6 career changes you can make mid-life (and how)

Whether thrown into a new situation by circumstance or pivoting in your industry by choice after much thought, career changes can be difficult. For inspiration, we’ve profiled seven professionals who changed their job path mid-career — and we describe how they did it.

1. From Microbiologist/Product Developer to Business Analyst

Ava Masucci, of Seattle, Washington, was a Microbiologist/Product Developer in a past life, making between $40,000 and $65,000 per year. Her work ensured the quality of food and cosmetics products for use by the general public. She was also tasked with product formulation for a contract manufacturing company that specialized in personal care products, like soaps, shampoo, conditioner, etc. She was a bit of a superhero for the general public, advocating for our health and safety with common household products.

So, what made her choose to look for work in another field? “There was a lack of career advancement and limited career opportunities in the Pacific Northwest,” Masucci explained.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t all. In her highly scientific position, sexism was rampant in the Pacific Northwest. “I also experienced a sexist workplace culture that was extremely frustrating. The last straw for me was witnessing several workplace accidents on the manufacturing floor. Threats to my safety and mental health were not worth a paycheck.”

After working on some personal projects outside of work, Masucci became interested in data science and analytics. With the tech industry exploding in the area, she knew it was a reliable and promising career jump that would employ her existing analytical problem-solving skills. She enrolled in a part-time data science course to determine if she would like the work and, when that panned out, she completed a full-time coding bootcamp to boost her resume. That didn’t make things entirely easy, however.

“The switch was difficult. I experienced a lot of anxiety, on top of already struggling with [my] mental health.” After three months on the job hunt, she landed a part-time contract role. After four months in that position, she locked down a full-time job at a small software company. She has now been in the data analytics space for three years.

As a Business Analyst, Masucci creates reports to support a business operations team. Her work can now be done remotely from the comforts of her own home (due to COVID). She makes between $75,000 and $100,000 — a far cry from her previous role.

Jobs available: Current Business Analyst openings include work with Inspiring Apps, McKinsey & Company and SITA.

2. From Director of Stadium Operations to Salesman Extraordinaire

Stephen Schneider, of Kansas City, Missouri, worked in sports and entertainment for most of his life. For around 25 years of that time, he took charge of Sports and Entertainment Facility Operations in Director roles for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL).

In those roles, he says he “oversaw the operations to provide the best possible environment for the staff to work in, for the sports teams to do everything they needed, and for patrons to enjoy the game/event in.”

He did remarkable work, as well. Even today, former coworkers, colleagues, and direct reports flock him when they see him around town. His dedication to his work — and his fair and efficient management style — made him everyone’s favorite boss. When the new CEO for the NFL team he was working with started, he terminated most of the staff that had been there before he took his post. While Schneider did not plan to pivot in his career at that time, he had family and financial responsibilities that required finding employment quickly. His charm and business savvy landed him a role as a salesperson in the trucking industry, specializing in vocational trucks and equipment.

While Schneider’s latest role did require digging into the trucking industry to learn about different types of trucks, key terms, and other information, his role switch did not require any additional formal education. He does stay abreast of trucking industry trends and products for sales. Eleven years in, there is more work/life balance in this industry for Schneider and his family.

“It was tough to make a change after so many years performing the previous work,” admits Schneider. “[I’m usually a] pretty calm guy but working a job that was a sales commission-based job did create some stress. The new job is working out well and getting me headed toward retirement. It is very flexible, which enables me to take care of things when they come up. Plus you can leave at the end of the day and not worry about any part of it until you get back the next day.”

Though he took a pay cut from his previous income of about $150,000, his latest job is commission-based and presented more opportunities for growth.

Jobs available: There are sales openings at companies like NITTA LLC, T-Mobile, and Insperity.

3. From CEO & Publicity Director to Digital Marketing Manager

Jen Wilson, a music industry professional residing in South Florida, was a full-time music industry professional for nine years.

“As the CEO & Publicity Director [of The Catalyst Publicity Group], I worked with music industry professionals to enhance musicians’ careers by promoting their music and creative content to publications for added exposure. I was also able to work with clothing brands, non-profits, music festivals, and conferences to help spread awareness of their brand and/or event.”

Two years ago, she made the switch to Digital Marketing Manager for a non-profit. Her career change came about because of her philosophy and approach to her work. She was adamant about her clients having eye-catching content and accolades to pitch for opportunities. She was already approaching campaigns with a marketing lens, so the switch was organic.

“To ensure that my clients garnered the best press, I would have to shift my focus, which is ultimately what led me to want to pursue a career in digital marketing instead.”

Other motivations to switch involved more time with her husband, who transitioned from a career in the music industry around the same time. But that didn’t make the career swap any easier for Wilson.

“Closing my business was the most brutal breakup,” Wilson explains. “I was so passionate about my business and wanted nothing but the best for my staff and clients. I experienced a lot of anxiety, mixed with immense excitement for the future. It was and still is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever endured. Two years later, I wrestle with the discomfort of leaving an industry I cared so much about, but I know that going on my terms made the decision just a touch easier.”

Wilson’s Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees helped her to transition into digital marketing almost seamlessly. Skills she developed as a Publicity Director – such as writing, social media management, project management, and people skills – transferred well. She keeps her knowledge in digital marketing up to date with self-imposed training, workshops, tutorials, and certifications.

Though her most recent salary has not been disclosed, Wilson admits that it is on par with what she was making as a business owner.

Jobs available: Current Digital Marketing Manager openings include jobs at JW Player, ID.me, and Aperia Technologies.

4. From Entertainment Industry Professional to Information Technology

Colleen Patterson, a sports and entertainment industry professional residing in the Kansas City, Missouri area, recently found herself switching careers. Over 23 years, she worked in administrative roles and ticketing for the NBA, NFL, and ASM Global (a merger of AEG Facilities and SMG). Her tenure included sitting on the sidelines during professional games, typing play-by-play, organizing travel for professional athletes and industry bigwigs, and coordination.

Patterson made the transition from her most recent, longstanding ticketing professional position to an admin and IT position with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). The culprit? The COVID-19 pandemic.

“My prior career included working lots of odd hours – evenings, weekends, and holidays. I was very good at my job but knew that I really wanted to do other things with my ‘free time, so I started to re-evaluate what my future might look like. Then the pandemic hit, our venue closed down, and I was in a position to re-evaluate sooner than I expected.”

The bulk of Patterson’s work in sports over the years has been admin-related, so she was able to transfer many of her skills quite effortlessly into a brand new position in an entirely new industry.

“My life experience was absolutely a help, not a hindrance. Although I was able to use the basics of most of my computer skills and all of my customer service skills, the main things I brought with me are the intangibles — I have common sense, I am teachable, I know where to look for answers when I don’t know something, I am a hard worker, I am dependable, and I can balance more than one project at a time.”

Her more recent coding skills through a certification program online were a little above the requirements of her new work. Since the position is temporary, she has been cultivating her tech knowledge and adding to her resume so that she can pursue more remote work in the future.

In her ticketing role, Patterson made around $40,000, plus overtime. Her most recent position — a part-time, temp job — brings in $14 per hour. Admin and IT work like hers normally attracts between $65,000 and $100,000 in her market.

Jobs available: Lucrative IT openings for companies such as Virtual Synergie Solutions, Goldstone Partners, and Locix are now available.

5. From Cosmetology to Police Dispatcher

AO* was a successful cosmetologist in Kansas City, Missouri before transitioning to a new career entirely out of her comfort zone. Though she began working at the front desk of the salon early on, helping out with their social media efforts and handling retail needs, her interest quickly developed past administrative tasks.

Previously, her days were filled with haircuts, hair color, nail services, makeup applications, and facial waxings. But the pay and nd the lack of reliability in benefits alarmed her. After a few years in the industry — and realizing she had consistently made more as the receptionist than she did with her own chair — she decided it was time for a change.

So, how did AO choose dispatch as her next career move?

“I came across the Media Unit job listing through KCPD’s daily newsletter that goes out to employees,” she explained. “I read the description and fell in love with the sound of it.”

Working for dispatch required no additional formal education. Many cosmetologists act as therapists or “best friend” types for their clients already, letting them dish their worries, issues, and triumphs over beauty services. While AO was able to translate many of those people skills into her new work quite well, there were still some growing pains.

“The switch was a total 180. I worked overnights, which was new to me. It wasn’t easy, but I felt better and I felt secure as far as money and health insurance went.”

Cosmetologists with AO’s former company average $1,000 in services or less per week. Her new position in dispatch pays over $40,000 per year. (And yes, she still keeps her cosmetology license in good standing for good measure.)

6. From Advocacy Coordinator to Global Corporate Communications Director

Eloise Jones of Omaha, Nebraska, has learned a lot since working in the nonprofit world. As an Advocacy Coordinator at a human rights non-profit, she and her colleagues hardly found advocates in their own higher-ups. In fact, she raised her whole salary. “It was not sustainable,” she admits.

Unfortunately, the nonprofit she was employed by had a leadership structure that was toxic and flawed, ensuring that full-time workers were not even scraping by with a livable wage. After investing five years of her life into a career that was, in essence, destroying her mental health, she decided it was time for a change.

Her transition to her current work as a Global Corporate Communications Director at an engineering firm wasn’t an immediate process. Because of the toxic environment at her previous job, she quit working at Trader Joe’s before leaning back into communications. There, she thrived with her stellar interpersonal skills and gained clarity on what her future could look like.

Eloise’s previous experience informs much of what she does now. “I continue to write, develop strategies and support growth initiatives. These are all things I did to an extent in my previous job.”

The new position did not require any formal education but does keep her on her toes as she ensures employee efficiency and inspiration, as well as the communications efforts of their stakeholders and business group leadership.

“Every day since leaving, I am incredibly thankful that I found a career in which I can thrive and find joy and provide value to others.”

In her non-profit role, Jones made less than minimum wage. Her take-home salary each month was between an alarmingly low of $1,250 and $1,450. Her new position is reported at around $60K annually.

Jobs available:BioXcel Therapeutics, Inc., Chargebee, and Aerospike are currently seeking qualified Corporate Communications Directors.

Our most recent piece on creating a successful CV to get noticed by your ideal company is now live on the site. Keep up to date with career advice and information on mid-career pivots here.