Faced with a wobbly economy, thousands of US workers are thinking about changing careers. In fact, a recent study from Bellevue University found that one in four Americans are considering switching professional paths.
But tackling a career change in midlife can be complicated. You’ve got responsibilities, bills, and established families—and lots and lots of questions. Am I making the right decision? Can I afford to change directions? Going back to school seems overwhelming, but is it the best choice?
We’ve rounded up expert opinions to help you tackle your most common questions. So read on and remember: it’s never too late to make a change!
1. Am I changing careers for the right reason?
Dawn McKay, a career planning pro at About.com, says there are at least six excellent reasons to change careers:
- There’s been a big change in your life circumstances like a birth, an illness, or a major move.
- The job outlook in your field has taken a turn for the worse.
- You’re experiencing severe job burn-out and can’t stand coming into work.
- The general stress-level in your industry is always on red alert and it has become too much to handle.
- You’re constantly bored and can’t grow in your current career area.
- Your earning power is limited by your present career.
Do any of these reasons sound familiar? It could be time for a switch.
2. Should I follow my passion?
Not necessarily. According to Cal Newport, author of Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You, career changers should start with their skills, not their passions.
“Ask yourself: What skills do I have and how rare and valuable are they? The intersection of your rare skills and what interests you is what should start your job hunt, not introspection about what you’re ‘meant to do.’”
The take-away advice? Start your job search by looking for a career that will play to your strengths.
3. Can I afford a career change?
“When you start over in a new career you need to be in good financial health to help smooth your transition,” says Kerry Hannon, a career transition and retirement expert. “This allows you to try new things without stressing over the initial salary.”
She offers these additional tips:
- Create a budget for your expenses. Work out the logistics before you make a change, so you can be sure you’ve got your bases covered.
- If you’re going back to school, look into what financial aid offerings and tax breaks might be available to you. Depending on your income, you might qualify for various tax credits, such as the lifetime learning credit, worth up to $2,000 each year for an unlimited number of years.
- Switching careers can result in an initial cut in pay. Adjust your budget sooner rather than later to help make up the difference.
- Doing the math ahead of time will give you a clear picture of what’s possible and help you create a practical timeline for making a change.
4. How will a career change impact my family?
A career change can result in dramatic shifts to your work life: think transition from a 9-5 gig to working from home as a freelancer. When considering a shift, figure out the logistics to determine if it’s feasible for your family situation.
You also need to get your family on-board with your change. As Jessica McGregor Johnson, an international empowerment coach, points out “change by its very nature is scary. There is always an element of us that likes to maintain the status quo, even if we know that the change could be good for us or someone we love.” Help your family by having open conversations about why you’re making a change and how it will impact each of them.
5. Do I need to go back to school to change my career?
Not all career change requires more formal education. However, if you’re planning on jumping into a total new arena, Hannon suggests “ramping up new skills and possibly adding a certificate or degree to show you have some expertise in the area.”
More importantly, keep learning in all areas of your life (for example, Hannon recommends staying on top of changes in technology and social media). Embrace lifelong learning as the key to staying adaptable, flexible, and employable.
Are you thinking about a big career change? Tell us how you’re preparing in the comments.
Annie Favreau works for Inside Jobs, a career exploration site that helps people figure out what they want to become and find the right education to make it happen. Explore your career options at Inside Jobs.