Changing careers in your 30s can be a big step—a leap of faith, even.
With a decent amount of work experience behind you, making a change in this phase of your life can feel risky and exciting, all at once.
Deciding to ditch your current career to chase something new can be the absolute right choice for you.
However, it might not be your career causing dissatisfaction, but your job.
Before you trade in your suit and tie for a chef’s apron, take the time to figure out what’s really causing your angst. And, if you do decide to switch, take the time to understand what you’re in for before you quit.
Reasons for a Career Change at 30
Sometimes we dream about changing careers when what we really dislike is our job. Maybe you and your boss don’t get along, or you can’t stand your nosy coworkers. Sometimes the company makes decisions you don’t agree with, but the decisions don’t impact you. These are problems with your job and not necessarily your career.
If you and your boss are basically besties, the company is making all the right moves, and you love all of your coworkers, but you still find yourself dreading Monday morning, then the problem is probably your career.
Take some time and analyze your current job to figure out what’s bugging you. Is it something you can fix without changing your entire career? Or, do you need something that your current job can never give you?
1. You need a new challenge
Maybe you’re “settled” in your job. You know all the processes and procedures. In fact, you’ve streamlined so many processes that there’s nothing left to streamline. You come to work, sit down, know exactly what tasks you have to do, when to break for lunch, where you’re having lunch, and everything is done by 5:00 on the dot.
Kind of boring, right?
Maybe what you’re craving is new challenges. If you feel like you’ve learned everything you possibly could about your job and there’s nothing left for you to “fix,” it may be time for a change.
That change doesn’t have to mean starting a new career. Consider staying at the same company but transferring to a different position. This allows you to tackle a new set of challenges, but keep your benefits (and possibly pay level). If there’s nothing to transfer to, some new projects outside your typical responsibilities might be just the challenge you need to re-energize your growth.
2. You’ve got new priorities
Maybe you had a baby. Or you’ve got an aging parent. Or your spouse is in the military. There are a million things that can happen that force you to reassess your priorities. Maybe the corner office isn’t your goal anymore. Or, you don’t like where your current career path leads. Whatever it is, your new priorities and your current career just don’t align anymore.
You want to pursue your passion.
When you were growing up, you probably wanted to be anything from an astronaut to a zookeeper. As you matured, you discarded some of the more outrageous ideas (professional dinosaur) and picked something a little more realistic(accountant).
But, picking something realistic doesn’t mean it’s your passion. Perhaps, deep down, you always wanted to create a comic book or do stand-up. No matter what your passion is, you’ve decided that you’re not wasting any more time, and you’re going to go for it.
3. You’re just not happy
Sometimes, you choose a career and think it will give you everything you want. Then you reach the top of that field, and you discover it doesn’t make you happy at all.
While it’s a mistake to think a job can make you happy, you should enjoy what you do. If you dread every Monday morning because you loathe the idea of going to your job, it’s time to reassess your career path.
Pros and Cons of Changing Careers
Before you do anything, consider all the pros and cons of changing careers in your 30s. While you may not let the cons stop you, don’t forget to consider the following.
Con: You likely have years of experience in another career field.
Possibly the first struggle that comes to mind when considering a career change at 30 is leaving behind your years of experience. You’ve likely been out of high school or college for about 10 years or more. Perhaps you’ve really honed your craft or have moved up to a manager position. Starting over can seem defeating.
Con: Employers may want someone with experience.
It’s the catch-22 that many new grads are familiar with: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get that experience. If your new career field isn’t related to your old one, you may run into difficulties applying for jobs without related experience.
Con: It can require extra time.
Unless your new career field doesn’t require experience and you feel confident you can land a job, you’re likely going to need to find extra time in your schedule for training. Consider where you’re going to find the time.
It may mean working your current job until 5:00 p.m. and then spending your evenings or weekends getting experience in your new career. You might have to give up your free time and sacrifice time with family and friends to achieve your goal.
Con: You may have to take a cut in pay and benefits.
Changing career paths may mean you have to start out at a lower pay grade than you’d like. Take a look at your finances and budget to truly determine if it’s possible to make less money. If it’s not, consider taking on a side job.
Also, at your present job, you may have worked your way up to six weeks vacation, plus five personal days, plus eight weeks sick leave, etc. You might have some extra time in the bank. You’ll lose it all when you leave your current job. And, you might have to start over with just two weeks vacation and three PTO days at a new job.
Pro: It’s never too late.
When changing careers in your 30s, it’s important to remember that you have many working years left. If you start a new career in your 30s, you can gain 10 years or more of experience in your new career field. And, with all of the transferable experience you already have, you may find yourself at the top of your new career field faster than a fresh (and inexperienced) college grad.
Pro: You might earn better money and benefits.
It’s also entirely possible that you’ll make more money by changing careers in your 30s. The starting wage in some industries can be more than an experienced wage in another industry. And, if you’re changing sectors, you might discover bonuses and raises are higher, allowing you to earn more. Or, you may be switching to a career field with better pay.
While you may not be able to negotiate for additional vacation time because you lack experience, the new field may have a more generous vacation and leave policy to start.
Pro: You offer more diverse skills.
While you may not have specific experience, you may have unique skills only you can offer. Since you’ve likely been working for 10 or more years, you’ve gained “life” experience that less “seasoned” employees don’t have.
You’ve also got a track record that (hopefully) demonstrates you’re a reliable and loyal employee. Sometimes these things are more valuable than experience in any field!
Pro: A new career can infuse energy into your work life.
A common reason to change careers is that the old one wasn’t fulfilling anymore. If you’ve come to dread going into work, feel uninspired, or have no room for professional growth in your job, changing careers can be a boost of energy. Starting something new, while scary, can be life-giving and motivating. It can be a great change of pace and can cause you to go from hating or tolerating your job, to loving your work.
Steps to Changing Careers in Your 30s
If you’ve decided you can’t take another day in your current job, it’s time to plan your career shift.
Get a new job in the same industry
If you like your industry, but don’t like your specific job position, consider a lateral job change. Look for a job that allows you to use the skills you’ve already got, but also lets you learn new ones.
For example, if all you’ve ever done is the business side of your industry, consider a new position that lets you experience the customer side. You’ll gain valuable skills and new insights into your industry, and that can make you a more desirable employee in the long run.
As a bonus, you’ll be tackling new challenges, and that may scratch the career change itch you’ve been feeling without having to learn a new industry from the ground up.
Take it for a test run
Whether you’re going with a different job in the same industry, or a new career area altogether, try a test run before you commit. You may think that your new career path or job sounds glamorous. But, as you probably know, there’s always more to a job than meets the eye.
Consider volunteering in your new career field first. This may mean a few nights a week or even weekends, but test driving your new career for a few months can help you decide that you’re making the right choice, or that you need to reconsider this new career.
If volunteering isn’t an option, try freelancing. Some careers (writing, graphic design), lend themselves to freelance gigs so you can test the waters. You probably won’t make very much money while you freelance (in fact, you might feel like you’re volunteering!). But, it’s a great way to get acquainted with the field and get a few portfolio pieces together if you decide to go for it.
Take a “working vacation.”
Sometimes, neither volunteering or freelancing is an option. In that case, consider a “working vacation.”
Devote some of your vacation time to career exploration. Schedule some informational interviews, attend some networking events, and research your new career. Use the time to build contacts and find out everything you can.
Depending on your contacts, you might be able to “intern” in the job to see if you really like it. If you can’t make those connections, there are companies that specialize in helping career changers connect with people in new fields to test drive the intended job.
As you research your new career, figure out if you need to go back to school for a degree. Or, see if you can complete a boot camp program or even a certification program to get started.
Successfully Switching Careers in Your 30s
A career change in your 30s can be a great opportunity. But, it’s not something you should do without considering all your options first.
Still nervous? Read about a teacher who made a career switch after 10 years for inspiration. Made up your mind but aren’t sure where to start? Check out our tips on how to write a career change resume. And consider scouring FlexJobs’ listings in over 50 career categories, where you’re sure to find something of interest. Positions range from full-time to freelance and offer flexibility that ranges from fully remote to partially remote.