April 12, 2021

Changing career at 50 – How to be comfortable with the move

10 min read

You might have heard different stats around how many times someone changes their career on average during their work life. The truth is that while no two careers are alike, most of us will make a number dramatic changes throughout our work life – the line of work, the industry, the location etc. Changing a career is also commonplace in the 21st century where industry disruption is the norm.

For Kiwis who’ve worked for a good 30 years, changing a career can feel quite daunting – our expenses can be larger, we’re comfortable in our current line of work and we may feel like a learning curve would be overwhelming. We’re here to assure 50+ professionals that changing a career or significant role change isn’t just possible, but perfectly normal.

Changing jobs at 50+ is more common that you may think

Absolute IT as a recruiter works with Kiwis of all ages, many of whom fit the 50-65 age bracket. A sector as broad as IT means that a ‘career change’ can still happen within the industry – consider that a Front End Developer and a Digital Transformation expert fit under the umbrella term ‘IT’. Don’t be concerned that a career change is too late at 50, it’s happening frequently – and the industry isn’t just reacting to it, but requiring it, with highly experienced professionals being in demand to support new or evolving technology. If there’s one thing that’s consistent in the info-tech world, it’s change.

If you are starting in the tech sector for the first time ever, know there’s others out there also doing this – learning to code, design and other disciplines where you can apply existing experience combined with newly acquired skills. Many tertiary institutes’ technology courses are attended by a broad spectrum of ages.

Understanding your reasons for a career change before moving

Before changing your career – take time to figure out your reasons for doing so. A great way to do this is by writing out your thinking. Ask some questions like:

  • What does your current career not have that a new one would provide?
  • What are lifestyle reasons behind seeking a career change?
  • Are you seeking a change for more money?
  • Do you lack challenge in your current field?
  • Is there a ‘crossover’ opportunity that sits between your current industry and another that you’re interested in (e.g. Agriculture + Technology = Agritech)

It’s important that you don’t hastily change jobs off the back of a particular work event, such as a falling out with a colleague or failure to get a promotion. While how we feel is incredibly important to decision making, you should always ‘let the dust settle’ on any temporary episodes in your work before making a final decision. Take your time to make sure you’re moving to go to something else than simply leave your current role.

Talk to others about your plans

Just because you’re an experienced professional, doesn’t mean you should try to figure this all out yourself. In fact it’s even more important to seek advice from others as the decision to change career may have a bigger impact than someone just starting out. Advice comes in all shapes and forms – not all of it good. We’d suggest you chat to friends and family who know you the best, and then independent professional advice such as that from a recruiter. It can also be worthwhile chatting to any trusted work colleagues who have a good context of your current situation.

And finally, we’d strongly consider speaking to as many people within the industry you’re looking to enter as possible about what you might expect. Make sure to take notes of all the advice you receive – combined with your own brainstorm you’ll have a well-rounded picture of what a career change might mean for you. Have you missed something others can see? Without talking to others, you won’t know.

Taking stock of your transferable skills and experience

It’s almost a guarantee that in 30 years of work you’ll have a bunch of valuable skills to bring to another industry; people skills, problem solving, time management, planning, negotiating, financial understanding – the list will be long. We’d suggest writing out the high level skills and experience that a new career may require, and then at the same time, writing out a list of all the soft and technical skills you’ve acquired to date. This may take some time reflecting and pouring over old CVs, but ultimately it will build your confidence that a career change won’t be starting from zero entirely.

What motivates you in life?

Remove work from the equation for a moment: what makes you happy and fulfilled in life? Helping others? Creating something tangible? Making money? There’s no wrong answer here, but the answers are very important when considering a career change at 50. The worst thing anyone can do is take a job for reasons that don’t align with what truly brings you happiness in life. Yes, you need to pay bills like all of us, but there are plenty of roles out there that tick this box and also offer other things that will have you jumping out of bed in the morning. For some this might mean a role with a social good element, for others a flexible working arrangement so you can spend more time with family or on hobbies.

As you consider your career change, be sure to list out your motivations in life and work back from here in terms of where you go to work  and what job you do. You might be pleasantly surprised where an exercise like this will take you!

Let’s Talk Money

Money is important – even if it’s not our primary motivator, we do need to cover our costs both now and future. When you’re considering a career change, you should make sure you have a clear picture of your budget and expenses. At 50 you also need to consider how you’re tracking towards your retirement and make sure that your income supports your retirement goals. If you’re making a jump to a new role where you’ll be taking a significant pay cut, take time to map out carefully how you and any family will navigate this – is the combined household income still practical to live on? What sort of trajectory will you be on with this new career and at what point can you expect to be earning your current income or better?

It may be that you don’t rely on your job for your income – in which case you may have more options around your career change and be able to  focus more on other motivators.

Fear of the unknown

A career change 30 years into our work life can feel like a shock to the system. A new job, jargon, people and skills that you are still working on – it may remind you of when you entered the workforce initially. It’s important to keep in mind that you will take some time getting up to speed – even with transferable skills. The fear of the unknown could otherwise be reframed as excitement for a new adventure; you just have to take the pressure off yourself and allow time to become comfortable. The alternative is not making that jump and be left wondering what if?

Of course you should listen to your gut instinct – if, after your research and consideration, a jump into a particular field doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. But if you are still highly motivated to try something new, but are given pause by the fact you will have knowledge or skill gaps – remember that a career change is a process that continues after you’ve made the jump.

Open mind to learning

That’s why an open mind is one of the best assets you can bring into a new line of work. Learning won’t stop at technical competencies either, you’ll be learning about a different culture, dynamics, types of people and many other new things. And that open mind means being open to learning from those younger than you. The more curious and hungry for knowledge you are, the quicker you’ll be up to speed and applying your own toolbox of skills to the new role.

Open mind to teaching

You’re coming equipped with all sorts of experience. Depending on the role, an employer may be looking for you to bring this into the team and share it. You can be a rookie in some respects and a master in others – and coworkers will benefit from your experience even informally. A willing teacher and student mindset won’t just help you do your new role better, it’ll build stronger, long-lasting relationships with your colleagues.

Choosing the right opportunities

Are you making the move from one tech-related industry to another? Telecoms to financial services? Are you leaving IT to go out into something unrelated like property? Or are you entering IT from another field? Pick work opportunities that line up with where you wish to end up – even if you enter at a lower rung than the ultimate role first. Picking the right opportunity should also include consideration of the experience you already have; jobs that demand some of your skills can make for an easier transition. The idea of the ‘double career change’ where you change function and industry isn’t impossible but will be more challenging.

Those motivators that you worked on earlier now come in handy again. As you search around, ask yourself which roles speak to your motivators the most. Does the job enable your financial, life and career goals to be realised? If not, the move may not be right.

Considering your lifestyle now vs. new career

A career change will impact your lifestyle in some way – especially if there’s a big change to what you get paid. A new career might have an initial pay cut but promise of much better remuneration in the medium-long term. As with anything, weigh up the pros and cons of the move on your lifestyle. Does your current role allow you to do more outside of work? Will there be significant learning required with a career change that will eat up more of your free time? This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but rather need to plan for and expect it. Oftentimes a career change will be made to reduce work hours and stress levels. Others will want to change in the pursuit of a new challenge.

Key lifestyle questions:

  • Hours you want to work each week
  • Demand and responsibility you’re comfortable with
  • Level of comfort around having skills/knowledge gaps
  • How much family/friends time do you want in the week?
  • What hobbies and interests do you want to maintain or start?
  • Transport to and from work – how long and is this easy?
  • Flexibility around work arrangements – do you want to work from home or irregular hours?
  • Personal and household budget – what does my income need to be to meet this?
  • Where do I want to live? Does that location offer work opportunities that support a career change?

As you can see, there’s a lot of thinking to be done here. Changing career is a perfectly normal thing to do, and with the right preparation and decision making can be tremendously rewarding.

Keen to chat more about your career change options?

Absolute IT works with experienced professionals’ career decisions every day. We know that the choices made at this stage of your work life are important. Our team can help prepare you for a change in role and tap into our network of clients and work opportunities. If you’re looking for a change but aren’t sure where to start, chat to our teamy and find out what the IT job market is doing and how you can find your next ideal role.

Absolute IT