The 7 steps of mastering a career change at 30

“Unless you’re 30 and you suddenly want to become a prima ballerina and you have no experience, most career changes can occur,” said Amanda Augustine, a career advice expert for TopResume. This is exciting news for any professional who wants to make a career change at 30.

If you’ve hit the big three-oh and decided you’re not happy, fulfilled, or satisfied with the current state of affairs, use these steps to make an exciting change.

First, here’s how to make sure you really want to change your career

Career changes usually require someone to take a pay and seniority cut, meaning the professional must be willing to make some major compromises.

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Before taking action steps to make this change, Augustine recommends making sure you’re willing and financially able to invest in any training, take time off without income, or take a pay cut.

In order to find out if this is something you really want to do, you must examine what you like and don’t like about the job you currently hold.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself:

  • What is it that I hate about my current job?
  • What draws me to this new career path?
  • What do I enjoy about my current job?
  • What brought me to this job that I enjoy?
  • Do I enjoy the office culture, skills I get to use, or industry itself?

Augustine recommends thinking about the answer to these questions because it helps you piece together the next realistic step. Many times individuals making a radical career change at 30 will have to pursue “stepping stone jobs”.

“You may have to take a job that’s in between getting to that dream job so that you acquire the right skill sets, the right training, or whatever it is to make you an attractive candidate,” Augustine said.

The first thing to do when making a career change at 30

Once you’ve decided that a career change is definitely in your near future, the first thing to do is take a step back and reassess both your professional and personal networks.

While it may be new to look to your personal contacts for professional reasons, Augustine emphasizes that these contacts may actually be even more valuable than your professional ones. If you’re looking to make a complete switch in careers, odds are high that no one in your current professional network will have anything to do with your desired industry.

“You want to reprioritize your contacts to identify who currently works in an industry or career path that you’re interested in,” Augustine said.

If no one in your network is in your desired field, Augustine recommends looking towards your social butterfly friends, your “power connectors” that run in many different circles.

“Chances are they have a friend of a friend they could introduce you to,” Augustine said.

An important tool to utilize during this phase of your career is the informational interview. While the informational interview is often suggested for entry-level candidates, anyone looking to make a career change at 30 is in a bit of the same position. Use this list of questions to ask during an informational interview.

An additional question to ask in an informational interview if you’re making a career change is what type of education, certification or training is necessary to enter their industry. What you’re looking to find out here is simple: do you need to go back to school to pursue this career?

While you can research much of this information online, nothing compares to an in-person resource that has lived these experiences for years.

“Someone who’s in a career can get a lot deeper and give you a better understanding of where your skill set would fit within their industry and if there are any particular skills that you’re going to need to build up,” Augustine said.

Do extensive research before heading back to school

While certain career aspirations will require you to obtain a second degree, Augustine urges you to be careful.

“I wouldn’t necessarily hang my hat on ‘Oh, I’ll just go get that degree and it will solve my problems,'” Augustine said.

Instead, do some research first. LinkedIn is a great tool to discover what kind of degrees, certification, and training many professionals have.

Additional education is a heavy investment, in time and money, so you want to be certain that it is necessary in order for you to make your move. In Augustine’s research, she has found that education often comes at the bottom of the list of what a hiring manager cares about, with skills, experience, and personality holding far more importance.

During an informational interview you should present your skills and experience, and then ask if the professional thinks it’s necessary for you to go for additional training or education in order to land your desired job.

Obtain missing skills necessary for your new industry

While you’re browsing industry professional’s LinkedIn pages for education, take a look at their skill sections as well. Ask your contacts what kind of skills you are missing that are required to land the job you’re pursuing. Then, go after them.

While you might not have time for in-person training, online courses are becoming increasingly popular. Lynda, LinkedIn Learning, and Skillshare are tools that can help fill any skill gaps.

Augustine also recommends a practice called skill-based volunteering, which allows you to use your skills for a cause while building your resume and experience. Organizations like Catchafire and Points of Light help those looking to volunteer find opportunities that match their skills and gain more experience using said skills.

Gain relevant experience whenever and wherever you can

Speaking of gaining experience, you should be doing that 24/7 at this point in your career change.

“Start building experience that’s more of a direct correlation to what you want to do, so that it’s not such an abrupt change when you’re trying to sell your resume,” Augustine said.

We’re living in the gig economy, so freelancing opportunities shouldn’t be too hard to find. Websites like Fiverr, Upwork, and Guru help freelancers find jobs. Doing freelance jobs while you’re still working at your full-time job will allow you to gain experience while you’re still bringing in significant income.

“Take the opportunity to start lending out your services, even if it’s pro bono so that you are doing things that are more in line with your next job, all the better,” Augustine said.

Remember, unpaid work often looks just as good on a resume or LinkedIn profile as paid work does.

Recreating your resume for a career change at 30

Augustine recommends pulling up your current resume with a blank document opened next to it. Take a look at your old resume and reevaluate what you did in each role you’ve held up until this time.

“You’ll often find that when you’re making a career change, your resume gets paired down,” Augustine said.

Augustine encourages this tidying up because “relevancy is the name of the game.”

A two-page resume may be cut into a one-page resume, but that’s okay. You only want to show the new employers the skills that they care most about, and not confuse or distract them with experience that’s completely irrelevant.

An important step during this process is taking a look at job descriptions for the roles you’re now looking to land. Once you have an understanding of the type of skills and experience they’re looking for, you’ll be able to better format your resume to fit these jobs.

Take a look at what the job descriptions seem to be emphasizing so that you can reevaluate your work history, education, and activities that you’ve been pursuing outside of work.

“If it helps support the new story you’re trying to tell, we’ll find a way to incorporate it into that resume,” Augustine said.

Reevaluating current and past roles is probably the most important factor in recreating your resume. Edit out irrelevant content and add in anything that could convince hiring managers that you have enough experience for this position.

The editing process should also include switching the resume from one industry to another. Jargon and buzz words don’t usually transfer, so read industry publications, job descriptions, and other profiles to get a better understanding of industry speak.

How to frame your cover letter when you make a career change at 30

While Augustine is an advocate for cover letters for every job application, she stresses their importance during for those making career changes.

“When your resume doesn’t tell the full story, your cover letter is going to help you provide additional context and really set the tone for that resume so they’re reading it with that frame of mind,” Augustine said.

That being said, your cover letter can still take the same basic structure as a normal one.

In the introduction, you identify how you came across this opportunity. If someone you know recommended that you apply to this job, this is where you should be name-dropping. Explain here why you’ve decided to make this career change. This is the time to explain any confusion they might feel after looking at your resume.

Discuss what attracted you specifically to this role and company while keeping the employer’s needs in mind. This section is all about demonstrating that you’ve done your research. Make sure the hiring manager will be able to see you’ve acknowledged their needs and presented an explanation for how you plan to meet those needs.

It’s important to make clear that your unconventional background is actually what makes you the best person for the job.

The third section is closing the deal and setting a call to action, according to Augustine. It’s here you can ask about next steps and let them know you’d love to explain further why you’re making this career change.

Networking is even more important when you’re making a career change

“Anytime your resume or cover letter are not going to be this exact matchup of what you’re seeing in a job listing, networking becomes a larger part of your job search strategy,” Augustine said.

If you have limited contacts in your personal and professional networks, this is an important time to attend networking events like conferences, meetup groups, and associations. The Directory of Associations helps professionals find organizations in their geographic areas.

Expanding your professional network in your desired industry not only allows you more exposure and knowledge but could introduce you to a job opportunity, which is crucial according to Augustine.

“We know that the majority of companies out there are using some piece of software to screen applications,” Augustine said. “So anytime you can leverage your network to bypass some of those hurdles, the better off you’ll be.”

The advantages of making a career change at 30

“I once had a mentor tell me, you can’t make a grave career mistake before the age of 30,” Augustine said. “Then, once 30 comes around there has to be a bit more thought and intent behind the changes you make.”

The advantages vary for each individual, but one important advantage is that many 30-year-olds still have some freedom to acquire any risk that comes with making this change.

“I think 30 is a great time to make a change,” Augustine said. “Do it now before you get any more committed on a certain path, 100% this is the time.”

While you’re still young enough to make this transition easier, you also probably have great experience and contacts by this point in your career. You’re not brand new to the professional world, so this could be even easier than it was finding an entry-level job.

The challenges of making a career change at 30

Making a career change at 30 years old won’t be as easy to do than if you did it at 25.

“The older you are the more challenging it becomes because the more set you are on a particular career path,” Augustine said.

Most people gain more responsibilities (in both their personal and professional lives) as they get older.

“It could be more difficult to pick up and move across the country and start a different lifestyle or career when you’re married with two small children and you have a mortgage,” Augustine said.

While not all people have these responsibilities at age 30, and even less do as the median marriage age rises, these are real factors for many individuals.