Navigating a Mid to Late Career Change - 5 Questions to Consider

With three major career changes under my belt that weren't effortless or without investment, I can confidently say that career changes shouldn't be made lightly. I've learned that a mid to late career change requires a thoughtful and pragmatic approach that answers the following questions:

  1. How much and what kind of change can I realistically manage at this stage of my life?

  2. What skills do I want to take with me and what would I prefer to leave behind?

  3. Where am I financially?

  4. Have I talked to enough people?

  5. Have I learned about the “hidden gems” and the current trends?

These five questions have helped my clients navigate what can be a challenging decision.

How much and what kind of change can I realistically manage at this stage of my life?

From family responsibilities to finances, mid to late career changers have multiple layers of life to consider. Understanding the magnitude and type of change is critical at this stage of life. Typically, our choices are:

  • Make tweaks to our current role (Ask for new tasks).

  • Stay in the same occupation but change industries (The office administrator that moves from oil and gas industry to manufacturing).

  • Stay in the same industry but change occupations (The engineer that stays in oil and gas but becomes a pipeline construction inspector).

  • Change occupation and industry (The plumber who becomes a police officer).

With each change comes loss and gain, and each potential career changer has to weigh the impact on their lives.

What skills do I want to take with me and what would I prefer to leave behind?

The process of excavating skills and experiences can help mid-career changers decide the magnitude of change they want to make. When I made my first career change and moved from legal office administration to teaching, I made decisions about what I didn't want to do anymore (typing documents) and what I wanted to do (teach people). I also weighed the investment into building new skills. Did I want to go back to school?

Shedding skills I no longer wanted to use and identifying skills I needed to build helped me decide how much change I wanted to make. This process also helped me make decisions on where to investment my time and money when it came to retraining.

Where am I financially?

Executive Career Coach, Maureen McCann, has her clients “run their numbers”. Although Career Practitioners are not Financial Advisors, I believe that financial planning is a necessary and neglected area of the career planning process. Not knowing my financial facts stalled my first career change because I didn't think I could afford university. When I sat down with a financial advisor, I learned, over the long term, I would get my investment back and these facts changed my perspective.

In her article, Tips for a Successful Mid-Career Change, Madeline Burry writes, “Transitioning to a new career and industry doesn’t mean that you will need to begin from the bottom”. This can be true. However, when my husband and I decided to make mid-career pivots, our biggest concern was “Can we effectively mitigate the financial change?” I quit teaching and moved into career development and my husband quit teaching and moved into policing. We moved from mid-level salaries to entry-level salaries in our new occupations. To manage the change, we wisely took turns. He switched first, then I followed suit. We were excited about our new occupations but, it wasn't without sacrifices. As we transitioned into our new careers, we stopped traveling to help absorb the financial loss.

Have I talked to enough people?

Career Practitioners didn't exist in the high school I attended. Instead, my family of pragmatic farmers gave me simple and sound career advice. They said, “talk to people”. I contacted ONE person. My friend who was a legal secretary (which sounded sophisticated) said she liked her job. I thought if my friend liked it, I likely would like it too and I unwisely stopped my research. After a year of schooling and a year of sitting at a desk for 8 hours, not talking to people in a steno pool like the Dolly Parton movie Working 9 to 5, I started researching a new career direction. The job wasn't for me.

Although we build skills and experience from an ill-fit occupation, the investment of time and money mid-career can be far too costly. Forbes writer Brad Shorr, in his article 4 Important Things to Consider Before Making a Midlife Career Change, writes, “What you earn or don’t earn from the age of 50 to 65 is going to have a major impact on what you can afford to do in your golden years.” A major career change from the age of 35 to 65, can have a impact on our financial future for the better or worse.

After my stint as a legal office administrator, I went back to my pragmatic, fiscally responsible family for more advice about becoming a teacher and they said, “Before you spend that kind of money (on a university education), you need to talk to more people”. This time, I widened my research. I asked more people more questions. I covered education options, got a feeling for the career and trends impacting the industry. As a result of a more comprehension approach, teaching fit like a glove and the long-term financial gains outweighed the investment. More research ended in a wiser decision.

Have I learned about the “HIDDEN” gems and current trends?

Another important consideration when talking to people is to ask about the countless “hidden” occupations that never make it onto a database, have “hidden” career paths and are often well paid. We could be short sighted in our choices because we didn't do deeper research. In addition, emerging or growing industries have yet to create commonly used job titles or comprehensive job descriptions for emerging occupations. These occupations may not be on a career database and the only way to learn about them is to talk to workers or employers.

When I was working in Japan as a teacher, my American colleague had a friend that was a career counselor in the US. It sounded like a cool job but when I tried to research the occupation, I couldn’t find enough information to get a feel for the job. Career development was an emerging industry in Canada, so it was difficult to find comprehensive information on the role of a career counselor. A few years later, when I moved back to Canada, there was still little information. In order to learn more, I searched the Yellow Pages in my city and and set up information interviews with companies that had the word “career” in their business name. As I talked to people in the industry, I discovered a whole new world of possibilities with emerging occupations and entrepreneurial opportunities. I made the decision to take the leap and move from a career in international education to a career in career development.

In addition to hidden and emerging occupations, in a rapidly changing work world, mid to late career changers need to know how the occupation or industry they are considering will be impacted by trends and innovations. Retraining for an occupation that is sliding out of demand or will be replaced by Artificial Intelligence is obviously unwise, but I'm surprised by how many people don't do their research. Equally, moving into an occupation that is moving to an “on-demand” workforce, hiring independent workers for freelance or contract work may or may not be a good fit depending on the individual's personality and situation. Asking questions about impacting trends, new innovations, flexible staffing models and technology advancements in an industry before we make a commitment is a wise approach to a career change in a rapidly changing workforce.

With a more holistic, pragmatic and comprehensive approach, we can discover exciting and rewarding “next stage” careers.