Navigating a career change at 35 can be really hard and complex to get through. Quite honestly, it probably feels impossible and may completely deter you from even considering it. As someone who has gone through several massive career changes herself and landed eventually landed in an HR executive role, I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way—a career change at 35 is definitely possible, and in some cases, a near requirement in order to progress professionally. In this post, we give you a bit of perspective and helpful advice on how to execute a career change without missing a beat in the workplace and most importantly with style and grace, of course. Let me tell you: a woman who is interested in making a career change is a woman after my heart. If I had a dollar for each time I wanted to explore another career option, I’d be wealthy—eliminating the need to work (yes, that many times). But having curiosity doesn’t necessitate a full career pivot. However, for women whose curiosity extends far beyond a fleeting thought, a full career change might be worth exploring. This type of career move might be less intimidating when you have fewer life commitments. You may even be more adventurous at a younger, carefree age. By time you’ve hit the sweetheart years in your mid-thirties a career change feels counterproductive. We think our mid-thirties are supposed to be when career exploration is largely done. We should be thoughtfully contributing to our 401K’s and pensions, not daydreaming about a vastly different career. And to that, I call complete and utter bullsh*t. You’re about to get more career advice you never considered.
But First, Let’s Talk About the Great Resignation
If we learned anything in 2021/2, we learned from the Great Resignation that people have options and many of them are willing to explore them. Gone are the days when you let your career happen to you. Women have decided to lead the charge in demanding more money, equal pay, and transparency. If it didn’t align with our values, resigning became the next best option. But then as we returned to the workforce, we returned to different careers than the ones we once had.
Seeing this happen as an HR professional, the amount of sheer joy and elation I felt was immeasurable.
I saw women leading in such an impactful way.
All good things come with an opposite, right? In reviewing data, I noticed a drop-off in a career change at 35. In other words, women at the age of 35 weren’t making career changes as often as other women in their 30s. My immediate thought was: 1. I hope women don’t think 35 is too old for a career transition and; 2. Why is 35 the age at which this matters? For context, at the time of this blog post, I am 35 years old myself to add prospective. So, on one hand, I totally get it, to some, this personal is a milestone age. I always felt this was the age that you have your life figured out and it’s smooth sailing from then on. Is this true for some awesome millennial women? Absolutely. Is the dead opposite true for other awesome women? Yep.
Humans have an intrinsic fear of change and it’s completely normal. A career change may leave us feeling vulnerable, lacking the comfort and direction of relative job security. Depending on what’s triggering a career transition, that may not be a desired outcome.
Reasons to Consider a Career Transition
We know the obvious reasons why people leave jobs or change employers—there’s no mystery there. You hear about how people leave bad managers, not the company. However, a career change and transition can come from even if someone stays at the same company. That said, let’s briefly chat about why someone would want to change directions.
Lack of Career Growth Opportunities
There are many career paths that don’t have the same upward trajectory as other paths. In other words, when you reach a certain level, the job market doesn’t recognize a more senior level. For some people, that may not cause an issue, they may be perfectly fine carrying our their professional life doing that specific thing. However, for others wanting to climb the corporate ladder, there may not be another level to ascend. You’ve essentially reached the apex of that career path. In that case, you may want to explore a career transition that has more headspace and upward growth opportunity.
Your Professional and/or Personal Interests Aren’t Aligned
It’s quite common that many people view their job as simply a means to the end and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, for a good amount of other people, their job has to serve some sort of personal fulfillment—which also makes sense. We spend the better part of our lives working so why not enjoy the time we spend doing it, right? If you fall into latter camp, you may want to consider a career change when the personal fulfillment just simply isn’t there. I will caveat that by saying you need to have a life outside of work! Your happiness should not solely depend on your work situation. But. when you find there is a true misalignment to how you spend your time at work, think about making a switch.
You Simply Need a Change
Job boredom is a real thing. Work apathy is also very real. If this doesn’t describe you (which I hope it doesn’t), you probably had co-workers like this. It ranges from downright hating your job, to just not caring about anything related to your role, neither are healthy places to be. Not only are you doing yourself a disservice, but this also probably also weighing heavy on your colleagues and manager. Sit down with yourself and have real think time about the cause for these things. If you feel like it’s the job itself, think about a similar role at a new company. The jolt of change may be enough to reinvigorate and recharge your passion. If the company still excites you, but the work doesn’t feel great, consider a new profession.
You’re Burned Out
I can think of about 4-5 careers that has a short self life; education, nursing, HR, management consulting, and investments. Okay, I named 6. The point is, I could probably keep the list growing without much trouble. There’s tons of industries that are just brutal. Whether it’s the lack of work life balance, under paid/under appreciated for the amount of work, it’s constant high stakes, or maybe you just bear the emotional weight day in and day out, burn out is an extremely high risk. Make the plunge if this is you.
You Just Want to…
I mean does this really need more? It’s totally fine to make a career change because something different piques your interests and you want to pursue it. Go for it. Do it. Cased closed. I’m sure you’re probably thinking about how you have your reason and now you need to figure out how to make the leap. If so, I got you.
But First, Let’s Talk About Why 35 Is Actually a Perfect Career Changing Age
Even though you’re 35, this is the ideal time to make a career change. You probably have a few years of work experience under your belt that you can easily leverage in most work environments. You have enough exposure to discern bad companies, to good ones, to amazing ones. The reason this is important is because you want to set yourself up for long term success by ensuring your company is the place that will embrace and support this kind of change for you. The last thing you need is a work environment that doesn’t allow for learning errors and the growth associated with it. A less obvious reason this is time is amazing is more about strategy. A career change at 35 gives you enough time and leeway to make the leap and still have time to earn meaningful promotions and salary increases before retirement. If you’re a newbie to your new profession, you may have to take two steps back to take three steps forward. In doing so, the time it takes for you to master a career level for promotion may not come as fast as you would expect. However, you’re still young enough to make up time.
Alright, So How Do You Actually Make This Change?
Great question. You do it with S-S-G, of course. Strategy. Style. Grace. I mentioned above how you probably have ‘grown lady bills.’ You may have children, a mortgage, a car note, whatever so you need to be mindful about what you can actually afford to do.
Step 1: Assess
The first step in this process is assessing where you want to go or do which would allow you to better address the comment above. Are you looking for a lateral move within the same profession. For example, maybe you’re interested moving from being an accountant to financial analyst, something where the skills are fairly close. Or are you making a more drastic change from being a recruiter to a producer in the marketing department? Think critically about the knowledge gaps you have. If you’re still in the same general profession like the finance example above, it’s likely that you have direct and relatable experience you can draw from. Making a leap from HR to marketing would be obviously be more challenging. In this case, your knowledge and skill gaps need to be addressed.
Step 2: Plan For Your Weaknesses and Upskill Yourself
You are definitely going to have areas to strengthen, but to be fair, we all do. A career change has the potential to expose a lack of knowledge or proficiency in basic areas. Don’t fall prey to this. There’s tons of incredible resources like LinkedIn Learning, SkillShare, Udemy, and Wonderium that offers cost-effective learning opportunities. You may also want to think about going back to school for a certification or second (or first) degree. Nowadays, many colleges offer continuing education courses, or accelerated degree programs worth looking into. I would also imagine that you probably have some sort of knowledge in your new area of focus although the technical component be missing. Take time to sharpen your skills. Understand that you’ll always be needing to be current in your knowledge. But again, you should be taking the time to do this anyway, career change or not.
Step 3: Find a Mentor, an Ally, an Advocate
Navigating a career change is hard enough, why not have someone in your corner while you figure it out? Your mentor should ideally be someone who is in your new profession, or someone who can at least understand what you’re trying to accomplish and the nuisances of your move. In the same vain, beef up your connections on LinkedIn. I find that’s a great resource to network with accomplished professionals outside of your network that you wouldn’t normally have access to. Ask a few people for their time, most people are more than willing to talk about their work, helping an interested party. Bonus points if this person can also help you land a new role.
Step 4: Dust Off and Spruce Up Your Resume
I’m sure you knew this was coming eventually. The steps above helps you essentially get to this point. Your resume is key to securing your next role in your career transition, so take care to invest a lot of time here. Figure out your transferable skills. These are abilities or skills that are applicable in any role, job, or profession.
The trick here is not to over-rely on the obvious ones, but to pull out and highlight the high-yield skills you have.
Everyone is going to say they have superb communication and time management abilities. As a hiring manager, we don’t even consider that because it should be a given. But do you have outstanding project management experience, or are you the office go-to because you have advanced Excel knowledge. Those things are worth calling out. Go through your resume and bring those things forward. Your resume should also indicate your interest in changing careers. In my opinion, cover letters are somewhat outdated, but interestingly enough, lots of employers still request them. If that’s the case, use that time to definitely address your career change.
Step 5: Be Ready to Amaze at Your Interview
This is yet another time to discuss your goals with this career move. The good thing is that by this point, you’ve done the heavy lifting and made it here. This is your opportunity to really shine with your personality and put more context to your goals. This is literally want you need. I won’t go too far into interview prep because that deserves a post all on its own. But if you’re going to take one thing from this, let me that your goal in an interview should be to try to make a human connection with the person. This is your entry point to sharing why you’re wanting to do something different. Prior to meeting with employers, you should have a quick 2-3 sentences talking about you and your career trajectory. Just to note: Your age should NEVER come up when interviewing. Anyone who asks you about your age, race, religion, ethnicity, or gender is breaking federal laws. I suspect this will never be an issue most of the time, but be aware that these type of questions are completely out of line, unprofessional, and illegal. It should be a red flag and you should even consider withdrawing your candidacy.
I fully understand leaving behind the known for the unknown is super uncomfortable, but there’s so much growth and promise on the other side once you get there. A career change at 35 is a great age to consider other professional options especially if it saves your sanity or creates more security for yourself. Give it a try! Let me know below if you ever made a career change. If so, how did you do it, and do you regret it?