Thinking about a career change at 40, but feel stuck? Changing career direction by retraining at 40, 50 or even later is definitely an option, if your current career is no longer the way forward.
I work with clients who want to retrain and change career for all kinds of reasons. For some, its because they have reached a plateau, and don’t see a way forward in the current career path. Maybe there aren’t opportunities for them to progress, or moving forward would take them into roles they have no interest in.
For others, it may be due to redundancy, or factors affecting their industry, so it’s difficult to see any option but to retrain and move on to something new.
And for some people, they feel their career no longer meets what they want, and they are looking for something more.
If you're considering a career change at 40 (or in your forties), you still have around 20 years left to work before retirement, that’s plenty of time to build up a new career doing something you enjoy. However, at this point in your life, you’re likely to have some commitments, which might hold you back from making a change. In this article, I’ll help you consider the practicalities and explore your options if you’re thinking about retraining at 40 (or at some other point in your forties).
This article covers two main areas:
- Why do you want to retrain? The section will help you decide on your direction, and whether a career change at 40 or retraining is the right option for you
- Options for retraining - Here we will discuss different options including options including courses, training on the job, and other ideas
1. Why are you interested in retraining at 40?
The starting point when I work with clients is to understand why they want to change. Understanding what’s causing this desire will help you work out the best ways forward, and what different solutions might be.
What I’m not going to do in this article is tell you what jobs you should be looking to retrain in. It would be the easy option, right? There are many articles that will give you a handy list, where you can go off and research them.
The reason we’re not doing that here, it’s because I’ve spoken to many clients about how they’ve made quick career decisions and later regretted them. Jobs that sounded good but were a complete clash. Careers that had no work life balance and left them feeling burnt out. Or jobs that paid well, but they later found they had no interest or motivation to do.
If you’re seriously thinking about retraining, that’s a big commitment which may involve time, money, life changes, discomfort and uncertainty. You may not want to do that if you’re not sure what you’re looking for.
I coach people to help them find the answer that feels like the right fit. It starts from YOU. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
Do you get a sense of fulfilment from your work?
If you don’t feel any sense of fulfilment or purpose in what you do, this can be quite demotivating and is difficult to sustain in the long term. However, if you do feel a sense of fulfilment from the work you do, this is a good sign that the change you’re looking for might not need to be so big. Or perhaps there is a way of capturing that fulfilment in a new role, for example if you feel fulfilled when you’re helping others, then look for other careers you can retrain for, where you get to do just that.
What do you like about your role?
If you’ve been in your job any period of time, there are no doubt things you enjoy all like about the work you do, as much as there are things which are making you think about retraining. Try to weigh up which things you like, versus which things are not so good. Try my career satisfaction questionnaire, which helps you evaluate a number of different things which can motivate you at work. This can help you be clear on what’s missing, and what you could really be looking for if you were deciding to retrain and start something new.
What don’t you like?
Like the above, consider what you don’t like about your role. What keeps you awake at night, what drags you down or make you feel unfulfilled. Then compare them with those things which you do like. Sometimes one particular thing (e.g. job security, conflict with colleagues or your manager) can feel so important that you forget what you like about a job, so it’s useful to be as objective as you can when you’re thinking about moving on and retraining.
If you find there are a number of things you really don’t like, or you feel you’re starting to hate your job, that’s not a great place to be. See my article on what to do if you hate your job, for some tips on moving forward in a positive way.
What’s keeping you stuck right now?
The chances are that this idea of retraining or making a career change at 40 has been bubbling away in the background for a while. But something is getting in your way, right? Are you worried about the drop in salary? Having to prove yourself all over again in the new job? Worried it won’t work? Being clear on the obstacles stopping you is important, write them down so they aren’t hidden barriers, this way you can address this head-on, and try to find the answers you are missing right now.
What options can you think of to move within your organisation?
Sometimes we can feel stuck in a rut and can’t see a way out. But it can be worth exploring with your employer if there is a chance to retrain into a different role within your organisation. If they are keen not to lose you, they may agree to this, or provide opportunities to do additional training, or take a secondment to allow you to build up your experience.
What opportunities are you aware of outside your organisation? (without retraining)
Often we are so focused on the job we do, that we aren’t really aware of other types of work that we could do. One obvious step is to consider whether doing the same job with a different employer would solve the problem? Is this desire for retraining at 40 due to:
- The culture of your existing company? (is this typical of your industry or not?)
- Company structure or lack of opportunities? (how do other companies operate?)
- How successful it is in the market? (how do competitors compare?)
It’s possible those things are different somewhere else. Consider doing some research before retraining - a change of employer might bring you what you are looking for.
What have former colleagues gone on to do?
Thinking more widely about options, consider what other people from your organisation have gone on to do since leaving. What different roles haven’t you come across before? Are you in touch with former colleagues, or people you know who got into something new? Look them up on LinkedIn and consider approaching them for a chat about how they made their change, and whether any retraining was involved.
What do you really enjoy doing?
A lot of research has been conducted around what are known as ‘strengths’. These are qualities, or skills which you are good at, but which you also enjoy. Many employers look for these, because rather than hiring the person who can do the job, but doesn’t really care about the work they do, they would rather hire the person who is likely to enjoy their work. They will perform better, stick around longer, and get greater satisfaction.
For those reasons it’s good for you to know about them too, so when you are retraining into something new, you’re moving into a job you are likely to enjoy doing. Why bother retraining or making a career change at 40, if you end up in a job which you ultimately don’t like? Salary and security aren’t the only things which create job satisfaction, so why not look for new careers based on your strengths? Try the free strengths questionnaire at Jobmi which will help you identify your strengths.
What do you want?
Many of the clients I work with fell into the job they are doing, and it may be the first time they’ve ever really thought about what they wanted to do for their career. If you’re thinking about retraining at 40 (or whichever age you’re thinking about it!) don’t just jump at the first training opportunity you see. Consider what you want in your work and your life, and whether this new opportunity will be a good match. Asking ‘what do I want’ can feel like a big (scary) question, because we often ignore that in favour of ‘what can I do’ or ‘what jobs are there’, or ‘where can I get paid the best salary?’
But if you don’t ask yourself the question, and believe it’s possible, you will never get what you want. Try my Postcard From the Future exercise which will help you start putting together a vision of what you’re really looking for.
2. Retraining at 40 – what options are there?
There are a number of options for retraining, including taking a training course, studying for a qualification, in house employer training, and learning as you go. We’ll explore a bit more about these below.
There are lots of training providers out there, and I’ve included links to some well-known training course providers below. You will also find that for some occupations, there may be specialist training sites and courses, for example if you wanted to retrain as a Counsellor or Financial Advisor, so further research may be required.
- National Careers Service - Find A Course – This also includes links to lots of free training courses
- Find Courses – A wide range of professional and personal development course options
- LinkedIn Learning – On-demand short training courses on a wide range of topics.
- Future Learn – Online courses with leading universities and Industry experts.
- Udemy – Choose from over 130,000 online courses
- Choosing a degree course - UCAS – If you’re thinking about going to university, the UCAS site will help guide you through the options
- Postgraduate Study – Prospects – if you have a degree and are considering postgraduate study, the Prospects website has a great section on postgraduate study options, and funding.
There are a huge range of training providers out there, too many to list in this article. Some may provide short training courses on a specific topic, others professional training for a particular career or job. The one piece of advice I would give is make sure you do your research. Before you consider spending thousands of pounds on training, make sure the provider you are looking has a good reputation in the industry, provides the right skills and (if relevant) accreditation, and it’s clear exactly what you’re getting (and what you’re not).
Some questions you could ask yourself:
- Is this training accredited by a professional body in the industry I’m interested in? Should it be?
- Does the provider get mentioned on any reputable websites?
- What feedback have they had? See if there are any reviews outside their own website.
- Have people in the industry heard of this provider? Who could you ask to find out?
- Will the provider allow you to speak with anyone who has already gone through their training?
- Does the training equip you with the correct and up to date skills required for the job?
- How much support is available to find work/market yourself? Many training providers either don’t cover this or cover it briefly at the end, so you may need to factor in how you actually find work.
Learning on the job
Some employers may provide in-house training, where you develop your skills and knowledge on the job. This may not be mentioned in the job advert, but if you have the chance to informally enquire before applying, or you get to interview you could explore what training is provided. Look out for jobs where your skills match the job reasonably well, even if you don’t have the relevant experience. You may be able to show how transferable your skills are into this role, through using a functional or skills based CV.
It’s possible that to start with, you may need to take a lower level position to get your foot in the door, and build up your skills before progressing within the organisation, having learnt the ropes and received what training you need to perform at a higher level.
Some of my clients have the desire to do something different, but don’t want to work for someone else, so they start their own business. In some cases this involves doing some training to learn what they need, in other cases they use their existing skills in a different way with a different type of client or customer. Starting your own business is a steep learning curve, but there is advice and support out there. You might find the following resources useful if this is an area you’re thinking about:
Startup Donut – ideas, articles and resources to help you start your business
Startups.co.uk – The website full of guidance and support for starting your business
Princes Trust – Support for 18-30 year olds do you want to start their own business
So what now?
I hope this article has been useful for you. Should you have a few ideas you’re already thinking about for retraining or making a career change at 40, then hopefully the links provided above my point you towards a few useful sources of information.
If you’re completely unsure what you want to do, then revisit the suggestions at the top of the article and try some of the exercises like the Postcard From the Future to help you build a picture of what kind of future you want once you have retrained. That should help you get more ideas for what kind of work, and work environment you want to be in.
If you’re feeling stuck and need some help with working out your direction, the options available for retraining and how to make the kind of change you want, contact me. I work with clients to help them become much clearer on the career path, and help them get there faster. My career coaching page explains a bit more about how I can help you and what to do next.
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