5 tips to make a successful career change in your 30s

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City Church Christchurch

Changing careers in your 30s.

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Updated: 29 May 2020
By Evan O'Donoghue

Let’s face it, changing careers in your 30s isn’t exactly desirable. By this stage, you’ve invested considerable time, effort and money to achieve an optimal working life. You have the knowledge and experience to get the most out of your chosen path.

Or so we’re told...

Whether you lack income, overall job satisfaction, or, like me, find yourself suddenly unemployed, careers don’t always go to plan.

Considering you’re not even halfway to retirement, a fresh start can be a worthwhile prospect. Who wouldn’t want to earn a dollar while doing something they actually enjoy?

What’s more, you don’t have to entirely reset your wage, though there will be challenges to overcome.

List of tips.

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1. Do your research.

Whether you’re starting the journey, or are ready to implement, it pays to do some research and understand your options.

Careers NZ.

Careers NZ is a government-run website that offers a wealth of information for employment seekers. In addition to general career tips and advice, you’ll find specific information on a comprehensive range of jobs, including average wage expectations, training requirements and testimonials from industry professionals. There is even an employment outlook gauge that depicts recruitment demand for each position (poor, average or good).

Hobby vs. career.

It’s important to make a distinction between our personal interests and professional applications. Just because we enjoy a particular hobby or recreational activity, doesn’t necessarily mean it will make a sound career option.

Professional dynamics and expectations can quickly suck the fun out of passions, exacerbated by low wages and daily duties that don’t always align with expectations.

My wife is a talented baker who periodically bakes cakes for friends, family and our local church. She’s been tempted to start her own business, but the realities of running a commercial enterprise are far removed from her passion. Baking a cake for a wedding or special occasion is stressful, and income is low. Plus, there are operational expenses (i.e. health regulations) that need to be considered. As a result, her career in baking is currently on hold.

Seek advice.

There’s an old proverb that says “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success” (Proverbs 15:22 NLT).

Reach out to someone you know who currently works in your career of choice. They will have invaluable industry knowledge that will help bring perspective to the role, including potential pitfalls to avoid and avenues to explore.

Additionally, discuss your career aspirations with close family and friends who might be impacted by your decision. Their support, encouragement and trusted advice will help you balance your career goals with work-life realities.

Write an amazing resume.

Your resume is a critical component of the job application process which needs particular care when changing careers.

Check out How to Write a Career Change Resume in 2020 [9+ Examples] to guide you through the process for best results.

Man smiling in office work environment

2. Leverage your strengths & acknowledge your weaknesses.

Over the years I’ve come to realise the virtue of knowing my personal strengths and weaknesses in equal portion. Optimists might think this is a negative outlook, but real-world realities dictate otherwise. In fact, a robust 360° self-awareness is often lauded as a key success factor for shrewd leadership, incorporated by CEOs for recruitment purposes and holistic business prosperity.

Through honest self-assessment, you can identify transferable skills, emphasising and leveraging them, while mitigating any shortcomings.

Changing careers in your 30s means you have the wisdom, knowledge and personal experience to apply your abilities to a multitude of roles. Any weaknesses can be overcome with research, formal study, or a professional boldness that exudes confidence and an ability to overcome.

3. Consider further study.

Needless to say, formal qualifications are often required, or highly favourable, to make a successful career change. Without them, your lack of experience within the role could impede job opportunities or further undermine wage potential.

It’s a reality of changing careers in your 30s that sifts the wishful thinkers from the determined doers.

For me, study was a reluctant but important consideration during my own unexpected employment transition. My future career in digital marketing and web development afforded some study graces, but there would be ramifications, pitting wage potential, skills and knowledge against academic investment.

As a result, I actively sought employment while preparing for study. I reasoned I could forgo the latter if a suitable position became available, and that’s precisely what happened. I was employed quickly based on my portfolio of work (thanks to point 5 below), superseding the need for immediate qualifications, but it didn’t completely override my study plans.

We live in the information era, and I’ve noticed a professional shift in attitudes towards study. Broadly speaking, employers understand the research efficiency and resources available on the web to mitigate knowledge gaps. For careers where a qualification is not quintessentially required, employers tend to place a greater emphasis on demonstrated skills and abilities, but this doesn’t necessarily mean study is redundant.

In addition to other benefits, formal qualifications underscore a level of competency and robust interest all employers seek from potential candidates. This can make a sizeable difference to your career potential, particularly during wage negotiations.

In my case, I commenced my new career and took an online course retrospectively (e.g. Shaw Academy). This was inexpensive, convenient and avoided scheduling conflicts, studying outside business hours from the comfort of my home.

In turn, this gave me practical knowledge I could apply to my current role and was a valuable asset during annual performance reviews. Furthermore, it remains something I can leverage during future employment transitions.

4. Make a lateral move in your company.

Lateral employment migration within a company is a natural fit for employees and employers alike.

For employees, you’re accustomed to the wider business culture, expectations, aims and processes. You already understand the industry and growth potential. Furthermore, you have established employment and a steady wage that affords some security while you explore alternative career options.

Conversely, employers have an impartial historical employment record (for better or worse), that documents competency, work ethic and professionalism that transcends any one role. This can be collectively more appealing for employers, avoiding the risks that come with an unknown outsider.

Women sitting on the ground working on her laptop

5. Never underestimate the value of volunteering.

This might not sound very alluring or even worthwhile, but let me assure you, based on my personal experience, it is invaluable.

Why volunteer?

Amongst other benefits, volunteering within your prospective career offers the following...

i. Let’s you decide if it’s something you really want to do.

As you’ve probably learned by now, your job description doesn’t necessarily translate to reality. There can be a sizeable discrepancy between interests (what you’re passionate about) and day-to-day tasks (the practical application of duties within the role). A mismatch can directly impede job satisfaction.

Volunteering provides on-the-job experience without the outright pressure of expectation. You are, after all, volunteering. There’s more time to settle in, observe and learn.

What’s more, it enables you to network with industry professionals, ask questions and hear feedback about the role.

Do your colleagues enjoy working in the industry? Why, why not?

Your dream job might seem like paradise from afar, but what’s it like in reality?

ii. Reflects interest & passion for the role.

Nothing says you love what you do more than volunteering your personal time to do it.

This is an important reflection on attitude for potential employers, communicating motivation, ambition and a willingness to work (particularly during a period of unemployment).

iii. Provides valuable experience.

It’s difficult to communicate competency for any role without some form of experience. Volunteering can fill glaring gaps in your resume while seeking professional placements.

I’ve found this to be particularly beneficial for industries that produce a tangible asset (be it physical, audible or digital) that can be reviewed, assessed and evaluated. Painters paint, programmers program and writers write. Each labour contributes to a portfolio of work that speaks more of ability and skill than any certification.

For me, this was the key to a successful career change in my 30s.

Armed with nothing more than a healthy interest in web design (no education or experience within the field), I volunteered to help the local church redesign its website. Despite recent assistance from a qualified developer, it was in much need of attention.

I purchased software, researched online and diligently honed my skills, all the while encouraged by a senior pastor who genuinely valued my voluntary assistance.

Little did I know that website would become the cornerstone of my portfolio, catapulting me into a new career I thoroughly enjoy to this day.

Business meeting

My journey.

Seven years ago I found myself at a juncture everyone dreads, but especially parents with a mortgage. Within two weeks of the birth of my second child, at 35 years of age, I was to be made redundant.

At the time, I had a decent wage working for a large telecommunications company, though I knew my position was too specialised to make a seamless transition elsewhere.

I needed a Plan B.

After all, most of us do when unemployment knocks. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed and a standard of living to maintain. Jobs commonly considered “undesirable” suddenly become genuine options.

Fortunately, my Plan B included something much better. A new career path I actually enjoyed. My dream job.

I offer these tips and advice on how to change careers in your 30s, as someone who has actually made the change with excellent results.

Wrapping up.

Whether you're seeking a new challenge, pursuing your passions, or responding to an evolving employment situation, changing careers in your 30s can be a daunting prospect.

On the bright side, you have the life and professional experience to navigate fresh waters with a youthful vigour and aptitude that is the envy of alternative age demographics.

Take it from me, changing careers in your 30s is very doable. What’s more, it may just be the best thing that ever happened to you professionally.