Everything you need to know to leave your current job with confidence — and start a new career that you'll love.

“I have spent 4 years getting a degree in accounting, then built a career as an auditor at a mid-sized firm. I am thinking about leaving my job to become a nurse. Is this completely irresponsible and insane? Is it too late? Or should I follow my heart and go for it, even if I'm in my 30s?”

You might think that questions like this are an exception, not the norm — and you would be mistaken. No matter which numbers you turn to, there's no denying that today's professionals are changing jobs (and careers) frequently. A survey from the University of Phoenix reveals that nearly three-quarters of professionals in their 30s are interested in changing careers. So, you're definitely not alone! And, despite common misconceptions, you may actually have a leg up compared to brand-new college grads in that field.

For one, you have an established track record and a professional history, and have demonstrated character traits and work habits. The employer may see your experience elsewhere as a bonus and an opportunity for cross-pollination of best practices. After all, great ideas are often born at the intersection of seemingly unrelated fields and experiences!

On the other hand, a complete career change in your 30s carries a fair amount of risk, too. You may need additional training. In the case above, combining nursing school with a full-time job in accounting would be impractical. She'll need a plan for covering her living expenses and tuition without a reliable paycheck from her current job. And, once you land a job in your new career, you may experience a pay cut while you work your way up the ranks.  

So, what should you do?

Begin with “why”

For one, you will have to face the “Why?” question from your concerned parents, surprised co-workers, and befuddled friends. You may as well spend some time crafting a good answer!

In all seriousness, being able to crystallize your “why” isn't for other people's benefit; it's for you. Yes, there is less stigma these days about changing careers, but that's not an excuse to take it lightly!

Perhaps you didn't get to choose your current career — but instead followed that path at the urging of your well-intentioned family members. Maybe you've developed a strong interest in an emerging field that didn't exist as a career option when you were in school. Or maybe you've had a major change in perspective. Find and verbalize your reason “why,” because you will need to tap into its power when you inevitably hit some road bumps.

Understand the trade-offs

Let's start by busting a few common stereotypes about a career change in your 30s:

  • No, it's not too late to try something new. You have another 30–40 productive years ahead of you!

  • No, your age won't be an automatic turn-off for your future employers. Many employers actually prefer candidates with an established track record.

  • No, it's not a “complete waste” of the money you've invested in your education so far, or the time you've spent pursuing your first career. Many skills and experiences are transferable.

Having said that, it would be dishonest to imply that you won't have to make some sacrifices. If you have to go back to school, you might have to give up the steady paycheck from your current job. You need to think through your lifestyle choices and financial reserves, as well as consider ways to pay for additional education.

Related: How Does Money Come in During a Career Change?

You must also be prepared to start closer to the bottom of the ladder once employed in your new field of choice. For example, if the person above leaves their current job as an accounting manager to become a nurse, they can't expect to step into the role of a charge nurse immediately.

Trade-offs shouldn't automatically discourage you from pursuing your dream — but they should force you to stress-test your willingness and ability to endure hardship. After all, rose-colored glasses won't help you when you step off the cliff with no safety net to catch you!

Master the language

You may not have spent years in your new field (yet), but it doesn't mean you know nothing about it. Many principles and approaches you've learned so far will remain relevant and useful. You may just need to dress them up in new clothes!

Begin by reading job descriptions and LinkedIn profiles for professionals in the industry that interests you. Be sure to make note of any keywords that you see over and over again — and research any terms you don't fully understand. If your new field has any thought leaders who host a podcast or have a blog, it could be a fantastic entry point for picking up the language of the craft!

Connection is everything

When you are changing careers in your 30s, effective networking isn't just something you do if and when you feel up to it. Being able to connect to the right people may spell the difference between launching a fantastically successful second career and languishing in job board limbo.

Don't know anyone in the new field? Not to worry! That's what your second- and third-degree connections are for! Tap into who you already know, ask for introductions, and you will be amazed at how connected the professional world really is.

One word of caution: It's wise to remember that networking works best when it benefits everyone. Take some time to reconnect with your network and to add value — before you ask for favors.

Related: Lost Touch? How to Reconnect With People in Your Network

Leverage your experience and strengths

When you are starting something completely new, it's easy to feel like a first-grader surrounded by high-school grads. Don't get intimidated! Yes, you have much to learn — and you already know so much.

If you are struggling with imposter syndrome, set aside a couple of hours to do a full inventory of your professional experience so far. Focus on transferable skills, experiences that have taught you something valuable, and ways you can contribute to your new field. This may be difficult at first, but trust that the dots will connect.

Everything you need to know about making a career change in your 30s

A career change in your 30s is possible. Today's professional world is full of opportunities that didn't exist two decades ago, and it's also a lot more accepting of those who chose to begin something new. However, it's wise to acknowledge that you are no longer in your 20s. Yes, you have plenty of options in front of you, but you may also have financial and personal responsibilities that can't be renegotiated.

Pursuing a new professional track means taking on a risk. Go in with eyes wide open. Do your research, lean on your network, and prepare a financial cushion that will buffer the inevitable discomfort while you build up your traction.

Finally, enlist the help of experts, especially when it comes to your new resume. A successful job search will likely require a complete overhaul of how you present your career, skills, and accomplishments on your resume.

Looking to make a career change and want to ensure your resume is up to the task? Submit it now for an expert review — on us!

Our career advice expert, Amanda Augustine, recently shared her tips on career change in your 30s with Create & Cultivate.  Click here to read the full article.

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