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How to Change Careers When You're Middle-aged

Plan Ahead for a Mid-Life Career Change

Sitting in your cubicle daydreaming about becoming the manager of the Boston Red Sox may seem like a good way to plan for your next career, but it's unlikely to get you anywhere. If you're seriously considering making the leap, it's going to take planning. And lots of it. As we mentioned earlier, the national unemployment rate in the United States is high; as of June 2011, it was hovering at more than 9 percent. That means the competition for existing jobs is fierce. For a little perspective, consider that for every job that opens, there are five people unemployed [source:Bureau of Labor Statistics]. That statistic has increased from 1.7 unemployed people for every opening during the three years before the 2008 economic collapse. Nothing in the world intimidating about that, is there?

The first thing most employees do when they consider making a professional change is evaluate their current situation. Is the work fulfilling? Does it make good use of their skills? Notice that these are job-specific questions. Being unhappy with your boss, salary or work environment are all potential reasons for a jobchange, but not necessarily a career overhaul. So be honest with yourself about the actual work you're doing and try to be as objective as possible. Bosses come and go, so if your job is fulfilling except for a few variables, work on changing those before looking to make the leap into a new career. For middle-aged workers, chances are good that you are the boss; therefore, you may have more control over your situation than more junior-level professionals.

The next step is to evaluate this potential career shift to see how it matches up with your needs. You're leaving a career in which you have a certain level of seniority and, presumably, earn more than someone just entering that field. Take a long, hard look at whether you want to put in the longer hours and shorter pay that sometimes come with being the new kid on the block. Neither of these factors should keep you from going for it, just plan on setting aside a financial cushion or altering your lifestyle if you know a career change will result in a pay decrease. Do this by getting militant about "needs" vs. "wants" and trimming the fat from your day-to-day budget. Consider these sacrifices an investment in the new career.

Once you've decided that you want to move forward with a change, the next step will be to make sure you're prepared to actually do the job.