Changing careers - how to make it work for you

Women doing different jobs

Changing careers is more common today than ever. Whether you've been working for 10 months or 10 years, gone are the days of having to put up with a career you’re not fulfilled by. All you have to do is decide where you want to be and apply yourself to making it happen. Here are some tips for getting there…

1. Find something you genuinely want to do

There’s no point switching to a career that is simply going to pay the bills. If you’re looking for a change, think about things you’re passionate about and you think you could make a career of, then go for it.

choose job you want

“I'd always loved being in my garden and realised that there was a gap in the market for a 'lady gardener' – that was the very beginning of my gardening business, 10 years ago. Now, at 52, I'm the go-to person in my area for gardening work.”

2. Highlight your transferable skills

You may not need to retrain at all. The skills you acquire in one job can often be applied in other fields. Write down all the skills you’ve learned in your current career and you’ll probably be surprised at just how many roles are out there for which you’re already well-qualified.

transferable skills

“I had a good career in my 20s, then spent my 30s having children and working in some fairly undemanding part-time jobs. I've managed to forge a new career in my early 40s and I'm loving it. Admittedly, my new field didn't require retraining, more learning on the job – but I did have transferable skills from my previous career/jobs and sold myself on that basis. It can be done!”

3. Be prepared to start at the bottom

Changing careers might require a bit of humility. In your current job, you’ve probably acquired expertise and worked your way up to a level that reflects your achievements and experience. A switch might mean starting at the bottom again (or at least nearer the bottom than you were) but, with your transferable skills and passion for what you’re doing, you should soon work your way up.

start from the bottom

“I retrained in my early 30s (whilst raising two young children) and started from the bottom in my new sector, working mostly part-time for a few years. I'm nearly 40 now and am in a 'proper' professional, full-time job in my field; if I want it, I could be a senior manager within three to five years."

4. Work out if it's your career or your workplace that needs to change

Even when you change career, you will still need to find the right workplace.

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“I underwrote mortgages in my 20s after falling into it on leaving university. After having my son I wanted a change – now I teach, and I love it beyond measure. Having said that, at my first placement I didn't fit in at all; the place just wasn't right for me. My new school feels like home, and I'm better at my job for being somewhere different.”

5. Be willing to compromise

You might not earn as much as you did in your previous role – at least to begin with – so a little compromise may be needed.

willing to compromise

“I retrained at 43, and it took compromise; I earn half what I did in my 20s but that was not sustainable – for me at least. I'd had eight years off, so I started at the bottom part-time, but the company paid for my professional exams. Twelve years later I have a middle management job that I like.”

6. Consider a career that’s in high demand

There are plenty of career shortages in the UK. For example, we’re desperately in need of more chefs, nurses and teachers. And some in-demand roles are ideal for parents.

high demand career

“I work in IT – it's very family-friendly because you can often work from home. They're constantly struggling to find smart people with niche skills, such as business analysts, project managers, programme managers, and architects. Everyone wants people who understand IT. Your 30s are definitely not too late to start on a new career.”

7. Remember you’ve probably got more working years left than you think

We’re living longer, we’re working longer and, for some people, retirement holds no appeal at all. Modern life contains multiple chapters.

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“I retrained in my 40s, having spent 20 years in my previous career. Now I have a degree (graduated at 43) and have been in this career for two years. I expect to be doing this for at least the next 15-20 years. It's never too late!”

8. Have faith in yourself and others will too

Sometimes you have to follow your instincts and your curiosity, regardless of where it might lead.

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“I trained as a primary teacher and taught for 15 years, then took a year out to do a self-funded Master's. I went back to teach for a year part time while I applied for a PhD, then got a place and full funding. I'll probably be 40 by the time I have a PhD. What will it lead to? No idea. But if the uni have faith in me enough to fund me, they must see potential in my future.”

9. Be prepared to put in the hours

Changing careers requires hard work. But if you’re doing something you love then you’ll probably find the extra hours fly by.

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“I'm 54 now and I've changed career three times. In each case I drew on my previous knowledge and experience to help me move to the next career, and I worked hard to learn the ropes. I'd say that changing career at any age is doable if you put the effort in and are prepared to learn.”

10. And remember – life experience is a positive

In work and in the rest of your life, you have accrued a wealth of experience that will be invaluable in any profession. Do don’t underestimate yourself – you have lots to offer!

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“I started my midwifery training at 38 – eight years later I won a regional specialist award. Some careers are enhanced by a bit of life experience. I've never regretted my career change – I don't make as much money as I did before but I do love my job.”