Are You Ever Too Old to Change Careers?

Many people will at one time or another in their lives consider changing careers, only to talk themselves out of it due to their age. But the truth is, of all the factors that you should consider before deciding to change careers, age is nowhere near the top of the list. In fact, it really doesn’t make it on the list at all.

Simply put, if you’re asking yourself whether or not you’re too old to change careers, the answer is a resounding no. Whether you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or even your 60s, if you are serious about making a change, there’s a path that can get you where you want to be.

Instead of focusing on your age, we recommend you ask yourself different questions to help you decide whether or not a career change is right for you. We discuss these questions below.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Changing Careers

1. Why do you want to make a career change?

Before you decide to pursue a career change, it’s important to understand why you are considering it in the first place. Ask yourself: What’s your motivation for changing careers? What are your career goals? Is a career change actually the most efficient means of reaching your goals, or is there an alternative that you haven’t yet considered?

You want a higher salary.

For example, many people decide that they want to make a career change because they want to earn more money than they’re currently earning.

But if you currently enjoy the career that you have and the kind of work that you do, there may be alternatives to boosting your income besides jumping into a new line of work. You might, for example, be able to seek career advancement opportunities within your current role by completing additional training, earning a degree, or moving into a position of leadership. This route could offer you higher pay while still allowing you to do the work you enjoy.

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If an increase in pay is your primary motivator and you know that you’ve exhausted all of your other options, you’ll want to make sure that you have a solid understanding of the average pay for someone in an entry-level position in the role you are pursuing. This will help you select the right career to pivot into, and can help you justify the cost of any additional training or education you might need to complete.

You’re feeling career burnout.

On the other hand, if you’re tempted to change careers because you feel burnt out in your current position or overwhelmed in your current organization, you may not need to change careers in order to find relief.

Taking some time off from work in the form of an extended vacation or sabbatical can be an incredibly effective means of recharging yourself spiritually, mentally, and physically, and can even reawaken passion for your current career that you forgot you had. Likewise, you might find that finding employment with a new organization in the same industry can help you combat burnout without uprooting your entire career.

If you’ve already tried those options, or you just don’t believe that they would address your concerns, then making a career change could be a good decision for you.

You’re passionate about something else.

And then, of course, many people decide to make a career change because they’re passionate about something else and are finally ready to pursue that passion full time.

If this sounds like you, ask yourself whether there are other alternatives that you can consider to weave your passions into your life without changing your career—for example, through volunteer work, mentoring, a side hustle, etc.

Try these alternatives for a month or so, and then ask yourself: Does this fulfill your personal needs? If the answer is yes, then you might want to consider keeping your current career and pursuing your passions on the side. If the answer is no, then a career change could help you fill that gap.

2. Are you willing to start from scratch?

If you’re going to make a career change, it’s important to recognize that you will likely be starting out in an entry-level position and may report to a manager who is younger than you are.

Neither of these facts are in and of themselves a negative, but some workers may find it hard to adjust to, especially if they are themselves used to being in a more authoritative position in their current role. Knowing that these are possibilities, you should gauge your own willingness to “start over” from one of these more entry-level positions.
If you believe that you would be reluctant to jump from a more senior-level position in your current industry to an entry-level position in a new industry, that doesn’t mean that you still can’t or shouldn’t change careers. It just means that you may need to find ways to position yourself to increase your chances of qualifying for more senior roles. For example, you might earn an advanced degree that is highly valued in the new field that you are entering. Alternatively, you might find ways to creatively position the experience and relevant skills you gained from your prior role in order to stand out in the new one you are pursuing.

3. What are the educational requirements for making the career change?

Finally, before you quit your current career in pursuit of a new one, you will need to understand whether or not you will need to complete any educational or training requirements in order to pivot. Some questions you should answer include:

  • Is a certain degree required to work in a particular field or capacity?
  • Even if a degree is not required, do employers in your desired field still value them?
  • Are there any certification or licensing requirements that you should be aware of?
  • Can educational requirements be fulfilled while you are on the job, or do they need to be completed beforehand?
  • What transferable skills do you have that you can carry from one career to the next?

If you find that the specific career you are interested in will require you to earn a new degree, you’ll want to conduct a self-evaluation before enrolling in a program so that you can be sure you select the right one for you. For example, do you work better in person or online? Would you rather pursue a degree full time or part time? Do you prefer larger lectures or smaller, more intimate classes?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; they will be personal and unique to your own learning style and preferences. Knowing the answers before you begin applying for programs will increase your chances for success by allowing you to narrow your search to the programs that best suit your needs.

If you find you do need to earn a degree to pursue your ideal career, the good news is that there are a number of degree programs specifically designed for individuals who are making a career pivot. For example, Northeastern University offers the Align Master’s in Data Science and Align Master of Science in Computer Science for individuals without a technical background who are interested in pursuing a career in these high-demand fields.

It’s Never Too Late

Even if you’ve been in your current career for years, it’s never too late to make a pivot into a career that better suits your personal, professional, and financial aspirations. By answering the questions above, you’ll find yourself better equipped to make the decision and lay down a plan for making your goals a reality.