Let's say you went to college, got your degree, got your first job, your second, your third — and then discovered that you actually want to do something totally different with your life. Making a career pivot later in life can be an exciting and life-changing move, but it can also present some unique challenges for the now-newbie job seeker. Shoring up skill sets (or developing new ones), updating your résumé to reflect these skills, and dealing with personal fears and concerns about this life change, can all make navigating your career pivot challenging. But should any of that stop you from pursuing your new dream? Heck, no! It’s never too late to do what you love — but it can help to have some guidance along the way.
Rebekah Rombom, General Manager of Online Programs at Flatiron School, an accelerated learning program for job-seekers looking to move into the field of tech, tells Bustle that the barriers to making a career change later in life are often internal ones. “As an experienced member of the workforce, you've probably seen, solved, and learned from problems that candidates earlier in their careers haven't yet experienced," she says. "All those lessons you learned early on? Every single one of those is a competitive advantage.”
“If you're thinking about a career change, ask yourself: What are your goals? Are you looking for the opportunity to stretch your mind in a new way at work? To gain skills that allow you to work in an industry you're passionate about? To enter a field where you can earn more money? To succeed, you've first got to define what you're attempting to succeed at." Rombom says. "After that, it's much easier to make a plan and measure your progress.”
If you find that you’re in a field that you thought you’d love in theory, but it’s not the right fit in practice, you might consider a pivot. Switching gears later in your career, whether you’re in your twenties or heading into your forties, can actually get you on track with a job that’s better suited to your needs and preferences — especially if these have changed over time. Getting ahead in your career is much easier, and more fun, when you actually love what you do.
While feeling nervous can happen to anyone aiming to pave a new career path, Rombom says that it’s important to consider that your later-in-life pivot gives you some unique strengths that might not have been possible in your earlier years. Tool your résumé and other interviewing materials to highlight these strengths as they're relevant to the industry you want to be in. For instance, if you managed a large team at your last job and now are in the running for a project management role, you can talk about how you've cultivated your delegating skills to accomplish goals on a timeline.
"[At Flatiron School] we've worked with opera singers who say that interpreting and articulating the language of music is similar to reading and creating elegant applications with code; we've graduated attorneys who note that coding shares the logical rigor and uses the same detail-oriented, problem-solving skills that they used when practicing law," Rombom says. "You get to decide how to tell your story, and your story is the bridge between your on-paper past and your chosen future."
But any biases you might be internalizing about your career pivot will affect your mindset, Rombom says. “For any interview process — no matter what you're walking into the room with, or without — put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes,” Rombom advises. “What does this person want to know in order to have the confidence that you're a good hire? Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are, or have, or can do those things.”
If you’ve just learned a new skill set, let your potential employer know how *you* are the best person for the job, even if this is a totally new career for you. “Focus on what employers are looking for,” Rombom says. “How can you show that you have the skills to do the job, will be generally additive to the team, and can learn very fast? Every candidate is combatting something — even if an employer has a specific mold they expect a candidate to fit into, it's very unlikely any candidate matches up with that vision perfectly. Learn what the employer wants, and show directly that you have those things.” School projects, freelance gigs, and newly completed training courses can all let potential employers know that you’ve got the skills and know-how it takes to succeed at the job.
Many programs, such as those offered by Flatiron School, also offer flexible training options for students shifting tracks in the job market. “We know you might not have the flexibility to be on campus all day, or leave your [day] job,” Rombom says, so flexible hours, online courses, and delayed payment options — where you don’t pay for your training until you land your first job — are all ways to get new job training without racking up more student loan debt, Rombom says.
While making a later-in-life career pivot may seem daunting, the potential benefits — like increased income, job satisfaction, and quality of life — are totally worth the effort.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Flatiron School.