How To Make a Career Change at 40 or 50

How To Make a Career Change at 40 or 50

Many of the job seekers I speak with share that making a career change at 40 feels impossible. When you’ve been in the job market for several decades, it can be difficult to believe that a career transition is achievable or even worth it.

In this article, I discuss whether a career change is possible mid-career (spoiler: it is!). I also walk you through how to make a career transition if you’re in your 40s or 50s.

Is a Career Change Possible at 40 or 50 Years Old?

One of the greatest concerns I hear from experienced job seekers is that they’re too far along in their careers to shift direction.

As a career coach who specializes in senior managers and executives in the tech industry, a vast majority of my clients are in their 40s and 50s. A significant portion of my clients are also in the midst of some sort of career change, big or small.

These mid-career and late-career professionals have successfully made more career changes than I can count, including breaking into tech from nearly every industry imaginable, entering the job market after owning their own business, and returning from work after a gap in employment.

Let me be crystal clear here: Yes, you can make a career change in your 40s, 50s, and beyond.

How To Make a Career Change at 40 or 50

So, how do you make a career transition when you’re mid-career or later?

One of the biggest mistakes I see seasoned job seekers making is not communicating how their background, experience, and skills translate to the roles they’re targeting. Instead, they ask the recruiter or hiring manager to decipher how their work history is relevant and translatable.

This is a problem because employers are going to select the candidate who is the “easier” choice. As a job seeker, your job is to explain how your work history is relevant and transferable.

1. Get clear on your transferable skills.

Begin by understanding how your skills can be transferred to your next career choice, then practice communicating them. A simple yet powerful exercise is to dissect a target job posting, then for each bullet point identify a career accomplishment that highlights the value you’ve delivered in the workplace. Importantly, you’ll want to use similar language as the job posting. Then, once you have a list of accomplishments, practice rehearsing them aloud so you get used to this new way of speaking about your career wins.

If you’re still doubting yourself and whether a career change at 40 or 50 is possible, keep in mind that most senior manager and leadership roles share many transferable skills. This rings especially true as you advance in your career and into higher-level leadership positions. (Of course, there are a few exceptions for highly technical and specialized roles and industries, but these are few and far between.)

Tip: If you’re looking for some ideas for what to do, try these free career tests for career changers.

2. Know that your experience is an asset.

You might be thinking, “This sounds great, Kyle, but how do you combat ageism when making a career change?” There’s a lot of fearmongering among seasoned job seekers who are trying to find new roles. It’s even worse if you’re a senior manager or executive who wants to make a career transition in your 40s and 50s.

Because of this fear, a lot of resume writers and career coaches will recommend only marketing the last 10 years of your career on your executive resume. While well intended, this advice can be an incredible disservice when you’re looking to stand out in the saturated market.

I fiercely believe that your additional years of experience are one of your greatest assets in today’s competitive landscape. Importantly, though, you need to take that additional time to connect the dots between your experience and the roles you’re targeting, as it’s not the recruiter or hiring manager’s job to discern how your early career is relevant and advantageous.

If you’re looking for a role at a tech startup, for instance, your career track record can be helpful for organizations that may not have leaders with experience raising funds, scaling a business, or navigating the IPO process.

3. Tap into your existing network.

Speaking of the advantages of your lengthier career, you also likely have a more robust network and deeper relationships that you can tap into. Accordingly, you’ll want to spend time strategically letting your network know about your career change intentions.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to reach out and forge new relationships with people at your target companies. Bonus points if you’re able to facilitate informational interviews with other people who have made similar career changes in their 40s and 50s.

4. Be realistic with your expectations.

Lastly, be realistic about how long it takes to change careers and find a new job when you’re in your 40s and 50s. The average job search extends multiple months, so you’ll want to give yourself ample time to get clear on your target role, update your career documents, and navigate a modern-day interview process.

Additionally, I’ve found job seekers have the most success when they navigate one change at a time. Consequently, consider trying to change only one aspect of your career at a time, such as:

  • Industry (example: higher education to tech)
  • Functional area (example: marketing to human resources)
  • Job level (example: senior manager to director)


Tip: If you’re wondering about starting a new career at 60 years old or older—it’s definitely possible.  Here’s how to successfully transition to a new role later in your career.

With this information in hand, I hope you now feel more confident about your ability to make a career change at 40, 50, and beyond. You’ve got this!

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  • August 27, 2023