When Is It Too Late to Change Careers?

portrait of Stephen Gaffney
by Stephen Gaffney

Published on September 29, 2021

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When Is It Too Late to Change Careers?


"It's never too late to change careers," claims the old adage. But is this really true? Is it smart to change careers when you've already invested so much time and effort into your current profession?

Long ago, it was common to choose a career or employer and stick with it for decades until you retired and received a gold watch as a reward for your efforts. But this isn't the case anymore. Nowadays, more people are changing careers — and they're doing so in record numbers.

In a 2019 study by Indeed, 49% of the 662 full-time workers surveyed had already made a dramatic career shift. Among those who had not, 65% were thinking about entering a new field.

Top 6 Reasons People Change Careers

Many people look for a more rewarding profession when their goals, interests, or circumstances have shifted. Below are some of the top reasons people give for deciding to change careers.

1. A Desire to Find More Meaningful Work

One of the most common reasons people change careers is that they want to leave a positive impact. Working for the good of others can offer a sense of personal fulfillment that other jobs simply can't provide. People in search of a more meaningful career tend to seek out opportunities in nonprofit work, education, healthcare, and environmental work.

2. Access to Better Pay

According to Indeed, 79% of workers who changed careers did so mainly to earn more money. As people enter their 30s, they typically begin having families, making money a natural driving force. What's more, for many occupations, annual pay increases aren't enough to keep up with inflation.

3. Too Much Stress or Career Burnout

Job stress is another top contributing factor for those seeking a career change. Constantly having to meet quotas and deadlines, work long hours, and worry about job security can wreak havoc on workers' physical and mental health. As such, more people are pursuing careers with better work-life balance.

4. No Longer Feeling Challenged or Passionate About Career

What might've sounded like a challenging and exciting career fresh out of college can easily lose its luster over time. This often occurs when you've been following the same daily routine for 10 or more years.

5. Aging Out of the Industry

Aging out of an occupation or industry is a real problem for some people. Certain jobs, such as professional sports, require a particular level of physical activity. As a result, many workers find it difficult to keep pace as they age.

6. Industry Is Dying and/or Outsourcing of Jobs Has Increased

Sometimes people are forced to look for a new career because of disruptions to their current occupation, such as decreased demand for their industry or a switch to outsourcing.

Key Factors to Consider Before Changing Careers

Before changing careers, think about the following factors and how they might influence the process.

Are Jobs Available in Your Field for Workers Your Age?

Some careers, such as public relations and advertising, tend to skew toward a younger demographic. Unfortunately, in these types of industries, it can be difficult — though certainly not impossible — to find entry-level opportunities if you're over 40.

Are You Willing to Start From Scratch?

Most likely you'll have to begin with an entry-level position. That being said, your previous work experience and acquired skills should put you on the fast track for moving up the ladder.

Are You Comfortable Working for Someone Younger Than You?

Chances are good that if you're changing careers in your 40s or 50s, you'll end up working for someone who is (potentially much) younger than you. Make sure this won't cause you any discomfort.

Will Your Field Still Be Around in 10-20 Years?

Even if you're passionate about your new career, it's important that you do some research so you can ensure it'll stick around awhile. The Bureau of Labor Statistics can offer guidance on projected career growth in the coming decade.

How Much Education and Experience Do You Need to Land a Job?

Starting a new career may mean furthering your education. Thankfully, online classes — many of which are free or inexpensive — make it easy to acquire the training you need. Learn more about different educational opportunities for a variety of occupations in the BestColleges career guide.

Will You Be Able to Manage Financially During Your Transition?

You'll need to ensure that your finances can handle the transition to a new career. Remember that it may take some time to land a job in your chosen field; you may also be starting out at a lower pay rate than what you're used to.

Taking online or night classes can be a great way to get the education you need in your new role without having to immediately leave your current job.

Do You Possess Any Transferable Skills?

You may be surprised by the number of skills you've picked up over the course of your career that can easily transfer to your new profession. Be sure to list your most relevant skills on your resume and cover letter and point them out during interviews.

How to Change Careers Successfully

Here are some tips to help you change careers smoothly:

What to Remember About Changing Careers

You don't need to rush into a new career. In fact, the average worker takes about 11 months to plan out a career change. It's critical that you take your time and weigh the pros and cons of your desired professional trajectory before making any decisions.

Never let your age be a factor in your decision to change professions. Many famous business owners and entrepreneurs reinvented their careers after age 30. Julia Child published her first cookbook in her late 40s, Jeff Bezos worked in computer science before launching Amazon in his early 30s, and Vera Wang didn't enter the world of fashion design until turning 40.

No matter your age, there is always something new you can learn. If you're motivated and passionate enough about what you want to do, it's never too late to embark on a new career path.


Feature Image: MoMo Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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