5 Ugly Myths About Changing Career in Your 30s

Traditionally, being in your 20s is seen as a time to be footloose and fancy free, to conclude your education, to explore your career options and to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. But by the time you turn 30, it’s generally expected that you’ll be working on ways to advance on your chosen career path.

However, if you find in your 30s that your career isn’t fulfilling, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life dreading the sound of your alarm clock — there’s still time to shift gears and go in a totally different direction. You just have to be prepared for naysayers — even well-meaning friends and family members — who will question your judgment.

Here are five myths you can expect to hear cited by these naysayers, along with helpful advice for successfully changing careers in your 30s.

‘That’s Totally Impractical/You Should Know What You Want to Do’

This common myth is based on the fear of change, which can lead you to stick with a decision and its resulting course regardless of whether it’s making you unhappy. Just remember that it’s totally acceptable to change your mind. “When you were 5 years old and someone asked you what you wanted to be, do you still want to do that? Chances are, probably not,” says Becca Shelton, assistant director for career services at the University of Richmond. Shelton works with adult learners, alumni and experienced professionals who are seeking career guidance.

“Our ideas change, our vision for ourselves changes over time, and that’s one of the beautiful things about being a human being,” Shelton says. Most people spend at least 40 hours a week at work, which is more than 2,000 hours a year. “That’s a lot over a lifetime, so you should ask yourself if your job allows you to use your strengths and be the best version of yourself,” Shelton says.

One person who knows something about change is Cortney McDermott, a TEDx speaker, strategist to Fortune 500 executives and entrepreneurial leaders and the author of “Change Starts Within You: Unlock the Confidence to Lead with Intuition.” Before she became an entrepreneur, McDermott was an executive at Vanity Fair Corp. and Sustainability Partners, a professor of graduate studies for a Big Ten university and a global associate for beCause Consortium.

“When we start to listen to our intuition — that inner force that urges us to change and grow — we have to be prepared to meet with other people’s fears, as well as our own ingrained ideas about what’s ‘practical’ or ‘realistic,’ ” McDermott says. “If this myth is plaguing you now, see if you can find one or more sources — such as podcasts or books — or people to reinforce your confidence in what’s possible.”

McDermott says she has used this technique to reinvent herself several times. “Remember: realists don’t change the world. Unrealistic people do,” she says.

‘You’re Too Old/It’s Too Late’

Who gets to determine when it’s too late to change course? “When I was working as a corporate executive, I dreamed of becoming a writer,” McDermott says. The few people who she confided in always expressed doubt about such a major change. The consistent message was that she should stick with what she was doing. “Luckily, I didn’t — but what I did do was to start small, dedicating a morning window for this passion every day before work and often again in the evenings.” McDermott says her story offers proof that it’s never too late.

Here’s something else to consider: Shelton notes that people in their 30s probably aren’t far past the halfway mark to retirement. “With the workplace being more fluid, so are skill sets and how they are applied to different jobs and careers,” she says.

‘No One Is Going to Hire You’

Changing jobs in your 30s is one thing, but changing careers is a different concept. How will employers view a job candidate in this age group applying for their first job in this field? Probably the same way they view everyone else — and the hiring manager might be impressed that you have the guts to follow your dreams.

“When preparing for the interview, identify your transferable skills that would be related to your target industry, and be able to talk about how you used those skills,” says Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, assistant dean of the career management center at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business.

Saunders-Cheatham recommends networking to find jobs. “Leverage your alumni network. Schedule informational meetings. Take people out for coffee and ask questions about what they do, trends in the industry, company goals and challenges.”

Another key is to embrace LinkedIn. Saunders-Cheatham says it isn’t enough to just set up the basics on the site. “You need to tailor your profile to the role and industry and highlight keywords that are relevant to the industry so that recruiters can find you.”

Her other LinkedIn tips include the following:

  • Set alerts.
  • Follow relevant companies.
  • Join relevant groups, including your alumni and industry groups.
  • Learn how to use LinkedIn to find contacts in specific fields and reach out to them for information.
  • Use the site’s new mentorship platform.

‘If You Get Hired, You’ll Have to Start at the Bottom’

The naysayers will say you’ll have to take an entry-level position, so you’ll be starting over and spending years trying to get re-established. “While it’s unlikely that you will jump right into a senior level position, don’t ever dismiss the amount of experience, skills and talents you have developed throughout your career so far,” Shelton says. “Think of your skills as a tool box — what’s in your tool box and how can you help employers solve problems?”

‘You’ll Have to Go Back To School, Which Is Expensive and Will Take Too Much Time’

Changing careers can indeed require additional training and education, but it doesn’t have to mean a new four-year degree. “Maybe there is a certificate you can pick up, or other training that will give you an edge, but this is all part of your story,” Shelton says. “It is important to know your story, own your story, and articulate that to others.”

If you know you’ll need to go back to school full time, she recommends that you start making plans. “Know that there are many flexible educational programs available for those working full time who want to expand their knowledge and marketability.” Some programs are offered online, and some are at night or on the weekend, making them more likely to fit your schedule. There also are grants and scholarships available, based on your major, location, age and other factors.

Changing careers in your 30s might not be easy, but it can definitely be accomplished. Now that you know the myths — and the truth — you can make an informed decision.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in March 2016, and substantially updated in August 2018.

How to Attract and Retain the Best Employees in 2016

As colleges crank out more graduates, our economy’s pool of potential employees grows. Selecting and enticing the right ones are going to be paramount to any business strategy in 2016, especially because the pool is diluted to the brim with mediocre to average prospective hires. Many business are going to need to brush up on hiring and retention strategies if they want to attract and retain the best employees in 2016.

Polish That Glass Door

It wasn’t long ago that employers began carefully scrutinizing their prospective employees Facebook profiles to determine more about them than they may be letting on in the first interview. It didn’t take long for potential hires to turn the tables. Websites like Glassdoor offer a place for employees around the world to review their places of work, list pro’s and con’s, and rate the company’s CEO. It’s basically like Yelp! for the job-seeking world. Building up your talent brand means ensuring that your organization is represented in the job market as the employer of choice via online profiles and employee reviews. This also includes social media, as sometimes Facebooking and Tweeting employees serve as your best talent brand ambassadors.

Prepare, and Be Snappy

You think you’re the only business looking to hire talent? Businesses are going to be competing for the best all throughout 2016, so make sure yours is snappy. Demonstrating that you respect their time and gather as much information as you can in a short amount of time via personality tests and video conferencing. On the flip side, if you are looking to get to know your employees a little better before you hire them full time, consider establishing internship programs. Not only does this gain you the ability to observe somebody’s work before hiring them, but it also gives you an edge with the first pick of the best college students before they even graduate.

Offer a Partnership Instead of a Job

Two-thirds of companies will face an internal skills shortage in the next three to five years, and only 30% of employees are satisfied with the future career opportunities within their organizations, according to Eremedia.The solution to this is not to offer “jobs” to candidates, but instead to offer a partnership, or a trade of sorts.

In return for their hard work (and their paycheck of course!), explain to your prospective hire what types of skills they will be learning that will make them more employable in the future, either for positions they may obtain via internal promotion, or at another company. It’s ok to recognize that your employee might not stay with you forever, and most potential hires will probably appreciate the honesty.

Recognize that no candidate is perfect, but that they can be trained to get pretty close. This type of flexibility and willingness to up-train a bit will also help fill the hard-to-hire positions left void by the STEM skills gap. Also, recognize that attitude and soft skills can be more important than having all of the hard skills. What is important is the career aspiration and that you have a candidate that’s looking toward their future. Those candidates are the ones that want to better themselves, which will, in turn, better your business.

Give Better Perks Than Coffee

Traditional benefits packages include health insurance, 401k, a of couple vacation hours, and probably free coffee on the jobsite–but traditional benefits packages aren’t enough to attract the best and brightest anymore. Millennials, the majority of your incoming workforce, are changing the way the workforce views perks. More laid back dress codes and flexible work hours fall in line with the new Generation’s valued self-expression. More flexible work hours and work-from-home options highlight your understanding that they place just as much importance on spending time with their families and their pursuing their passions as they do on working for your business and earning money. Make sure that your employee is happy, and your employee will make you happy.

Encourage Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Business author Daniel Pink believes that all workers actually want only to be provided three things: the autonomy to do their jobs, however they have to, the opportunity to master their trade, and that purpose beyond earning a buck is inherent in their work. The workplace is changing to reflect these realities is apparent, as more people are being offered flexible scheduling, up-training, and the chance to work for companies that better the world and do more than just “make money.” Initiatives as simple as going green at the office can provide that purpose. These three principles show that even employees that don’t have all of the hard skills can be guided to learn them because inherently people want to be good at what they do. If you provide an environment in which an employee can excel by giving them those three basic things, they’ll better themselves, they’ll better your company, and they’ll stick with you for as long as they can.

By adhering to these principles and preparing for the new generation’s wants and needs, you’ll be attracting top talent throughout 2016. Miss any essential tips that I missed? Comment below.

photo credit: #1 via photopin (license)

So Much for the Job Have Nots: #TChat Recap

“All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew…”

–Neil Peart

They sat in the front pews listening to our advice. The air conditioning didn’t work, so fans swirled warm air from back and forth between the open doors and windows, like restless dreams of the unknown. They listened with guarded optimism, looking tired, a little lost.

We talked about résumé best practices and where to look for jobs and how to optimize and leverage online professional profiles and where to find freelance and project work. We talked about volunteering and getting involved in your local community, not only to give back, but to exchange with one another via networking reciprocity; we never know where our next opportunity could come from. At one point toward the end of my segment, I forced a smile, thinking of my own career path, the highs and lows and mediocre in-betweens. I wiped my sweaty brow and looked toward the windows, already somewhat regretting my metaphorical cliche.

“Keep all those windows of opportunity open you find throughout your careers,” I said. “You never know when you’ll need them.”

These were the job have nots — working-class to middle-class folk who have lost their jobs, whose careers have ground to a halt, whose personal lives have gotten in the way of their professional ones. This was also my latest experience volunteering with Hirewire, a local organization to help job seekers in Santa Cruz County with career development and job search advice.

Consider one of the Hirewire attendees, an aerospace engineer in his late 50s out of work for nearly three years, struggling to fill the hole in his résumé and remain relevant and to again become employable.

Consider another of the Hirewire attendees, a service delivery professional in his early 40s out of work for over a year, struggling to find value in the local employment office workshops and counseling sessions.

Consider my best friend from college. In 1987 he wanted to be an airline pilot. He finished his college degree, flew hundreds of hours, finished all his flying certifications and — wallah — he became an airline pilot, first flying for a commuter airline and then for a global transport airline. But then just last month — wallah — he was out of a job, laid off due to the continued economic ice age.

Consider the thousands of men and women given highly skilled training to defend us near and abroad, to then find themselves again as civillians drowning in double-digit unemployment.

Consider the millions of high school graduates (and many more of those who didn’t graduate) who fight for a finite number of low-wage jobs while being shuffled to and fro from social service to social service and then told to look ahead, figure it out and find a job.

Figure what out, exactly? Sometimes the truth is contrary for the job have nots. And sometimes it’s a breath of fresh air, like the note I recently received from another friend of mine:

All is moving along for me…I’m doing some interesting work with companies both inside and outside of the HR space which is keeping things fresh. And still managing to find (some) balance in life by following your advice from the last time we spoke about “keeping all the windows open.”

Ah, so much for metaphorical clichés — so much is needed to warm the world of work again. So much has been lost during the darkest of modern economic winters. So much needs to be reinvented and reinvested.

So much for the job have nots.

Thank you for joining us yesterday. Your tweets couldn’t have come at a better time for the job have nots. If you missed the preview, click here.