make a career change that will help you identify mistakes you may not even be aware you made:

“A vast majority of employers now Google your name before they’ll consider hiring you,” writes Bolles in the 2014 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? “There’s your new resume…What we know for sure is that somewhere between 35% and 70% of employers now report that they have rejected applicants on the basis of what they found through Google. Things that can get you rejected from a job interview are:

  • Bad grammar or gross misspelling on your Facebook or LinkedIn profile
  • Anything indicating you lied on your resume or job application
  • Badmouthing of previous employers
  • Any signs of racism, prejudice, or screwy opinions about stuff
  • Anything indicating alcohol or drug abuse; and any – to put it delicately – inappropriate content

Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your online presence, especially if you’re active on various social media sites.

6. Try to enjoy the adventure of changing your career

Sure, making a career change at 40 can be scary…but it’s also a very exciting time in your life. This is your chance to create a new life, start fresh, and use your brain and body in a whole new way. Bolles says if you’re not having fun changing your career, you’re not doing it right.

Not only will lightening up and having fun will help reduce stress when you’re changing career at 40, it will help convince potential employers that you are easy to work with. Light to carry. Flexible. Adaptable to a new team and work environment.

7. Remember there are no guarantees

“Don’t get a college degree in some career field just because you think it will guarantee you a job! It will not,” writes Bolles. This ties into the second tip about career change at 40, which is to use your interests and passions as the foundation of your decision. Don’t rely on the industry, job market, or even college recruitment posters to help you decide what career to choose.

8. Learn healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety

I think these tips for a career change at 40 can be applied to a career change at any age – or even when you’re 16 and trying to decide what you want to do with your life.

In some ways, making a career change when you’re over 40 isn’t any different than switching jobs when you’re 20 or 30. Except, you may feel the pressure of age – and old age. You may be a bit more stressed at 40 because you have mortgage payments, student loan debt, kids’ expenses, car payments, etc.

It feels scary to take a job risk or make a career transition at age forty, but it may be the best thing you could do at this point in your life.

Here’s my favorite quote from What Colour is Your Parachute:

“One of the saddest lines in the world is, ‘Oh come now – be realistic.’ The best parts of this world were not fashioned by those who were realistic. They were fashioned by those who dared to look hard at their wishes and gave them horses to ride.”

If you’re wondering how to change careers when you’re 40, dare to face your dreams head-on.

Don’t forget to consider your personality! If your personality traits mostly introverted, read Best Jobs for Introverts and Quiet People.

The last two tips for making a career change at 40

I found a groovy career website that helps people change their careers, and wanted to add these two tips:

9. Have a niche

You are definitely going to have a lot of choices when you change your career, but choice is really not helpful in the sense that you’ve got to get clear and very specific about what you want to do. When you go to market you want to be “one of one.”

In other words, be specific in identifying a niche for your career. This way you’ll have less competition from other, more general job candidates.

10. Get help specifically geared to making a career change at 40

changing careers at 40Think about what help you’re going to need when you’re making a career change at 40, and where that help is going to come from. Some of it will be close to you – obvious and free. Some of the help you need might not be so obvious and you might need to buy into it. For instance, you may need to become a member of a career development club to make use of its tools, support and community.

Or, maybe you need to hire a job coach or employment counselor to help you navigate the stress and fear that comes with changing a career when you’re 40 plus.

These last two tips on changing your career are from 10 Ways to Get Focused on Your Career Change, on the Position Ignition website.

Resources for Making a Career Change at 40

In in What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, Richard Bolles says, “Hope depends upon taking care that we have at least two alternatives in every situation, with every task confronting us.” This Parachute edition features the latest studies and perspectives on today’s job-market, including proven strategies for finding jobs even when everyone tells you there are none.

Bolles also encourages us to stop living for weekends. When you’re passionate about your job, you won’t drag yourself to work every day. “There is a vast world of work out there in this country, where at least 111 million people are employed in this country alone – many of whom are bored out of their minds. All day long. Not for nothing is their motto TGIF – ‘Thank God It’s Friday.’ They live for the weekends, when they can go do what they really want to do.”

Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type is by Paul D. Tieger (et al) is especially useful for millennials and baby boomers experiencing midlife career switches. That’s you, if you’re searching for tips on how to make a career change at 40. This book leads readers step-by-step through the process of determining and verifying which Personality Type they are. Then it identifies occupations that are popular with each Type, provides helpful case studies, and offers a rundown of each Type’s work-related strengths and weaknesses.

If your career change involves moving overseas, good for you! Read 10 Things You Need to Know About Moving to Africa.

And remember: When you see someone successful, you only see the public glories – not the private sacrifices it took to succeed. Be prepared to make sacrifices if you’re making a career change at 40…or any age. It’ll be worth it.

Your thoughts are welcome below! What’s your biggest reason not to change your career? What’s holding you back, and how are you coping with the stress of making a career change at 40?


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23 thoughts on “Making a Career Change at 40? 10 Things You Need to Know”

  1. Now that I’m closer to 50 than 40, I believe making a career change isn’t as simple as “do what you love.” I love to walk and listen to podcasts, but that won’t net me a job (unless of course I’m picking up garbage in the parks….hmm….).

    If I were to change careers now, at age 48, I’d go to a career counselor. Even better, a free government organization that offers resume help, job resources, work tips in today’s economy, etc. There are so many factors to consider – and so many opportunities that didn’t exist before! Talk to someone who can guide you through the process.

    Unless, of course, you want to go back to school. Then, I’d suggest contacting the admissions office and setting up an appointment. Get in-person tips and advice; it goes a long way!

    Now let’s get all dreamy for a second….if you could have any career or job in the world, what would you do? Dream away :-)

  2. I’m over 40, been a commercial driver for 10 years. My resume is thin. Still driving, but know that I can not stay in my profession for too many more years. I would like to be planning for my next career. Thoughts?

  3. Hi,
    I am thinking of changing careers to Master’s in Psychology with Concentration in additions. I am 41 and currently in business at a company where I have worked for the past 13 years. I have a calling, though, to help others with additions, substance abuse, and alike. Rather than look for more money in the career I am in now, I am looking to start over, basically. Of course, I am nervous; however, this change is really what I want. I am more worried about not making enough money while I am in school at the job I am at now. However, it is job security, and I love the place and my job. Anyway, thanks for reading.

  4. Hello Tica,

    Maybe you have too much information! I don’t know you (which is why I normally try not to give advice), but it seems to me that you’re overthinking this decision.

    I know it’s a huge step to make a career change when you’re 40 (or 46, like me :-) ) — but there is no right or wrong answer. You need to rely on your intuition, your gut instinct – the still small voice inside of you. A book can’t tell you if you should change your career or go back to school, and neither can I. Only you can make this decision.

    Take a deep breath, and sit peacefully. Close your eyes, and ask yourself “What do I really want to do? Where do I want to be in one year, or five years? WHO do I want to be?”

    Here’s an article that I recently wrote, to help women make decisions:

    How to Make a Decision by Looking Forwards

    You have enough information. Now, you need to rely on that still small voice inside of you to take you in the direction you need to go.

    Read my decision-making article, and tell me what you think!


  5. I am 40. I have been admitted into a Master Degree in Human Services. It is a MS in Human Services, this is the link: I am really not sure if I want to pay all the money and get into the program. I am not sure if I should look better for a Technical career. The thing is English is not my first language and somehow I feel very insecure with my writing skills. Also I am really not sure I like the field. I feel very good helping people but I feel overwhelmed when dealing with a lot of people. I have A Bachelor degree from another country, so I wasn’t able to work in hat field here, but because I have bachelors degree I qualify to apply for grad school. I have been living in this country for the last 14 years, I am a professional medical interpreter but I feel I want something a little more rewarding. I have read all the books you recommend, oddly as much I read as more confused I get. Any input?

  6. A very good article about making a career change at 40 that I enjoyed reading today, thanks and God bless you for this insightful article.

  7. I’m just 31, but I feel like I’m worth WAY more than what I’m being offered. I’ve thought alot about this over the last 3 years and Although it is scary making a big change I’m going back to school to become a doctor. Everything about the change makes sense to me, but selling that idea to others is kindof the scary part.

    I wish all of you a very fruitful experience because change can be scary, but I think staying where I’m at is much much scarier.

  8. Wow, these are great tips for changing careers — thank you!

    Your story of writing for your company newsletter is a perfect example of making sure your choices are taking you in the right direction. I love it. And, you’re a “real” writer now because of it and other smart decisions you’ve made.

    I like your idea of “informational interviews” with potential employers, and even with people who have jobs you want. Before I started freelance writing, I met with a writer whose articles I’d read in Canadian Living. We went for lunch, I picked her brains about a writing career, and I still email her now when I have questions. I guess she’s my mentor.

  9. Hi,

    I changed careers successfully when I was 45. I went back to school, got my MBA (Master’s of Business Administration), and now I’m the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization. I love what I do, and I’m so glad I quit my previous job as a teacher. I liked teaching, but it wasn’t the right job for me.

    If any woman is thinking about changing careers at 40, I urge her to do it as soon as possible! Let the money and family problems sort themselves out. Life’s too short to waste in a job you hate.


    1. Chelsea… I don’t know who you are or where you are —
      just Thank YOU!!!!

      I needed to see this post because I need to get out of teaching. I am wasting my life on a job that I hate. Thank you for letting me know it can be done. I am actually thinking of a Master’s in Human Resources

  10. As someone who has personally changed careers twice in my life thus far, and who has had mentors to help that shift, as well as mentoring others through the same, I only see 2 things I’d like to add.

    The final note about not relying on the internet – I would recommend getting Linked-in connections to people in your target field, and then requesting phone or in-person “informational interviews”. Tell them it will only take 30 minutes, and offer to schedule at their convenience.

    Then you can ask questions about what education or experience you’ll need under your belt to get where you want to be, what might set you apart as a candidate, and you’d be making a valuable contact for the future. Give them a copy of your resume, and don’t ask for anything but friendly advice. If you’re in a highly competitive field – link up with someone in a distant market who won’t see you as a competitor and use email and telephone.

    The second thing is actually part of what I hint at in the first. Find the baby steps that will get you headed in the direction to meet your goals. One great way to do that is to find projects in your existing job that you can add to your “experience tool belt”.

    For example, when I was working in a very numbers-oriented IT job at the phone company, and I wanted to become a writer, I asked to be able to write an article for the next newsletter. The boss saw it as taking strange but good initiative, I saw it as getting actual work experience toward my new direction. I was honest with my boss about my dreams and goals, and he helped me find new ways to do that (e.g. writing technical manuals instead of just running reports. Yes, technical writing’s not exciting, but “check” toward more paid writing experience!)

    Try to think of “crossover” positions that might help you – positions that take advantage of your existing skill set and your target goal. This takes a LOT of research and brainstorming, but can be very rewarding.

    Last, but not least, think of every new job as a semester at “Experience University.” Think of your workload as your class load, and figure out if you need to take some pre-requisites before you change majors. Ask your boss to do something in that direction.

    It sounds silly to talk with your boss about your long-term career goals if it means “robbing” them of your valuable service, but a good boss will be interested in developing you in a direction you want to move in. It will make you happier and more motivated in the mid-term, and can payoff well for the company if you transfer internally rather than leaving.

  11. Hello Pablo,

    I don’t know what the prospects are for entry-level medical science jobs are, but I am 100% sure that if you don’t make some sort of career change now while you’re in your 40s, you’ll always regret it!

    If you knew exactly what was going to happen, it wouldn’t be a risk, would it? And that’s what makes life meaningful and fulfilling: taking risks, trying new things, and not being certain of the outcome.

    You are never more alive than when you’re taking a risk. And making a career change at 40 is one of the most interesting risks you’ll ever take!

    Listen to your heart. You’re a smart guy, and you’ll always have your MBA and engineering work to fall back on if the new career path doesn’t work out.

    How can you lose?

  12. Hi Laurie,

    Congratulations for your article!! It represents a lot what many people think and are concerned for. I’m 43 and seriously thinking about starting-over again something 100% different…I´m civil industrial engineer with a top-tier MBA, always being among the first places when studying. However, I have only worked in my family-business (father, brothers, etc) doing general management and this brought me almost-no-relevant-experience for bigger companies, therefore, I spent a couple of years looking for a job with no results. Despite I have my financials 100% solved, I realized that the business and negotiation are not for me (I’m diagnosed as Asperger by the way), wanted a career which allows me to do the primary job…at this time, I’m seriously evaluating a new career in the field of medical sciences, I really like researching and diagnosing. I know that I have to study a lot but I think it could be the best for my situation. My main concern is if I could find an entry-level job in such new field at this age. Do you have any thoughts about the last? Thanks a lot,
    Take care and best for 2016, Pablo

  13. Hello Puja,

    I wonder what the reasons are, that you’re not getting any calls from your resume? This may be a separate issue than making a career change at 40.

    It might be good to ask an objective professional in your field to look at your resume, and give feedback on what could be improved.

  14. Hi,
    Thank you your article was really nice to read. As u know changing career is quite challenging what if u can’t decide on what to do ,what actually you can do . I have done Master in Environmental science . I had worked for 2.5 yrs but then took break of about year now I am luking for job but unfortunately I m not getting any calls I m not getting what I can do with this .Do you have any idea about how to restart .

  15. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Helene,

    I hope you decide to get your MSW, as I really do believe it’s an investment in your future and your self. But I have 3 degrees, I’m a former teacher, and I love school so I’m biased :-)

    I’m not the best person to ask about getting an MSW because I went back to school more out of boredom with my blogging and freelance writing career. But, after getting my MSW I went right back to my blogs and writing! That doesn’t say as much about the MSW program as it does about me, though. I just love working at home alone, writing.

    Here’s what I wrote after I graduated from UBC – it’s basically a list of pros and cons of the MSW program. Things will no doubt have changed since then (I started in 2012, I believe).

    Take a look through the comments as well, as there is some extra information offered by a reader called Anonymous.

    Good luck with your decision! I think a career change is a great idea at any age. And if you’re 40, so much the better.


  16. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hello Helene,

    If you have specific questions about making a career change or going back to school, please feel free to ask! I can’t give advice or guidance, but I’m happy to share my thoughts in a blog post or this comments section.

    All good things,

    1. Thanks Laurie. My questions pertain to you going back to get an MSW. I am considering the same move this coming fall and would like to speak to someone that has gone before me.

  17. I like the quote by Confucious that says if you love your work you will never work a day in your life. I think this is extremely important in choosing a new job when middle aged. You already have tons of life experience and you probably have a good idea of who you are and what you like and dislike.
    I believe it is extremely important to sit down with a professional and maybe a family member or good friend and really explore what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you enjoy what you do you are definitely more likely to be successful at it.

  18. Making a career change at 40 is scary, especially if you have a mortgage or huge piles of debt. But, if you don’t take any risks in life or with your career, you’ll never grow!

    It’s never too late to be what you might have been. I can’t remember who said this, but it’s great advice for people who are thinking about changing their careers.

  19. Hi Laurie,

    I understand the idea of having fun with a career change at forty, but it’s stressful. I have 3 kids, student loan, mortgage payment, and a wife who doesn’t have a high paying job. I’m changing my career and I’m 44 years old. fun isn’t exactly what is happening, but I appreciate the encouragement.

    Do you have any thoughts on job ideas? I want to change my career but don’t know what direction to go in. I appreciate your thoughts.


  20. Great post on changing careers at 40. I shared it with my audience, military members in career transition. Have a wonderful weekend.