How late is too late for a career change?

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What is the optimum age for a career change, and when is it too late? AAT’s recent survey on attitudes to career change and age has some pretty eye opening results…

Most of us will have, or currently dream about going back to the drawing board and embarking on a completely different path. But what if you’ve left it too long?

Some of us might have had different dream careers when we were young, then the treadmill of life carried us away with the practicalities of paying bills and doing something steady and stable that our parents/spouses wouldn’t disapprove of. Suddenly, as we reach a birthday milestone or experience a life affirming event, we realise the passage of time and decide to revisit those dreams.

Or, perhaps our initial dreams or aims are, in reality, not what we envisioned. Either way, tearing up the career plan and starting again is a big step that plenty of people take every day – in fact statistics show workers have three or four career changes in their working life.

When is the best time to change career?

However, for many workers, the thing that holds them back appears to be worries about their age. AAT asked 2000 people about career change prospects, and while most of them agreed that forging a new career path is realistic and acceptable in one’s twenties, once we reach our mid-thirties to early forties, people are much more sceptical. Incredibly, the majority of respondents voted 41 as the ‘final chance’ for a career change.

Tell that to Linda Fleet. Linda was working in a supermarket, having originally taken the job when she first moved to the area, predominantly as a way of meeting people in the community. 13 years passed and, as she reached her 50th birthday, Linda decided it was time for a change. “It was because of reaching that milestone that I decided to change my career, rather than in spite of it,” she says. Linda spoke to a friend, an accountant, who suggested she give it a go, and so she signed up at her local college for the AAT accounting qualification. “At that time it took two years to qualify at technician level, and I took work experience at a chartered accounting firm during the summer break. They asked me to continue as a trainee, so I completed my second year on day release, paid for by the company. It was fantastic for me as to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to sending out my CV at the end of the AAT course with my age and no relevant experience!”

Even so, Linda wouldn’t have let that hold her back. Eventually she decided to leave the company and take agency work. “A lot of my former clients were calling up asking for me, as they missed the service I provided. I was going to them and providing a management accounting service as well as financial statements etc. I gained more and more clients by doing this, as no one else was around doing the same thing, and eventually I found myself working full time with my own business Office Solutions.”

You’ve guessed it… it’s never too late!

Linda is just one example of an AAT member who has used the confidence and self-awareness that life experience has given her to learn and pursue a new skill, and she asserts that it is never too late to do what you want. “I’ve learnt you just have to take whatever comes your way in life, so when you see a moment of opportunity, grab it, whenever it occurs!”

As Linda states, the prospect of putting your age with no relevant experience on a CV for potential employees may not a particularly inviting one. However, the right time to change career doesn’t boil down to the number on the clock, but the time that is right for you. A linear career and moving up through the ranks of a company/series of similar companies is not for everyone. Side stepping, career sabbaticals, changing to freelancing or self-employment and sometimes back again – we live in more flexible, changing times, with plenty of options to learn a skill and gain qualifications through distance learning, part time and evening courses. The question of your age probably won’t even come up when it comes to seeking work, and if it does, that doesn’t mean it’s an obstacle to overcome – employers simply want to know what brought you to this stage.

Plus, there is evidence that a late in life career change is a good thing. A 2015 study on New Careers for Older Workers by the American Institute for Economic research found that 82 percent of participants who made a career change after the age of 45 were not just happier, but were successful in their transition and were earning bigger salaries.

Suzie Webb, AAT’s Director of Education says of AAT’s research: “Many people incorrectly believe that they have to stick with their career despite being a reasonably young age. This is very much at odds with our experience at AAT where we have students choosing to retrain in our accounting qualifications in their 50s, 60s as well as their 70s. Retraining is much less of a big step than people might imagine.”

Read more on the recent AAT study and the findings here.

Kayleigh is a freelance writer based in Ireland who has written numerous articles for Accounting Technician. She writes on workplace wellbeing and likes to tell inspiring stories about people in business@Kayleigh_Ziolo

aatadmin is AAT Comment’s news writer.

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