How to Change Careers After 40
Feb 1, 2021

As children we are often asked what we want to be when we grow up, and yet few of us ever actually become ballerinas or astronauts. That’s because by the time we get older, many of us put limits on our dreams. We settle for work we’re good at that pays well, but perhaps does not light us up the way our childhood dreams did. The lucky few, however, eventually realize that they can do fulfilling work that actually does pay the bills – it just may take a bit of upskilling.

Today we spend nearly half of our waking life at work, and yet long gone are the days when we devote our entire careers to a single company. Typically we associate millennials with job hopping, and yet an increasing number of job seekers of all ages are not only making small job changes but also large career shifts. In fact, changing careers after age 40 isn’t as uncommon as it used to be (and shouldn’t be feared!). Today we will explore how to make a career change after 40 (or anytime), and why tech should top your list. 

Why should I make a career change?

A recent report by Indeed shows that not only do individuals who change jobs in 2021 stand to land better offers and more opportunities, but are also likely to increase their earning potential. So what kinds of careers are best suited for those over 40? 

Many may be intimidated by what they perceive to be a youth-driven tech field, when in fact, individuals of all ages contribute to the tech landscape. A more important question for those entering the field might be, how long does it take to learn tech skills? Thankfully, coding bootcamps and online coding programs like Lambda School have part-time course options for working individuals, stay-at-home parents, and everyone in-between. Lambda’s data science program and full stack web development program can be completed in 6 months as a full-time student, or 12 months as a part-time student.

But don’t just take our word for it. A recent Indeed report ranked web development in the “9 Best Careers to Start at 40,” and according to Glassdoor’s annual Best Jobs in America report, front-end engineers rank number one as the “Best Jobs in America 2020.” With Artificial Intelligence needs increasing exponentially, data science showed 37% annual growth in 2020, according to LinkedIn’s annual Emerging Jobs Report.

Not only does tech ride the wave of innovation, but it pays well, too. The average salary for tech roles was $88,240 in May 2019— more than double the national average for all other jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means there has never been a better time to consider a career change to tech.  

Where do I start?

When considering how to make the best midlife career change, remember that your time is more valuable than ever before. Be thoughtful in considering the best path for you and use the following six tips to help guide your decision making.

1. Find your Ikigai. Roughly translated, Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “the thing you live for.” It is the overlap between what you love (your passion), what you’re great at (your vocation), what the world needs (your mission), and what you can be paid for (your profession). Thinking critically about these four areas and getting curious about what truly lights you up will get you on the right path toward finding what profession will make you feel truly fulfilled and will pay the bills to boot. Although it will be impossible to take action overnight, once you have a sense of your four domains, you will begin to make meaning of your purpose and can slowly make a plan of action toward your career change ideas. 

Ikigai - a Japanese word that means "the thing you live for."

"The Ikigai is a Venn diagram of four circles – where they intersect is what you are meant to do. Lambda helped me discover my ‘Ikigai’ was UX engineering, which is a hybrid front end developer and UX designer,” said Lambda full stack web graduate Gabe Samaniego.

“Now I'm a UX engineer at SimSpace. I feel grateful for this position and getting to work from home, especially with what's happening in the world. I still can't believe I get paid to do this.”

Often one’s Ikigai is not immediately obvious, but can be found through asking questions, experimentation, following your curiosity, and making small but impactful changes. Get curious about what keeps you intrinsically motivated and what drives you toward evolution. 

2. Think differently about learning. We are socially programmed from a young age that the natural career progression for most individuals starts after high school beginning with a trade school or university, followed by a “9-5” job or traditional career. But these steps do not always fit for everyone and often require large, upfront payments or debt by way of student loans. For individuals searching for career change jobs with no experience, however, breaking this paradigm can be challenging since repeating the cycle from the beginning can be costly and time consuming. But there is hope if you have the flexibility to think differently about your learning.

Changing careers often means learning new skills, which requires additional schooling. This can be through an institution, self-taught, or through a program, depending on what you are studying. For instance, while you can become a data scientist by earning a traditional 4-year college degree, you can also become a data scientist in 6-12 months through Lambda School’s part time or full time data science program

And while a mom or dad at home googling “easy career changes that pay well” might think it is too late to study to become a web developer, a late-in-life career change might be easier than you think thanks to flexible, part-time coding bootcamp options for parents like Lambda School. In fact, most Lambda students make a part time schedule work for them and retain day jobs as they transition into their new careers. The type of learning you choose in preparation for your new career will influence the quality of instruction and information you receive. Just remember, what you learn will potentially influence the types of jobs you will qualify for.

“I was a hospice chaplain. I'd done that kind of work long enough and it was overwhelming.  I was asking myself, ‘...Is there something else for me?' said Lambda graduate and Full Stack Engineer Aaron Burk.

“I'm 47. I was 46 or 45 when I applied to Lambda School. I'm not getting any younger. I don't have any retirement. I'd already gotten into a ton of debt, and my credit was not very good. I couldn't imagine any way that I could pay up front for a school, whether that was college, or coding school, or anything really, so Lambda was a unique opportunity.”  

3. Reduce your risk. Taking a new career path is risky no matter what. Find educational supports that will not only make you feel emotionally and financially comfortable, but will set you up for success. While many training programs and schools are costly or require up-front payment or hefty student loans, Lambda School’s innovative Income Share Agreement (ISA) defers tuition payment until after students have graduated. Once students begin making a salary of $50,000 per year or more, they pay 17% of their post-Lambda School salary for 24 months (or the equivalent of $4,166.67 per month).

 The ISA is capped at a maximum lump repayment of $30,000, so graduates won’t pay more than $30,000 under any circumstances. This is good news for those entering a new field, because this means if a Lambda grad does not get a qualifying job, they do not pay Lambda a dime. This cuts the risk and means Lambda wants you to succeed as much as you do. You can learn more about Lambda ISAs here.  

4. Face your fear. Change is hard and leaning into your dream takes courage and grit. Looking for a career change at 30 can feel different than a change of career at 40. Many looking to enter a new field or even brush up on new ideas or technologies within their field will often report feeling symptoms of imposter syndrome – the overwhelming experience of feeling like a fraud. This can be especially true if you feel like you are the oldest (or youngest, or most inexperienced) programmer in the room. Know that you are not alone. 

Many, if not all individuals stepping into a new endeavor will experience feelings of self-doubt due to the new challenges at hand. Remember that no one is perfect, and you have to start somewhere. It’s just important to reframe your thinking and remember that you are on your path for a reason. At Lambda School you will find students of all ages and backgrounds and with varying experience with coding prior to coming to attending. And all have felt this way at one time or another. When in doubt, find supportive mentors and classmates to help keep you motivated and on track. Before long you will start seeing yourself the way others do, if you are brave enough to believe in what you are capable of.   

5. Find support. To make big changes in life, you will undoubtedly need the support of your family and friends. After all, it is important to set yourself up for success as you dive head-first into something new that will require your focus and attention. Make sure you and your loved ones are on the same page about your career goals and the time it will take to invest in your education to get you there. Consider what kinds of supports you may need within your educational environment as well. For instance, self-directed coding programs may let you work at your own pace, but you may need additional administrative and peer support to master the subjects covered. 

Lambda’s student community, on the other hand, is intentionally organized in supportive student cohorts, with access to Slack help channels and daily “Stand Ups,” not to mention Industry Mentors and Career Coaches who work to prepare students for employment throughout the program. This means Lambda students come prepared for coding challenges with potential employers, have received interview practice, and ongoing feedback and support of their portfolios. For those switching careers who have not interviewed or updated a resume in decades, this support is invaluable and can serve as additional motivation, reinforcement, and connection within the new field. 

6. Network. Then network more. The most important component of changing careers at any age, but especially later in life, is your ability to network. Contact friends, relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances and inform them of your career change. Ask for assistance and any connections they can provide with companies you hope to work for in your desired field. (And yes, you can still network effectively during the pandemic.) A personal recommendation or warm hand off can be the ticket to bring your resume to the top of the pile and get your foot in the door. Seeing your passion shine will propel those around you to want to help as well. 

Consider how your educational program might support your network ability. For instance, Lambda School connects students in an online network and gives them opportunities to form close connections as they work together on lab projects and coding challenges. In addition, Lambda’s Job Search program helps to connect Hiring Partners with new graduates, giving talented alumni the chance to shine above market competition.

As you plan your career shift, think about how to leverage the relationships you have and how you might stretch yourself to make new relationships with those in your new field. As a more seasoned employee, you will be bringing both work and life experience to the table, which will make you a valuable candidate for many employers. Do not undersell your prior work experience. Employers increasingly look for candidates who bring other soft skills such as teamwork, interpersonal communication, leadership, flexibility, and work ethic. Instead, let your extensive, non-traditional experience shine for all to see!

Ready to change your life? Learn more about Lambda’s web development or data science courses or start your application

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