career change at 40

Mid Career Change – 4 Tips on How to Do it

Making a mid career change, a career change around the age of 40 or 45, is a courageous decision. It is possible for anyone in their mid-life to do this, as long as they understand the trade-offs involved.

Below is a great question I received from a reader who is considering a mid career change, and 4 tips I had for her that would make this change possible.

career change at 40Reader question:  How realistic and practical is it for me to change careers at the age of 40? 
Here’s my background:

I’ve been working for the past 18 years doing Electrical Engineering work – particularly, I am in ASIC design verification. After college, I went on to get my Masters. I then worked at 3 companies for the last 20 years.  I have been at my current job for 3.5 years.

When my son was born in 2000, I was able to work part-time for 9.5 years.  I also had a daughter in 2003. I really enjoyed the flexibility of working part-time and being able to enjoy my kids.  Career-wise, I was quite stagnant, but I thought it was a good trade-off for being able to spend time with my kids.  I was able to work for 9.5 years part-time because I was with the same group the whole time.

I started working full time in the last 5 years. During this time, I have grown a lot in my engineering career.  I still value work life balance, so I never pursued opportunities in management and took the individual contributor route.  As an individual contributor, management valued me a lot and gave me lots of flexibility to be with my kids.

However, we have a new CEO at my current company, and it looks like ASIC development will come to halt soon, so I will be looking for a new job. If I wanted to continue being an ASIC engineer, it should be no problem since I have the expertise and the connections.

The problem is that I am tired of being an ASIC engineer. The only reason why I have done it for so long is because it has allowed me to have the flexibility to be with my kids. I don’t feel much job satisfaction.  I think the problem is that I see that in the long term, if I were to excel at what I do,I will either have to become a chief architect type of person, or go up the management track.   I am honestly not technically gifted enough to be a chief architect.  I also have no interest in the management track, because I really have no interest in managing ASIC products.

I want to try something new.  I want to find something where I don’t feel like a fake.  I think the ideal job for me would be a technical product support specialist at an exciting software company.  

But how do I convince an employer to give me a chance?   Is it possible to apply for a university graduate position even though I have 18 years of experience in something else?  That is basically what I want to do.  I’m guessing I have at least 20 more working years working ahead of me, and I can’t imagine working as an ASIC engineer for 20 more years!  So I would like to start somewhere.

Thanks for your thoughts.


mid career changeEleanor,

Thanks for sending me your background and questions.  I can completely understand the choice you made to stay in ASIC development until this point. I made similar decisions for my career while I was having kids.  I can also understand why you want to make a change.  I really applaud you for exploring this new and exciting route.

My overall thought is: You can do anything you want to as long as you are okay with the trade-offs (such as lesser pay, lower level,etc).   From reading your email, it sounds like you are, and that’s good start.   It’s also good that you know what you want to try next.

As for your specific questions, “How do I convince an employer to give me a chance? Is it possible to apply for a university graduate position even though I have 18 years of experience in something else? ” Here are 4 tips:

  1. Have a good story, and convince yourself first.  Before you can convince someone else to give you a chance, you need to be convinced that you should be given the chance. You need to be able to convincingly answer questions like, “Why are you a better hire than a college graduate? Why are you willing to take the same pay as a college graduate? Are you okay with reporting to someone much younger than you?” I think you have a good story that makes sense, and makes you more valuable than a college graduate. You need to believe that first, then you can convince employers.
  2. Be bold in your communication.   How you communicate your story also matters.  Don’t talk to employers like you are asking for permission to have them pay you less and try a new career.  That will not help you.  Instead, go in with a clear purpose, and communicate why it’s so much more beneficial for them to hire you than a college graduate.  For example, you will have proven soft skills (ability to work well with customers and team members) and smarts (you can learn quickly even though you are older, because you are passionate and were an engineer).
  3. Expect mixed responses.  Not every employer will be sold on your story.  That’s okay.  That’s the case even when you don’t switch careers.  Don’t be discouraged if some people are skeptical.  Some people are not that open minded, or may be scared of you as competition, since you may take over their jobs if you prove to be really good.   You only need one employer to say yes to get your foot in the door.
  4. Networking into a job is better than applying directly.  You have the benefit of a large college network, colleagues, and friends/family.  Utilize that network to find out more about the new career you want to be in, and ask people to help you get in the door.  You are much more likely to get your foot in the door of any new career through a warm introduction.  Here are some ways to network:
    1. Do your research on companies you are interested in working for
    2. See who you know in the company, and find out if you can get warm introductions to the hiring department
    3. Hone your story, so every time you talk to someone about your desire to switch careers, they quickly understand why and how they should help you.
    4. Be specific with your request.  The more prescriptive you are with your request, the easier it is for a contact to help you.
I hope this helps.  Here are a few articles I have written on my website that can give you more tips about switching careers and networking:
Let me know if you have more questions or want to chat more.   Best wishes.  I am excited for your new adventure.  I think employers will be lucky to have you.

Keep me posted 🙂

Your commentsAre you considering a mid-career change?  What is your biggest challenge?  Add your comments and questions below.  Let’s have a discussion.

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