Back in the day, when Richard Nixon was president and Baby Boomers were just venturing out into the world, recent graduates had one professional ambition — to land the job that would sustain them for fifty years, ultimately ensuring a comfortable retirement of matinees films and discount cruises.
Of course, that was a long time ago, a time when the virtues of job security and upward mobility were perceived as one and the same.
Things are quite different today. The economy is quite different today. And in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the only thing that job security and upward mobility have in common is that they’re both really hard to come by.
College graduates enter the job market with an inescapable sense of their own professional mortality. If Boomers defined a good job as one that you did for life, today’s young employees are often painfully aware of their own inevitable expiration point, be it by voluntary departure or professional execution.
But there is a certain kind of freedom in this, the kind that suggests no job or career will ever be your prison. If your Baby Boomer parents failed to take opportunities for fear of the risk it implied, you live in a job market where the biggest risk is failing to be prepared for the possibility of either sudden or eventual change. Today, job hopping is a cultural reality, a means to survival, and perhaps even a path to far greater upward mobility than the traditional job-for-life system ever was. Of course, it could also be a path to economic ruin if you do it wrong so proceed with caution.
With that said, if you are staring down forty (or looking at it in the rearview mirror) and anticipating a major change in your career, you are far from alone. Many of your peers feel it to.
If this describes your situation, we’ve got a few tips to help you navigate. Just watch your step because we’re about to drop some knowledge.
1. Age Gracefully
I’m not saying you can’t get a job just because you have a few gray hairs or a car with a tape deck. I’m saying, if you don’t want to feel old and irrelevant on the job market, then don’t be old and irrelevant. Recognize the skills that you have, that you’ve sharpened into finely tuned instruments over the years, that you’ve used to achieve the successes listed on your résumé.
According to Business News Daily, “One of the most underrated but valued skills in any industry are soft skills. These developed skills are something that you can, perhaps, thank your past career for. Soft skills encompass everything from solid leadership qualities, adaptability, good work ethic and team-player attributes.”
Even if your knowledge of current spreadsheet software is a bit outdated, these soft skills never get old. Your organizational experience may even give you an edge on younger candidates if you wield it with confidence. Even if you are shifting gears, you bring this experience with you and it has tremendous value, the kind that can only be gained on the job.
Don’t let your age prevent you from seeing your true value. Approach new challenges with the confidence of the seasoned pro you know you are.
2. Fork Your Own Road
Taking a fork in the road doesn’t necessary have to be a reaction to a negative trajectory in your career, nor must you be deeply discontented to consider something new. In fact, you’ll probably fare better out there if that’s not the case. One of the best reasons to seek a career change is the prospect of experiencing something new, as opposed to the imperative of escaping something old.
Forbes advises that you are best served by leaving your current gig while still at the top of your game. You’ll be brimming with the self-confidence and optimism that makes employers, partners, or investors want to work with you.
If you have ambitions and passions that lay beyond the walls of your current job, but you aren’t prepared to make a move, ask yourself whether you’re satisfied or just complacent. Forbes advises: “Many people stay in a career comfort zone simply because it feels comfortable. You know the role, the people, the business. The pay is good, promotion comes along regularly – it’s all so easy. But are the rewards on offer really the ones you want?”
Granted, Forbes is speaking to the affluent set of business persons most likely to make up its readership. But there is wisdom buried beneath its elitist tone. Namely, it introduces the idea that you are in the very best position to make a change when things are going your way.
Of course, you may not always have that luxury. But the idea of controlling your own fate should always be foremost on your mind. If it feels like winds of change are pushing you from your career — whether by forces internal or external — choose to view it as an opportunity. If you see your work or your role becoming stale, marginalized, or undervalued, don’t wait to become a casualty. Prepare to depart on your own terms.
3. Look Before You Leap
Now, just because you’ve decided that it’s time to move on doesn’t mean you should screenshot your middle finger and text it to your boss on Monday morning. You’d better be sure you have a soft landing spot before you take the plunge. Unemployment is one of the worst positions from which to seek a new job. And of course, the longer you’re out of work and on the hunt, the more prospective employers can smell the stink of desperation.
So if you have the luxury of a job, even one that you hate, keep your nose to the grindstone while you look for greener pastures. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably not a kid anymore. Now is not the time to start slacking on your TPS Report covers. Now is the time to put the hammer down, do your best work, make yourself valuable, and channel all of your frustrations into making yourself the ideal candidate for the next prospective employer.
You may not always have a say in your mid-career change. Circumstances may thrust it upon you. But if you have a choice, never leave a job without lining up a new one. Otherwise, the day you leave your old job in a blaze of glory could also be the last time you earn a paycheck for quite some time.
4. Go For Growth
One of the best ways to take the first step forward is to look for opportunities in high growth fields. If you’re just jumping into the job market for the first time in a while after years as a rotary telephone repairman, now is a great time to consider something totally new. Seek out resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics for data on high growth fields where future employment opportunities are likely to be more plentiful.
For instance, the BLS identifies the highest projected growth fields between 2014 and 2024. Check out the chart below and see if any of these jobs pique your interest. If there’s something here that speaks to you, you may be in a great position to build a career in a field with a rapid, upward trajectory.
5. Get Skills
If you’re looking at the chart above and thinking, “Some of this sounds cool but I don’t know how to do any of that stuff,” don’t be discouraged.
It’s time to get yourself some fresh education. If you’ve been in the same line of work for a while now, you may not realize how much has changed. Then again, you might be painfully aware of the fact and deeply terrified by all that it implies. There’s probably a happy middle ground between the two options though.
Start by identifying the skills that you’ll need in your new career. For a lot of candidates in your shoes, rapidly changing technology can present the biggest threat. If you’re over forty, you’ll already be contending with the preconception that your age places you at a technological disadvantage.
Fortunately, one of the most dramatic technological changes since you went to college is the enormous advance in valid, legitimate, and flexible online education. Take advantage of the access you now have to curriculum, educators, classmates, and degrees in order to prepare yourself for a change.
Find courses and curricula that are compatible with your work schedule and your professional ambitions and get started as soon as possible. Staying current on your education is one of the best ways to control your own fate.
Check out the 100 Best Online Colleges to learn more.
6. Learn to Gig
But be aware that you’ll need to do more than just take online courses. In order to break into a new field, you may have to start by making small inroads. An article in Business News Daily notes that “‘The amount and diversity of educational resources available online nowadays is staggering…The problem is that they’re not combined into a learning experience targeted towards acquiring the minimum viable knowledge and skills required to kick-start a career in a new field. Ideally, [you should] not only learn new concepts but also create something that you can add to your portfolio in order to show it to potential employers.’”
One of the best ways to create a body of work in your field is to start at the “gig” level. We live in a “gig economy,” where younger professionals are increasingly coming to view themselves as fluid commodities, capable of sliding into new roles, new learning opportunities, new challenges, and even entirely new fields as needed. Employers view professionals the same way.
With the advent of innovative company models like Uber and Caviar — which rely on the convergence between online functionality and massive pools of independent contract labor — employees and employers in a wide range of industries are increasingly opening up to the possibilities of part-time, freelance, or project-based work.
This is a great way for you to refine newly acquired skills while also getting a feel for your new industry. And ultimately, if you impress at the right gig, you could work yourself into a full-time role…if that’s what you want. You may actually find that you love the freedom and creative excitement of gigging, and that you prefer this to a full-time role. That’s a great revelation, but just remember, freelancing comes with its own challenges.
If you choose this path, you’ll dedicate as much time to locking down your next opportunity as working on your current one. Still, the independence is its own reward.
7. Declare Your Free Agency
You may not be ready to tell your boss that your’re moving on, but you should plan on telling pretty much anybody else who will listen. Opportunities aren’t going to find you. You have to put yourself out there.
If you’re just inching your way into a field, a great first step is to take inventory of the leading employers in your new sector. Rather than scouring job websites, you might be better served by reaching out directly to employers. Introduce yourself. Let them know that you’re seeking entry-level experience and that you’d like your name to be considered in the event that any hiring opportunities emerge.
You’ll also want to find industry-specific online community boards. Create an account and become part of your future community. Ask for advice on getting started, create meaningful online relationships, and make yourself known to those who could help you land your first big opportunity. These communities are also often a great place to post your résumé.
You should also brush up your online identity. Create and/or maintenance your profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other outlets where professional networking occurs. Of course, remember that social media information is visible to anybody, including your current coworkers and employers. If you aren’t prepared to give notice at your current job, update your information without publicly stating your intent. Sites like LinkedIn do give you the opportunity to send your résumé to prospective employers on a private basis.
8. Get a Contact High
Of course, you could post and send your résumé to the same company a thousand times with no reply, but knowing a single personal contact could land you an interview. Part of declaring your intentions is making sure everybody in your personal and extended networks know you’re on the hunt.
At the end of the day, it truly is all about who you know. You aren’t the only one who has gained experience and stature over the years. So have many of your friends, relations, classmates, and neighbors. You never know who might be in a position to pass along your résumé, put in a good word, or even hire you directly.
Scroll through your contacts list. Ask friends and family to keep you posted on any opportunities that pop up. Find polite (and not desperate) ways to tell friends and acquaintances that you’re interested in learning about new professional opportunities. And don’t be shy about it. There’s no stigma to seeking a career change.
If you find tactful ways to make your intentions clear to your friends and relations, you might be surprised at the eventual source of your salvation. Opportunity can come from the unlikeliest of sources.
9. All You Need Is Love
In our piece on the 24 Best Summer Songs of All Time, we noted that the Beatles "All You Need is Love" was once the subject of an empirical study. The study ultimately resolved that the Beatles had posited a scientifically meritable theory.
We couldn’t agree more. So if you’re contemplating a career change at this stage in the game, start with something you love. If you’ve decided to hit the reset button, you might as well get in on the ground floor of something that really fills you with excitement, passion, and creativity. Don’t talk yourself out of trying something that actually has intrinsic value.
As the Beatles say:
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
Ok, well it may not be easy. But all the rest of that stuff is true. It’s all up to you. Find something you love and go all in.