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How to change careers after 40 (and which ones are best!)

Hack Reactor

How to change careers after 40

By Wendy Gittleson For Hack Reactor

A couple of generations ago, a career was more or less locked in stone. The expectation was that you’d start with a company, work your way through the ranks, and retire with a healthy pension. Today we have transferrable retirement accounts, which gives people the mobility to change careers, and we do. The average American will have between 5-7 careers in their lifetimes.

Most career changes are from one job to a related one. For example, a restaurant server might become a restaurant owner or a bookkeeper might become an accountant. A recent study from Indeed found that nearly half of Americans (49 percent) made a dramatic career change in their lifetime, such as marketing to engineering, or teaching to finance, and the average age of the career change was 39. 

A Time survey showed that 54 percent of respondents had no choice but to find a new career. They lost their jobs because of downsizing or restructuring. Others cited reasons such as wanting new challenges, management problems, wanting to make more money, and a desire to feel appreciated.

Changing careers mid-life is daunting, even when you aren’t being thrust into the job market. Most spend close to a year considering a change before taking the leap. Without adequate planning, older workers could find themselves struggling against age discrimination. That doesn’t mean those over 40 shouldn’t switch careers. With a little training and forethought, mid-career professionals can land the job of their dreams.

Think practically

If you think about it, it’s remarkable that we expect that high school and college-aged people are ready to plan their lives. Most of us are still trying to figure out who we are well into our 20s. By the time we’ve had a couple of decades in the real world, we have a much better idea of what we find rewarding, and with age comes a certain amount of pragmatism.

Before jumping into a new career, take a good look at your finances. Can you afford to be unemployed for an undefined length of time? Can you afford to go to a university or is a shorter career training program a better fit? Can you dedicate yourself to full-time training, or do you need to fit career training around your work schedule?

Research careers

While 40 is hardly over the hill, certain careers might be unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come close. For example, now is probably not the time to become a professional athlete, but if sports are your passion, consider coaching or becoming a personal trainer. 

Research the types of jobs that are in demand right now and will likely remain in demand in the future. Take inventory of your existing skills and decide what you want out of a career and what you need. Consider expanding your education.

Establish goals

By the time you reach your 40s, life can be overwhelming. You may have a spouse and children, and if you’re lucky, a job that gets you through your transition. It’s a good idea to create goals that fit with your lifestyle. How many hours a week can you dedicate to your career change? How many months or years will it take you to update your skills? With a little discipline and patience, your dream job will become a reality.

Best careers for those over 40

We’ve taken a look at Glassdoor’s annual ranking of best careers. Nearly all the jobs in the top 10 are easily achievable by anyone in their 40s. You’ll also note a trend: most are in tech fields, and for most positions, either a part-time program or a short-term bootcamp will provide the skills needed for a rewarding six-figure career, for much less money than if you were to attend a university.

Front-end engineer

If one of your existing skills involves working with people, you might consider front-end engineering. Front-end engineers develop websites to meet clients’ needs. Qualifications include knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. In most cases, advanced degrees are not needed. Most companies just want to know that you know your stuff. A coding bootcamp may be all you need. The median base salary is just over $100,000 per year.

Java developer

Java is one of the most popular computer languages in the world, which is why Java developers are so in demand. Java is known for its speed and scalability, which makes it perfect for computer games, corporate software, and mobile apps. Java developers’ median income is around $85,000 per year.


Data scientist

For the first time in the last five years, data scientist was bumped off the top of the list of best careers, but at number three, it’s still highly in demand and very well paying. Data scientists gather data and organize it in ways that help their companies understand their customers or to help solve problems. If you are analytical and good with numbers, data science might be an ideal new career. A data science bootcamp could put you well on your way to making over $100,000 per year. 

Product manager

A product manager supervises every step in bringing a new product to market. Qualified product managers should have a background in marketing. Many positions require advanced degrees. While a product manager isn’t a tech job per se, it is a collaborative position, and using a bootcamp or part-time computer language program can give applicants a leg up on the competition. The median income for a project manager is close to $120,000 per year. 

DevOps engineer

DevOps engineers are similar to product managers in that it’s a collaborative role, but DevOps engineer is also a tech role. Their job is to oversee software products throughout their life cycles. DevOps engineers’ median salary is over $100,000 per year, and a coding bootcamp can provide the skills needed for most companies.

Data engineer

While a data engineer is similar to a data scientist in many ways, data scientists use advanced mathematics and complex algorithms while data engineers build the infrastructure and architecture to generate the data. Data engineers should master languages such as SQL and Python, and have experience with platforms. Advanced degrees are generally not required. A part-time training program may be all that’s needed to earn around $100,000 per year.

Software engineer

Software engineers design, build, and maintain computer software programs. A skilled software engineer should know multiple languages, which can be learned through either a bootcamp or a part-time program. Advanced degrees are typically not required to earn over $100,000 per year. 

Speech and language pathologist

Speech and language pathologists help people of all ages overcome speech problems. Some may hire a speech pathologist to overcome a stutter. Speech and language pathologists help rehabilitate people recovering from strokes or traumatic brain injuries. Graduate schools may look for those who have undergraduate degrees in psychology, phonetics, math, or science. It is one of the few top careers that requires an advanced degree. Those with master’s degrees can expect to earn around $70,000 per year. 

Strategy manager

A strategy manager is a collaborative role at the core of companies’ decision making. They work across all silos and multiple teams to help determine and implement business strategies. Most companies require MBAs. An ideal candidate might come from marketing or business management. A strategy manager is the highest paid job on the list, with an annual median salary of about $135,000.

Business development manager

A business development manager is a sales role on a larger scale. They acquire and follow up on sales leads, typical with the goal of attracting long-term clients as opposed to a single sale. Business development managers also work alongside those servicing clients to ensure all needs are met as promised. Many companies require bachelor’s degrees, and depending on the type of product or service, a background in the industry. The median income for a business development manager is about $80,000 per year.