Changing careers after 30 — lessons from women who took the plunge
It is not as daunting as you might think
There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity – that line is perspective. For older millenials, changing careers after 30 used to be considered teetering on the edge of that line, but it’s more common than you’d think.
2019 was a life-changing year — my first solo trip, my first time living alone after a 10-year relationship ended, and the year I took a shot at changing careers after 30. I went from being a journalist to an ‘Associate Director’ in PR — in our line of work, literally batting for the other team.
To be honest, it wasn’t a well calculated decision — I just wanted to get out of journalism, tired of the long hours, daily battles and laughable pay. I thought the corporate route would offer more money and a better work-life balance (only one of those came true). I was thrust into a world I had little knowledge about, leading a team that clearly knew more about the field than I did. I had to swallow my pride, let go of my ego and basically suck it up.
Despite the challenging transition, it unveiled talents and strengths I didn’t know I possessed. While there were many things I couldn’t have handled any better, some I could have dealt with differently. A few women who treaded similar professional paths corroborated my findings.
So if you’re considering changing careers after 30 or 40, here are some hard-won life experiences that might be helpful.
Become a networking ninja
I landed that PR job thanks to a friend I’d previously worked with. In fact, almost every single job I’ve ever found was through my network, not through job portals or listings.
Eva Pavithran decided to make the scary switch from a career as an editor to acting in Malayalam films in her early 30s. “I come from a family of artists, so I knew many people in the industry. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory.”
Start with updating your LinkedIn profile, highlighting soft skills and any translatable experience you can boast of. Start attending networking events, many of which are hosted by women’s-only groups like LEAP club and Coto, which may feel like a safer space to start. Be your friend’s plus one to events they’ve been invited for — you never know where you’ll find your next life-changing opportunity.
Stash away your savings
We live in an increasingly expensive world, where trying to survive while following your dreams costs money. Before making any leaps, ensure you’ve saved up enough to tide you through at least six months of unemployment.
“When I made the switch, I had enough money squirrelled away. Though I took a significant pay cut by changing careers after 30, with a little bit of planning, I was able to continue living my life and not worry about money,” shares 35-year-old Sveccha Kumar, who went from being a marketing professional to a wine consultant and educator, a few years ago.
Pavithran built a corpus that could have seen her through at least two years, and continued freelancing as a writer and editor until a few days before beginning production on the film.
The amount in your corpus will depend on your lifestyle, the city you live in, whether or not you pay rent and how much income you have coming in. If you have the bandwidth, turn your hobbies into a side hustle and make extra money from that. Slowly but surely, you’ll be able to build a treasury that could ease you through changing careers after 30.
Upskill and build transferable skills
A completely new career direction often means a ton to learn and unlearn. Upskilling, or enhancing your existing knowledge and expertise, can only benefit.
After deciding to forge a new path in content marketing, Susanna Lazarus was easily able to upgrade her skills thanks to her company’s resources. “Things like a sales funnel (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU), email marketing and investor communication were all new to me. I attended numerous webinars, read many newsletters and blogs, and took a couple of courses on Coursera offered by my company.”
Kumar’s drastic career switch required her to go back to studying. “The qualifications also give me the credibility to do tastings, and my first role involved a lot of training and mentorship, which set me up and gave me the confidence I needed,” she says.
Look for relevant courses on credible online learning platforms like FutureLearn and Coursera. LinkedIn Learning can also help you find a new role in an industry you’re looking towards. And if your current company offers free courses, start with that.
Ensure that you’re tracking the repertoire of skills you are developing. Often, we get so caught up in the day-to-day, that we don’t realise we’re far more qualified and skilled than we think we are. Though I was a journalist for many years, I picked up skills producing shoots, styling models and creating social media strategies, all of which helped as I moved into PR.
Know your worth and negotiate
It may seem daunting to negotiate for more money when you’re walking into an industry you don’t know enough about. But do not negate the experience and skills you bring to the table. Negotiate for what you’re worth (here’s how).
“I was underpaid as a journalist so negotiating wasn’t too difficult,” says Madhusree Ghosh (38). “Do your research to find out how much you deserve. It makes the process easier.”
Ask friends or acquaintances in your network, talk to others who have tried changing careers after 30, read up on websites like Glassdoor which highlight salary ranges and gives anonymous employee reviews of companies. No research will ever be wasted.
For Kumar, both research and patience paid off. “While I did take a step down, almost a third of what I previously earned, over time, as I established my credibility, I was able to negotiate my consulting/teaching fee. It’s still not to the level that I was at in my ‘corporate life’, but it’s more than adequate, and more importantly, I’m happier.”
Go easy on yourself
“I had terrible imposter syndrome at first, the jargon/corporate lingo stumped me. But I was fortunate to work with a dynamic team who helped me through the doubts,” admits Ghosh.
Eva’s troubles, though, were more external. “I was curvier than the other heroines—so people made sure I was aware of that before we went into production. There were many unkind words spoken, but I needed to hide the tears and fight the fight, because that’s what it takes to survive, especially as a woman. Grow a thick skin, there will be many naysayers and you need to learn to ignore them.”
Turn to people who believe in you and are positive influences in your life. Seek out friends and mentors who will truthfully highlight your strengths and capabilities, and steer you in the right direction. Professional help in the form of therapy also helps.
“It’s hard to let go of anything that you’ve had for a while – a job, a career, a relationship, a city. Age isn’t as much of a factor as the ‘stability’ that we’ve been taught to crave,” says Kumar. “Changing careers after 30 can mean ‘rocking the boat’ a bit, but if you have enough conviction and a strong support system, it stabilises pretty soon.”