6 Soft Skills for Mid-Career Moves

by Genevieve Carlton

Updated August 24, 2022 • 6 min read


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Mid-life career changes are a great way to liven up your career, helping you pursue rewarding professional pathways.

Some career changes, like moving into a management role, might require adding new skills, while others may require mastering an entirely new area of study. However, changing careers doesn't mean starting over from scratch. Instead, mid-career professionals can leverage their experience and qualifications to break into new industries.

By fostering a growth mindset, doing your research, and strengthening your soft skills, you can prepare for a new profession at any age. Keep reading for more tips for making a career change.

Embrace a Growth Mindset

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset as the idea that you can expand your talents and abilities with practice. In comparison, people with a fixed mindset see their talents as static: You're either born good at something or you are not.

It's easy to feel set in certain patterns, especially once you've invested years into your current career, but a willingness to learn new things helps mid-career professionals identify opportunities for growth. Rather than assuming that you can only succeed in your current role, a growth mindset encourages learning and expanding your boundaries.

Bringing a growth mindset to a career change will set you up for success, helping you see a career change as a process with setbacks and successes, instead of giving up on a new career at the first sign of difficulty.

Don't Overlook Your Soft Skills

Job postings often list required abilities but may not include soft skills, like communication and teamwork. Yet employers look for these soft skills in every industry. A recent report on in-demand skills found that hiring managers ranked listening abilities, attention to detail, and communication skills at the top of their lists of desirable candidate traits.

Soft skills can help mid-career professionals stand out from the competition when pursuing a career change. Unlike hard skills, which can quickly become dated, soft skills often transfer between industries.

Let's say you're considering moving into a technical field. Should you delete everything on your resume that doesn't demonstrate the required hard skills? Of course not. Your prior experience demonstrates soft skills, like problem-solving, organization, and communication. Instead of removing your work history, rethink your resume to highlight these soft skills. Writing a skills-based resume can help with this process.

Explore Your Options

If you've worked for a decade or more in the same field, it might feel overwhelming to consider new careers. In fact, there might be whole new job titles that didn't exist the last time you were on the job market, like social media manager or data scientist. What's the best way to explore your options and make an informed decision before jumping into a new field?

First, do your research. When you find a job that interests you, learn more about the job duties, earning potential, and career demand. Here, the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics can be a huge asset. This resource provides detailed data on dozens of careers and lists the fastest-growing and highest-paying options.

Next, consider practical opportunities. A mid-career professional can test out new fields by volunteering or freelancing in a new role to gain experience and learn whether it's a good fit.

Leverage Your Network

Mid-career professionals have a major benefit compared with new college graduates: They've invested years into creating a personal and professional network. Coworkers, colleagues, and friends can offer leads and feedback on new career opportunities, so use those resources. In the age of COVID-19, it's best to connect with people by phone or online rather than setting up a coffee date.

Try to build up your professional presence, as well. Leverage your LinkedIn profile to connect with people working in your new field or to contact recruiters. Consider whether your current professional organizations can help you move into another industry.

Finally, research networking opportunities in your new field. Can you attend a virtual conference or make connections during a webinar? Can people in your current network connect you with professionals in your new field? Mid-career professionals already have a network, and a career transition is the perfect time to use it.

Get Ahead of the Learning Curve

Learning new skills can feel like a major barrier to changing careers, particularly if you're considering fields that require vastly different skills than your previous industry. How can you gain the skills you'll need for your new field?

It's best to start early. If you're currently working, research whether your employer offers benefits like online training programs that can build skills for your new field. If not, pursue classes outside of work to strengthen your skills.

Depending on your field, that could mean signing up for webinars, online classes, or a certificate program. If you're considering tech jobs, enrolling in a bootcamp or tech certificate program can help. In some cases, you might need to go back to school for a bachelor's or graduate degree.

However, before enrolling in a program, you should carefully research the skills needed in your new field to make sure you choose the wisest path. While learning is never a waste of time, it's best to remain focused on your ultimate goal of getting a job in a new field.

Don't Make It About Your Age

Yes, ageism is real, and it's a problem that affects millions of workers. However, when making a mid-career change, it's important not to focus on the disadvantages of your age. Instead, turn your age into a strength by emphasizing your experience.

Mid- and late-career professionals bring valuable experiences to their workplace, regardless of industry. They have the critical thinking and analytical skills that come with experience, backed up by a documented professional history.

Once you've racked up a decade or more of professional experience, it's time to take your graduation year off your resume. Instead, focus on your accomplishments and strengths.

Keep in mind that age discrimination is against the law. If you encounter age discrimination on the job market, you can file an EEOC complaint against the employer.

Know Your Value

It's easy for mid-career candidates to undersell their value. For instance, they often consider entry-level salaries for their new field when they should be looking at higher-level positions. While you might not have direct experience in your new role, remember that you bring years of workplace experience and transferable skills to your organization.

If you're considering a career change, invest some time researching market rates for your new field. Salaries can vary widely depending on experience and location, so the more data you can gather, the better. Depending on your field, changing careers might mean accepting a lower salary, but some may increase their earnings.

In addition to doing your research, make sure to brush off your job negotiation skills. Employers don't expect you to accept their first offer, so don't miss out on better salary rates and benefits because you didn't negotiate.

Pay It Forward

Once you've successfully changed careers, consider ways to share your experience with others. Most professionals change careers at least once, if not multiple times, and you can use what you've learned to help others. Consider sharing your successful career change tips with others who are considering a role in your new field. You can also encourage your employer to invest in training programs that emphasize transferable skills.

After you've changed careers, continue to invest in your soft skills, networking, and growth mindset. After all, you might find yourself considering another career jump in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is 40 Too Old To Change Careers?

No. Professionals in their 40s and older have many transferable skills, including the ability to communicate effectively, work on teams, and organize their tasks.

What Is the Best Career To Start at 50?

Industries like healthcare, technology, sales, and education all offer career opportunities for people who have professional experience. Researching job duties, education requirements, and growth projections can help people find the right career for their unique circumstances.

What Are the Best Jobs for a Career Change?

What job is the best career change move depends on your skills and interests. People considering career changes often pursue roles as consultants, administrators, and managers.

What Are the Best Second Careers?

Transferable skills and professional experience can pay off in many industries, including in roles like business analyst, specialized consultant, or manager. Which makes the best second career depends on your personal interests and skills.

Portrait of Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

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