Career change at 40: what you need to know and where to start in a pragmatic way
Career change at 40: what you need to know and where to start in a pragmatic way
A career change is never easy, but doing it in your 40s might raise all sorts of concerns, fears, and doubts about what you will do next in your professional life. While I am not in my 40s (but still just 5 years behind), I think this is a common question for many successful people ...
A career change is never easy, but doing it in your 40s might raise all sorts of concerns, fears, and doubts about what you will do next in your professional life. While I am not in my 40s (but still just 5 years behind), I think this is a common question for many successful people who find themselves wondering what their next career step will be in their 40s.
In the past few years, I have had multiple people approach me with similar questions, sometimes related to starting their own business in their 40s and what to consider to get there. While starting a new business is a significant commitment and comes with many challenges, moving to a new career (including a new role or new industry) is a similar big move.
Today, I will try to give you a few thoughts on how to move to a new career in your 40s, how to message that to your network, where to start, and what you should consider as potential roles and industries. Every situation is, of course, unique, so please use my article considering that I don’t know your specific circumstances. However, I am happy to help and provide some thoughts and assistance if you schedule 30 minutes of my time using my calendar.
Anthropos is not yet at the point where it can help you identify your skills and needs and help you transition into a new role, but we are working on it!
Table of Contents
Midlife career change: can I really change my career at 40?
Life is a journey filled with opportunities for growth and self-discovery. As we progress through different stages, it’s natural to reassess our priorities and seek fulfillment in all aspects of life. At the age of 40, individuals have accumulated a wealth of experience and skills that can be applied to a new career path but like for job searching, your psychology will be play a big role here in understanding where and how to start moving into something new.
Can you really change at 40? Most people will spend too much time asking themselves this question.
Most people in their 40s will start doubting whether they can really change their careers because they will look at younger generations and feel like they will have more and more competitors in any role, especially considering they are new to that industry. It’s something you should ignore, mostly because at 40, you have skills and experience that can be applied and used across several different roles and industries.
Salary and overall compensation are likely the other two key cases you have to consider here:
Can you afford a salary cut for the short/medium term? This is something that you might need to consider and accept if you are moving into a completely different role and industry where your skills matter, but where you still lack enough knowledge. This is an investment: you might still want to do it because in 2-3 years, you will start growing much faster in that industry and role, and that will make up for the lost compensation in this time frame.
If you absolutely need to improve your compensation package and cannot afford anything different, this is something that happens frequently. You might have a family, a mortgage, and several financial commitments. I believe this makes things more challenging for you, but it also gives you a clear indication of what you need to prioritize. The best approach here is to shortlist roles in industries where your skills matter a lot and where you can likely get into a more senior role. It’s not impossible, but for this, you need to have skills and knowledge that allow you to demand a bigger compensation in that industry. If you don’t have them right now, a solution might be to spend more time preparing for this shift and work with an external headhunter to help you shape your resume.
Let me share a video that does a pretty good job at summarizing why changing career at 40 is possible. A lot of the things explained are the ones I am diving deep into in the rest of this article:
How to start working toward a career change at 40: skills, roles and seniority
The web is full of articles that tell you everything is possible and that you can get the career you want. I did not want to write another one just to make Anthropos rank better on Google, so let me try to help you build a pragmatic approach to changing your career. There are three things to work with: skills you have and that you can easily improve + the roles (and therefore the departments you would consider) and finally the seniority of the role (aka, are you looking for a managerial position or for an individual contributor role?). The combination of these things will give you an idea of which roles (and companies) you can target, and therefore the training, network connections and path to get there for you.
Skills: how to map them and understand where they apply
There are several methods to map your skills, one of which is through online tests. However, I don’t believe there is a comprehensive platform that allows you to test all your skills and provide a definitive result. An effective approach is to examine your resume and most recent roles, using the job descriptions as a guide, to list the skills that you commonly utilize. For instance, if you have spent many years in product management, there will be an array of skills that you can list. We partially talked about this already and skills are a great way to identify what’s next for you.
Now, it’s crucial to be honest with yourself and prioritize the skills that you truly excel in. Revisiting the product management example: if many of your skills revolve around stakeholder management and negotiation, you should strongly consider placing these at the top of your list. If you have specific roles and projects where you’ve demonstrated these skills, include them in the list as well. This will help illustrate why you are an ideal fit for a role requiring those skills.
You can help yourself with popular databases of skills and job roles available online, the most famous one is Onet and it has several helpful tools, for techskills, for softskills and also to list exactly what a job role should do based on the industry it is in. Go back to your list and use it to add more skills or change yours based on that.
Roles, where can you use your skills? What would you like to do?
It’s time to take your current set of skills and understand what are the other roles that can benefit from them. At the end of the day, this is really what you are trying to do: moving to a new role and a new department maybe using your current skills. Again, Onet has a great tool that helps you see where your skills are applied, but you need to start with a few ideas of what you would like to do. It’s enough to start thinking about large departments: sales, marketing, customer support/success, engineering, product, finance and operations. Where do you see yourself? Here is where you have to consider also your financial needs: working in sales might be always more profitable than a finance or marketing role.
Once you have identified a set of potential roles, you should start researching them. How?
Find and read job descriptions of those roles at different companies and industries – do they mention your skills? This is the first check for you and also a starting point to understand how to shape your story
Find interviews and people that have those roles in YouTube: listen to them, there are thousands of videos where they explain what they do, how they have landed that role and give free suggestions on what to do to get into that role.
Narrow your list of roles and make sure there are just 2-3 that are the top choice for you.
Seniority of the role
Not a ton to say here, you have to have a clear idea of the seniority of the role you are looking for. Being a Sales Account Executive is not the same of being a Sales Manager or a VP of Sales. I am sure you know that, but as you switch to new roles that needs to be clear. In many cases your previous seniority might not be recognized in a new role, but in my experience that might be temporary (meaning that you will be then quickly promoted to the top again once you are performing your role) or there are ways to prove to your new employer that – even if you are not experienced in that role – you could be a great manager.
If you are looking for management roles you should highlight your skills there and make examples of how they apply to the role and department you picked.
Is your new role available in your organization?
Something I am sure you already thought about but if you like the industry and organization you are in, you should first of all check if there is an opportunity for you to move into a completely different role. This is not the right article to discuss all the challenges of doing something like this, but I would use 100% of the process described here. You already know the company, their products/services and you will likely have a big network of colleagues. These points will give you leverage in several positions and you will take less risk moving into a role in the same organization.
Best career paths for someone changing careers in his 40s
This list might be perfect for your skills or not but I am listing a series of roles and departments where there are usually solid soft skills involved and where you can learn hard skills in less than a year. By definition a lot of these roles are not strictly technical (e.g. Software engineering) which is great because they allow you to take advantage of your soft skills. Things are not that easy when it comes down to specialized roles (e.g. Sales in the software world, or business development for specific industries), but as we said you should assume that every new role will somehow require you to work on a few new skills, spending time to come up to speed and studying them.
Sales is one of those careers where you find people coming from a lot of different backgrounds. I personally think that 90% of your success in Sales is due to your resilience and ambition, and everything else is a mix of soft skills and product/market knowledge, at least if you work in a quota-carrying role where you have to find and close new business on a monthly basis. I think sales is a great career option at 40 because you are usually more confident, you have a network to rely on and a set of soft skills that can be applied to technical and less technical sales roles. Sales roles are also the perfect choice for someone ambitious that is ok with a lower base salary and counts on commissions to really increase the overall compensation.
There are millions of companies constantly looking for new sales people and in many cases you will find a good training program that comes with it. If you have never done Sales in your career, stepping into it will be more difficult and you will have to consider training and certifications to show your potentials. If instead you were in sales in a different industry, that becomes much easier as for almost any industry and product is usually possible to learn about it and use your sales experience to quickly come up to speed.
There are thousands of online resources to learn more about sales roles, and so there are live virtual courses that teach you everything about sales. HubSpot has a pretty good list of live and virtual courses you can consider to start learning about sales.
Sales is a tough job in most companies, and while courses and programs can help you, I would strongly suggest to shadow someone in the position for a few months and build a mentor/coach relationship with people that been in sales for a lot of time: there are usually a ton of sales professionals that enjoy coaching more junior people. As we say later in the article, start asking that to your colleagues in sales.
Marketing might be a more difficult role to get into if you don’t have experience with it, but similarly to sales, it’s a broad discipline where you can easily specialize and use your soft skills. In modern organizations digital marketing is everywhere, and that’s something you can learn easily with courses online. From SEO to CRO (conversion rate optimization) there are millions of online and virtual courses that you can use and even better, digital marketing is something where you can easily practice just publishing online experiments (your blog, your website etc).
If you have technical skills, marketing might be interesting for you when looking at product marketing roles: many companies struggle to hire technical figures that want to work in marketing and apply their tech skills to something that is not engineering or product development.
Product Managers come from many different backgrounds: marketing, sales, operations etc. That’s why this is a role you should consider if you have a mix of business and marketing experience and you are looking for a new challenge. The product manager career path is quite articulated and it’s one where your soft skills matter a lot. Product management spans across many industries and you will find this role in every modern large organization. You will need to focus on learning amore about the industry, the products and the customers that use them and that’s something you should consider anyway for such a product-related role.
Customer support and customer success, technical or non technical
Probably one of the easiest paths to transition into if you have great soft skills, you love working with customers and learn new things. Customer support roles are everywhere and I consider them a great choice because they come in many nuances: if you want to learn and become more technical, you will easily get promoted. The same happens if you specialize on specific products/services and target companies that deal with them.
Customer support is a huge job category in almost every industry. In the IT space I feel there are usually a lot of great opportunities with some large organizations like Google that have also been working on building specific training to transition into these roles: IT Customer support role – this course for example is designed to let people without previous IT experience to learn how to transition in IT customer support in six months.
Manager versus individual contributor: don’t fall into the trap
A common mistake people do after their 40s is looking only for managerial roles where they will need to step away from hands-on activities and will have a team of people to manage. While it’s true that many companies think of promotions just as ways to step into management, this is not a rule and not something you are forced to do. There are many roles that require a strong skillset but are not for managers. Even if you are a manager now, you shouldn’t look at moving into an individual contributor role as a big step back. If the industry and role are completely different from your current ones, it makes sense for you to restart from an individual contributor role and then decide how to go back into management if that’s important for you.
Last but not least, consider the fact that you can grow and learn even while remaining an individual contributor. In my experience not everyone likes management and most people have the wrong expectations for it. There are thousands of companies (and roles) where you can keep progressing as an individual contributor, get promoted and increase your salary.
Taking a career break: why a year off can benefit you when you are 40 and older
Despite your strong desire to reevaluate your career and transition immediately at this age, taking a year off work at 40 and older, can be highly beneficial, providing much-needed rest and renewal, space for self-reflection and personal growth, opportunities for skill enhancement and exploring new possibilities, strengthening personal relationships, facilitating career reinvention or transition, and improving work-life balance. I personally think this year could be a way for many to pick up new skills with more intensive masters and courses: maybe you tried to acquire those skills while having a full-time job and you simply understood how difficult it is.
I think this is something that not everyone can afford, a year off is a bit of a luxury option for many, so if you can afford it I think is definitely the best way to fully transform your career and skills.
Gather feedback from your network
We are at the end of this article. One last suggestion from me is talking to your network when you are considering moving into a new career. The reason why that’s important is because people that have worked with you know you well, they can easily tell you what you are good at and they can connect you to other people in different roles becoming a sort of sponsor for you.
They can provide valuable insights and recommendations based on their own experiences and knowledge of your skills. You can reach out to former colleagues, mentors, industry contacts, or even friends and family members who may have connections or insights related to the career path you’re considering.
When approaching your network, be clear about your intentions and ask for their feedback and advice. You can ask questions like:
Based on your knowledge of my skills and experience, what career paths do you think would be a good fit for me?
Do you know anyone in the industries or roles I’m interested in who would be willing to have an informational interview with me?
Are there any training programs, courses, or certifications you would recommend for someone looking to transition into this field?
Can you provide any insights or tips on how to market myself effectively for this new career?
Listening to the perspectives and recommendations of others can help you gain a broader understanding of potential opportunities and make informed decisions about your career change.
Launch your own company or consulting firm
At 40s many people are simply thinking “I don’t want to work for a company anymore, I want to control my own destiny”. That’s another great opportunity but probably something that introduces even more complexity in your transition. I’ve seen a few people doing this – even people in our team – and almost all of them have started that as a side project, they have spent weekends and night working on it, tried to monetize it and then, once they tested it, they decided to step into that business full time.
It’s an approach that works well for consulting, less for people that want to start their own companies. Starting your own company and therefore building products/services in almost all cases require a full time approach. If that’s your goal, I would step back and run a few potential projections for your financials. There are several things to consider, from using your savings and start the company, to raise money from potential investors.
This is not something we can discuss in a few paragraph but what I would say are two things. First, this is something that many people decide to do in their 40s and I believe it makes a lot of sense especially if you can’t find a role or a path you truly like. Second, at 40s you will be a better entrepreneur in many cases because you have more awareness and you have simply seen more in business and life than other people in their 20s and 30s.
Changing careers in your 40s may come with its own set of challenges, but it’s definitely possible and can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding professional life. By taking stock of your skills, exploring potential roles and industries, considering the seniority level you desire, leveraging your network, and potentially taking a career break for self-reflection and skill enhancement, you can pave the way for a successful career transition. Remember to be open-minded, adaptable, and willing to invest time and effort into acquiring new skills and knowledge. With the right mindset and approach, you can navigate this career change and embark on a new chapter that aligns with your passions and goals.
I hope you enjoyed this article, I will come back to this with a specific focus on the tech industry. S
FAQs to help you
Is 40 too old to start a new career?
No, 40 is not too old to start a new career. While it’s natural to have concerns and doubts about making a career change in your 40s, it’s important to remember that you have accumulated valuable skills and experience that can be applied to different roles and industries. Age should not be a limiting factor when considering a career transition.
What is the best career after 40?
The best career after 40 depends on your skills, interests, and goals. It’s important to evaluate your existing skills and determine where they can be applied in different roles and industries. Some potential career paths to consider after 40 include sales roles, marketing roles, product management, and customer support/customer success roles. These careers often value soft skills and offer opportunities for growth and advancement.
How to find a new career path?
To find a new career path, start by assessing your skills and identifying the roles and industries where they can be applied. Examine your past experiences and job descriptions to list the skills you commonly utilize. Research different roles and industries by reading job descriptions and watching interviews with professionals in those fields. Narrow down your options to 2-3 top choices and then delve deeper into understanding the requirements and potential growth opportunities in those fields.
Am I too late to change a career?
No, you are not too late to change a career. While it may require some adjustments and additional effort, it’s never too late to pursue a new career path. Your age and the experience you bring can be valuable assets in your transition. It’s important to be open-minded, adaptable, and willing to invest time and effort into acquiring new skills and knowledge to succeed in your new career.
It may also interest you
A blog to rethink work and career
This blog wants to help you understanding how to improve your career, acquire new skills, move to new industries and in general, how to deal with your job and think about it in your career context.
You can also find all the updates and news features of Anthropos.
If you feel this is helpful, sign-up for our newsletter, Square One.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing industries and transforming the way we live and work. As more organizations incorporate AI into their operations, the demand for skilled AI engineers continues to grow. I've spent a considerable amount of time in the cloud industry and what's happening right now reminds me a lot of what we saw ...
In my experience, I've seen several people do their best to find a new job just to then slow down and really struggle to make a decision when they finally got an offer. Sometimes they did not know what they really wanted, sometimes it took them a while to understand that no job is perfect ...
Maybe there was an era long ago when we could tell people our job roles and they knew exactly what we did for a living. But that is long gone. Now, you may find that you need to focus more on understanding your real skills. It can be a good thing or a bad thing ...