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How Do I Make A Career Change After 15 Years In The Same Job?

In a world where job hopping is the norm, how to make a move when you’ve stayed in one job your entire career?

How Do I Make A Career Change After 15 Years In The Same Job?
[Photo: Flickr user gazrad]

We all know that the days of working for one company for your entire career are long gone–it’s almost expected that, especially early in your career, you’ll job hop every few years. But what if you managed to stay in your first job for decades? Is it too late to make a move when you’ve put in so much time in one place?

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Leadership coach Lolly Daskal helps this reader figure out how to make a career switch for the first time in his life.

Hello,

I’m in my late 30s and have been with my company for 15 years. It was my first professional job out of college. I’ve enjoyed my work and received small raises and promotions for the first few years.

For the last eight years or so, I’ve kind of stagnated, which I didn’t mind since I still enjoyed the work. However, now I’m getting bored (and frustrated that I’m not earning more or progressing). I think I might want to change industries, but I’m also open to the idea of staying in my industry, just at a different company (they have made it clear there is no room for advancement here). My question is: Where do I begin? I have a family and a mortgage. Going back to college isn’t an option, and I don’t want to start at the bottom and have to work my way up again. Am I irrelevant because I’ve only had one job?


First of all, you are not too late and you are not alone. It’s not unusual for careers to undergo a shift, even after decades. Frankly, you’re right on target. So how do you find a job that’s more about what you want and more meaningful?

1. Know your reality. The truth is, the reality of looking for a job in your late 30s, after many years of stability in a single workplace, can be daunting. The more real you are with yourself, the easier the transition will be.

2. Assess your financial situation. Look at your income, your savings, your monthly expenses. Think about where you can make cuts if needed.

3. Make a list of the things you love to do. To move forward, you need to really know yourself. What do you love to do? If you could spend a perfect day, how would you spend it? Who would you help and how would you help them? What comes easily to you? What do people say you do well?

4. Develop a blueprint. Make the process less intimidating by breaking it down into smaller steps.

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5. Leverage your experience. This can be one of the major advantages of your situation; and experience is one thing that can’t be bought or learned from a college textbook. Think through all your experience and how it can best be presented and used to your advantage.

6. Create a competence inventory. List everything you’re good at: all your strengths and all your good qualities. If you need help, ask others to help out. Do not restrict yourself to work-related tasks. If you’re good at being organized, good at social media or leadership, list them all.

7. Consider using a career counselor. They can offer an objective and professional viewpoint, helping to identify careers suited to your skill set, interests, background, and future vision. They will assist in focusing on a well-suited target instead of a scattershot approach.

8. Gather information. Take your list of accomplishments, competencies, values, and passions, and find careers that fit your personal description. Search the Internet. Read the classifieds. Go to your public library. Create a list of all kinds of options. List them all and include every job that intrigues you, regardless of whether you have the required skills for it.

9. Create a great résumé. Make sure it is up to date, perfectly written, and well designed. Seek out what employers find important, and make sure your résumé is tailored to highlight those things.

10. Network. Attend meetings of relevant institutes and have some business cards ready to hand out. Exchange them with anyone who offers you theirs, and be proactive in passing them to those you talk with. Be sure to actually get in touch with these contacts afterward–interacting with people within your target industry is a great way to find out more about it.

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11. Take action every day. No one is going to make your career change happen for you. Take action every day toward your goals, no matter how small. You’ll probably find that once you get the ball rolling, the process will begin to gain momentum, and taking action will become a comfortable habit rather than something to be avoided.

12. Be upbeat and positive. When the opportunity arises, point out your experience and positive attributes. Be sure to tell the interviewer about your accomplishments. Project an air of energy and youthfulness, and make it clear that you intend to work for the company for a long time.

13. Remember you’re not alone. Draw inspiration from all those who made it only in later life and who credit their earlier experiences as being instrumental in equipping them for the career they (eventually) found success in.

14. Ask for help. A career transition requires a lot of emotional support. Don’t hesitate to ask family and friends for help. If you have children who will be leaving the nest, you’ll be renegotiating your role in the home: Incorporate your career-change needs into these negotiations. Discuss the time and support you’ll need. The best way to get your family onboard is to explain why this change is so important to you.

It may take a while, but the opportunities are out there. Make finding a new job an adventure by having a solid game plan and seeking out the employers that put a high value on your valuable wisdom and experience. Most of all, don’t give up. Go for what you want and do the thing you were meant to do. The time is now.

To your success!

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If you have a dilemma you’d like our experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or tweet a question using #AskFC.

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About the author

Lolly Daskal is a Leadership Development and CEO coach and consultant and founder of Lead From Within. Follow @LollyDaskal.

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