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4 Ways to Change Careers in Midlife

Transition tips from the 'What Color Is Your Parachute?' author

By Richard N. Bolles

(The following is adapted from What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015 by Richard N. Bolles.)

Thinking about changing careers in midlife? Here are four ways to do it, below. (I also offer a fifth, called The Flower Exercise, in What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015. It takes more room to explain than I can here.)

The First Way: The Internet  

The first idea that occurs to people seeking guidance on how to change careers, these days, is the Internet.
Naturally, there is lots of advice there, but I particularly like O*Net Online. It is a digital, online treasure house of up-to-date information about 900 occupations grouped by categories such as: industries in great demand; largest number of openings antici­pated and the amount of preparation or training required.
Once you find an occupation you want to know more about, the site can run 10 to 12 specially-developed pages about it.

(MORE: How to Research Salaries When Job Hunting)

The Second Way: Tests

They’re technically not “tests.” Their real name is instruments, or assessments and you’ll find them everywhere: in books, on the Internet and in the offices of guidance counselors, vocational psychologists and career coaches, etc.
Sometimes this turns out to be exactly the kind of guidance, insight and direction that career changers are looking for.
Why only sometimes? For one thing, you are absolutely unique. So it follows that no test can measure you. For another, these tests can offer you clues, hunches or suggestions, but not a definitive answer that says: This is what you must choose to do with your life. Also, one test can easily send you down the wrong path. That’s why I think you should take several.

(MORE: Killer Newsletters to Power Your Job Search)

That said, if you like tests, help yourself. There are lots of them on the Internet and counselors can give them to you, for a fee.

If you want to know where to start, you might try these two:

If you want further suggestions, type “career tests” or “per­sonality tests” into Google, and see what turns up.


A dramatic career-change typically involves trying to change both at the same time. It’s what’s called Difficult Path in the diagram below. The problem with trying to take this difficult path is that you can’t claim any prior experience. But if you do it in two steps, ah! That’s different.
Let’s say you are presently an accountant working for a television network, and you want to make a career change. You want to become a reporter on new medical developments.
If you try the Difficult Path below and go into the job market as the first (accountant in the television industry) and try to jump to a new career as the second (reporter in medicine) well, that’s a pretty large jump. Of course, sometimes you can pull that off, with a bit of luck and a huge number of links on LinkedIn, friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter.


But what if that doesn’t work? Then you’re likely to run into the follow­ing scenario:
Interviewer: “So, I see you want to be a reporter. Were you ever a reporter before?” Your answer: No.
Interviewer: “And I see you want to be in the medical field. Were you ever in the medical field before?” Your answer: No.

End of story. You are toast.

On the other hand, if you were to change only one of these at a time — field or job-title— you could always claim prior experience. Then the conversation might go like this:
Interviewer during your first move (a change just in your field): “Were you ever in this kind of work before?” Your answer: “Yes, I’ve been an accountant for x number of years.”
Interviewer during your second move (a change now in your job title): “Were you ever in this kind of work before?” Your answer: “Yes, I’ve been in medicine for x number of years.”
Or, if you changed your title first and then your field, later:
Interviewer during your first move (a change just in your job title): “Were you ever in this kind of work before?” Your answer: “Yes, I’ve been in television for x number of years.”
Interviewer during your second move (a change just in your field): “Have you ever done this kind of work before?” Your answer: “Yes, I’ve been a reporter for x number of years.”
By doing career-change in two steps, each time you make a move you are able to legitimately claim that you’ve had prior experience.
Needless to say, your likelihood of getting hired each time has just increased tremendously.

(MORE: My Career Shift: What I've Learned After 8 Months)

The Fourth Way: Finding Out What the Job Market Will Need

With a run of just plain bad luck, you may have used the previ­ous ways of changing careers, but nothing worked. You’re stuck. Your needs or wishes are dying on the vine.
Well, then be glad there is this way of changing careers: It is not based on your needs or wishes, but on projections about the com­ing needs and wishes of the job market during the present decade.
It starts at the opposite end: Not what you want, but what the market wants.
These are typically called Hot Jobs, though I’d take that with a grain of salt — no, a barrel — if I were you.
There are dozens of these lists online and off (just Google Hot Jobs). Just remember: “Projections” is just a nice word for “guesses.” The way that some of these guys and gals decide what constitutes a “hot job” would make your hair stand on end. I know; I’ve talked with them. (Think dart boards.)
The U.S. government gets into this projections game with its Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at your local library, or better yet, online at Here you can browse careers and occupations by occupational group; number of new jobs projected; faster-than-average job growth projected; level of education or training required; median pay; etc.
Oh, and it has a lovely feature called “similar occupations.” That’s great if for any reason you don’t qualify for some job that otherwise really fascinates you.
Reprinted with permission from What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015 by Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press, © 2014).

Richard N. Bolles The late Richard N. Bolles, considered to be the father of the modern career development field, is author of the bestselling job-hunting book of all time: What Color Is Your Parachute? (the 2018 edition  has just been published). Read More
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