Career Change at 40: Moving Into Your Next Stage

Written by Coursera • Updated on

If you’re in your forties, you’ll likely be coming into your new career with a set of established skills. You can use your work and life experiences up until this point as guidance toward your next steps.

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Pursuing a change can be daunting at any point in your career journey. However, in your forties, you may already have two decades of experience in your work history, which can feel hard to leave behind. You also likely have more responsibilities than you've had previously.

The good news is that experience and those responsibilities also indicate a highly developed skill set, and your desire for change points to a growth mindset and willingness to work toward your ever-expanding goals. This perspective may come in handy when you're tempted to ascribe any age-related narratives to your career. Likely, your age isn't the problem; the story you believe is.

In fact, although many workers in the United States who are looking to make a career change are members of the younger generations, the trend to shift career paths extends to workers in their forties and beyond. According to a 2021 survey from Bankrate, about 45 percent of Gen X workers said they’d be looking for new employment within the next 12 months [1].

In this article, we'll take a closer look at the process, benefits, and potential challenges of changing careers in your forties.

How to change careers (at any age)

Regardless of your age, you’ll typically follow the same key steps when you’re considering a career change:

  1. Assess your current career.

  2. Clarify your career goals.

  3. Research potential careers.

  4. Read job descriptions.

  5. Define your course of action.

For a more general look at planning for a career change, read our step-by-step guide. Below, we'll focus on the unique aspects of approaching a career transition in your forties.

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Changing careers at 40

In your forties, you’ll likely be coming into your new career with a set of established skills, as well as new lifestyle considerations that you may not have planned for when you decided to pursue your current position, such as family obligations or financial responsibilities. You can use your work and life experiences up until this point to inform how you'll approach your next steps.

To get started, it can help to acknowledge the advantages and disadvantages you may notice as you approach your career change. Here are some potential benefits and challenges that you may relate to:

Benefits of a midlife career change:

  • Sharper and more expansive job skills

  • Longer list of accomplishments, results, and proven expertise

  • Stronger sense of workplace preferences

  • Better understanding of what work-life balance looks like for you

  • Greater confidence in your capabilities

  • Larger professional network to tap during your job search

Challenges of a midlife career change:

  • More responsibilities requiring higher salary requirements, financial planning options, and scheduling flexibility

  • Pronounced skills gap

  • Potential exposure to age discrimination

Let's take a closer look at how you might assess your past to navigate your future.

Decide what's next.

It's likely that your life looks different now than it did when you first started your career, and those changes may have led you to shift your work preferences over time.

To help you decide what’s next, get clear on your current preferences—what you’d like to keep doing, what you’d like to do more of, and what you’d rather not continue doing—and your lifestyle needs—your desired compensation, how many hours you want to work, and where you want to work. You may not be able to find the exact position you’re envisioning, but knowing what you’re looking for will help you to get as close to your dream job as possible.

According to Bankrate, Gen X workers seeking a career change largely prioritize flexible work arrangements and higher pay [1]. To help envision what flexible, high-paying jobs might be, take a look at these jobs with flexible hours, jobs for better work-life balance, and remote jobs that pay well.

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Consider transferable skills.

Your forties are somewhat of a midpoint in your career, which could be a productive time to reflect on what you’ve done in order to decide what you’d like to bring with you into this next piece of your journey.

Transferable skills are the specific skills you use in your current roles that you can also apply to a new path, such as problem solving, teamwork, and organization. Often, people consider workplace skills (also called soft skills) to be highly transferable, however depending on the type of roles you're looking for, technical skills (or hard skills) can also apply.

To identify some of your transferable skills, think back on your accomplishments so far. The sources of pride in your accomplishments reflect your values, while the actions you took in achieving your accomplishments reflect your skills. Think about how you might leverage your skills to aim higher than entry-level positions in your desired career field.

Learn more: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?

Your transferable skills can come from any area of life. For example, if you took a few years away from a traditional workplace to raise a family, you may have exhibited strong negotiation, management, and communication skills throughout that time. Learn more about how you can position your stay-at-home parent skills on a resume.

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Learn new skills.

At this career midpoint, you have likely already built a solid foundation of relevant skills. However, depending on the career change you’re seeking, it may help to enhance your current skills (upskill) or learn new ones (reskill) by taking additional training in your desired area of work.

There are many ways to upskill and reskill, for example you may enroll in a certificate program, take online courses, or build a project portfolio to demonstrate newly acquired skills that may not be apparent on your current resume. Read through the job requirements for roles that align with your desired career in order to determine the type of additional education you may need to feel secure in moving forward.

Navigate workplace culture.

In your forties, you might have more adult responsibilities than your younger colleagues. As you consider your career options, think about the type of workplace support you’ll need in order to be successful during this next phase of your career.

Many companies offer flexible parental leave policies, retirement benefits like 401K matching, and wellness programs to encourage work-life balance. Organizations may also highlight Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and other networking and internal support groups that elevate the voices of employees with similar values to influence company culture and professional development.

By approaching your career change with a realistic perspective of your needs, you’ll be better able to recognize the types of workplaces that fit your desired lifestyle.

Career change at 40 with no degree

Some professions require a specific level of education in order to move into that career path, for example, medical doctors and lawyers. However, many companies are moving away from education requirements and consider candidates with a comparable amount of work experience in lieu of a degree.

Depending on the career you hope to move into, you may be able to rely on your transferable skills to get you there—even without a degree. If it becomes apparent that you do need additional education in order to attain your desired position, consider whether you can learn what you need through a professional certificate program. These tend to be quicker and more affordable options for people looking to build skills applicable to a specific career path. Alternatively, you can focus your search on high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree.

Read more: Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider

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Next steps

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Article sources

  1. Bankrate. “Survey: 55% of Americans expect to search for a new job over the next 12 months https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/job-seekers-survey-august-2021/#workforce ." Accessed January 17, 2023.

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