Is making a career change late in life possible?

Elaine Varelas advises on things to consider when making a career change later in life.

Q. I was listening to the “Find Your Dream Job Podcast" hosted by Mac Prichard, and the guest, Mark Allred, shared a metaphor that caught my attention. It said that in our careers we often climb the ladder only to find out that the ladder is against the wrong wall. That’s it! I’m late in my career and I’m completely unhappy. What can I do about it now?

A. There must have been a reason you chose to listen to the podcast about finding your dream job. It would be interesting to see what your thoughts and motivations were that led you to the career you are in, which is making you unhappy. You can absolutely make a career change late in your career, and “late” is relative.  Are you 40 or 60?  This kind of change will involve significant introspection into what your motivators are and what matters to you most. For example, does money outweigh happiness? There are many people who are unhappy in their career but stay for financial reasons. Your willingness to prioritize what's most important will be paramount in being able to really make a change.

Are you willing to take apart your entire resume and job experience and look at it by competency and skillset and put each of those building blocks together in an entirely new way? Are you willing to get new certifications if needed or take classes? Are you willing to invest the time, money, and emotional energy that it would take to work with a career consultant?Are you willing to learn to network as an expert? If you've answered yes to all these questions, then you can absolutely make a change.

Most people don't recognize the wide range of skill sets that they have because they've used them either in the same role or in the same industry for an extended period of time, but rearranging the job Jenga blocks can absolutely create a new structure, a new role, and new opportunities. For example, a background as a career consultant in higher education could translate to a role with a career transition firm. A role as a physician could translate to a role as an executive coach to physicians. There are many other examples and asking people how they found their current job will give you great insight into how these changes can happen.

It’s important to identify what's making you want a change. Is it the work? Is it your colleagues? Is it your boss? Is it the environment? Is it a lack of challenging work and growth in the role? Identifying these things and being brutally honest with yourself will hopefully lead you to the answers that you would like and give you the best starting point.

As you look at making a change, consider that you have a role or function, and you are in an industry. Which one will be easier to change? If your industry is easier to change, get into the industry that you would like in a role like what you're in. And once you are in the industry that you like, it will be that much easier to change the role that you're in. For example, a finance guy in an investment firm wants to be in private school setting.  The function, finance is his strongest skill and private schools value his industry experience, so he makes that change. This is the first step among many in identifying his ideal role.

There are many books that can provide expert guidance on career transitions and help you frame this process. What Color Is Your Parachute is a great guide for career changers and provides tools for self-reflection. My colleague at Essex Partners recently co-authored a book, Finding a Job That Loves You Back: The Three Conversations That Will Take You From Wherever You Are To Wherever You Discover You Want To Go. Their framework and tools give you the steps to move towards a more satisfying career path. But working with just a book is hard. Working with a book AND a career consultant will make that process easier. The best way to find an exceptional career coach is by word of mouth. Talk to other people who have gone through similar transitions and recognize that this won't happen overnight, but it is possible. Most changes don't happen in one step. Every slight change you make that addresses the things that have been making you unhappy will lead you closer to a more fulfilling career.