How to Successfully Navigate a Midlife Career Change and Avoid a Crisis

professional man smiling in his office with arms crossed

Your happiness at work correlates with your overall life satisfaction. Over a lifetime, the average full-time American worker spends one-third of their waking hours working. If you’re not fulfilled at your job, it can affect your health in ways you may not realize. For these reasons, an increasing number of workers are finding themselves in a mid-career crisis, and are looking to make a midlife career change.

A Mid-Career Crisis Affects Your Health

According to the American Psychological Association, stress from work is linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, back problems, upper extremity musculoskeletal problems and other health issues. About two-thirds of employees have experienced burnout on the job, reports Gallup. Burnout is correlated with a higher incidence of emergency room visits.

Prioritizing your health and happiness requires working at a job you enjoy. Midlife career changes can help you achieve work happiness that decreases overall stress levels. Maybe there is passion you’ve always wanted to pursue professionally, or the field you thought you wanted to work in during college is no longer what you’re interested in.

A longitudinal study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found Baby Boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 40. For millennials, job hopping is even more common. Three-quarters of employees ages 34 and younger say job-hopping can benefit their careers, while 64% of all workers favor job-hopping, NBC News reports.

When you’ve decided to transition to another career, use this roadmap to minimize disruptions as you move into a new position, field or job.

1. Identify Why You’re Having a Mid-Career Crisis

Before you quit your job and seek new positions, you should analyze why you’re having a mid-career crisis and unhappy in your current job. Is it the company culture? Is it the industry you’re in? Or is it your day-to-day responsibilities in your current role, or a combination of these?

You may love your industry, but you may discover that being promoted to management wasn’t ideal, even with the pay increase. You may prefer to be the executor of creative tasks, rather than managing those who are doing the work. In that case, you may be open to moving down the corporate ladder.

The importance of value alignment

You may realize that the company you work for no longer aligns with your personal values, and that’s taking a toll. According to a 2018 workplace culture trends report by LinkedIn, 86% of millennials would consider decreasing their salary to work for a company whose values and mission aligned with their own. In that case, you may want a similar job, but at a different company.

Expand your skill set with digital certifications

As technology evolves, you may be interested in expanding your skillset with digital certifications so you can evolve your title. For example, if you’ve worked in print marketing, you may consider applying your marketing skills to a new career that’s focused on digital marketing.

If you need some inspiration for what type of careers you’d be good at, The Balance has several free personality tests for career searchers. You don’t have to resign yourself to an entry-level position in a new career, necessarily. You may be able to use the skills you already have developed, such as leadership and communication, to achieve a comparable position in a new field.

eBook Cover

Download our eBook: The Career-Switching Handbook for 30‑Somethings

Job-hopping is a growing trend among young professionals, and for many good reasons. Download our free eBook, “The Career-Switching Handbook for 30‑Somethings,” for the latest career-switching tips, strategies, and data.

Download the eBook

2. Should You Change Jobs or Freelance Part-Time?

If you’re having a mid-career crisis and are hesitant about leaving a stable job to pursue something new, seek out ways to take on new responsibilities at work or start a part-time gig on the side to build up your experience.

According to the Freelancing in America: 2019 study by Upwork and Freelancers Union, 35% of the American workforce (57 million people) freelances in some capacity. If you’re interested in a new field or want to practice your skills before quitting your current job, you could seek out an entry-level part-time position somewhere or offer up your services as a freelancer.

Communicate your career goals

If you’re happy with the culture at your current company, you could set a meeting with your manager to talk about your career goals. Having an “in” with your current employer could give you an advantage if you want to change careers, since they already know your work ethic and capabilities. Your current employer may even be willing to pay for on-the-job training for you to help ease your transition into a new position.

3. Get the Education You Need

Speaking of training, the new position you’re interested in may benefit from continued education. Take a look at the job descriptions for positions you’re interested in. If you’re lacking in certain education, consider online courses to get up to speed.

Online education options

The advantage of business online programs and certificates is that you can learn and study on your own time, without having to head back to school and possibly relocate yourself or your family.

Online learning can also help you accelerate your new career success. If you have always wanted to start your own business, for example, an online program in entrepreneurship can help you master the details so you’re prepared going in.

4. Secure Your Finances

As you focus on transitioning to a new career, you don’t want to have to worry about finances. Now is the time to make sure you have extra savings that can sustain you if you decide to leave your job and focus on finding a new career full-time. According to Investopedia, most financial experts agree that saving at least 6 months’ worth of expenses is ideal.

Non-monetary cost considerations

If you’re having a mid-career crisis and are thinking about moving into a career that will pay less (which can be worth it, especially if it means you’ll be healthier and happier as a result), then you’ll want to evaluate your current budget and spending, as well. If you have to make a certain amount in order to make your mortgage payment or pay for your kids’ activities, you’ll need to discuss your career goals and financial situation with your partner and evaluate your spending.

You may decide that devoting more time to school and getting a part-time job, or leaving work altogether while you advance your education, makes sense. In some cases, your career transition may mean it’s time to downsize your home or move to a less expensive place to live in the country.

You’ll have to have an honest discussion with your family about your mid-career crisis and how your current career is impacting you and how a career transition will ultimately benefit your family, even if it means you’ll be making less immediately after transitioning.  If you are single, you may want to change your spending habits to accommodate your transition. 

Retirement considerations during a career change

After you quit your job, you may be wondering about what to do with your 401(k). You can leave it where it is separate from your employer if you’ve invested more than $5,000 in it. You may also have options to roll over your 401(k) into an IRA or into a 401(k) account with a new employer. Talk with your financial advisor about what would make most sense for you.

5. Networking to Get the Most Out of Your Career Change

As you begin your journey toward a new career path, the people you have connected with in the past can help you advance your professional career. According to “Business Insider,” 85% of open positions are filled through networking. Up to 80% of new jobs are never listed. Instead, they’re filled internally or through networking.

LinkedIn strategies for a career change

Your personal and professional contacts can be instrumental in helping you find work in your new desired career. When you’ve decided to switch jobs, it’s important to reach out to your contacts and reconnect. Some networking strategies include:

Use LinkedIn to reach out 

Search your connections to find contacts who work in the industry or at similar jobs to the one you want. Send them a note to update them on your status and ask them what’s going on in their professional worlds. Use LinkedIn to strengthen networking relationships, instead of just pushing your own agenda.

Update your information

Now’s a good time to update your LinkedIn profile. A 2020 report by Kinsta stated 90% of recruiters use LinkedIn. Make sure your profile is optimized with keywords that relate to the strengths and skills you have that your ideal job requires.

Don’t be afraid to reach out

There’s a good chance you have several connections in your LinkedIn network that could help you transition into a new career. Take a leap of faith and send them a direct message or an email to see if they know of any opportunities for someone looking to make a change. Make sure your message is professional, and avoid sending canned, mass-produced messages at all costs. Personalize your messages to the individual you’re networking with for the best results.

6. Update Your Resume

Even after you’ve landed your dream position, you should always make sure your resume is up-to-date. You never know when a new opportunity will present itself. An updated resume that can be sent at a moment’s notice is an absolute necessity.

Resumes need to be compatible with online applicant tracking systems, so make sure your resume is properly formatted. Like LinkedIn, it should contain keywords that are relevant to your experience as well as to the position you want to get. Focus on highlighting experience that is most relevant to the new career you’re interested in.

Always be ready for what’s next

Your first midlife career change may not be your last. You should always maintain respectful relationships among current and past coworkers who may be able to offer recommendations for you or point you to a more fulfilling career path in the future. 

Show future employers your initiative by developing new skills with continued learning, and never stop honing your skill set. What you learn may inspire you to pursue a new career path, as well.

If you’re having a mid-career crisis and think you may be open to finding a new career, online education can help. You can take courses in a variety of subjects, including fintech and social media, and learn on your own schedule. Check out our innovative online business courses from Wharton Online.