Career changes you can make in your 40s
Career changes you can make in your 40s
Considering a career change in your 40s can be daunting. The prospect of going back to school, buying textbooks, and sitting alongside teenagers during stuffy lectures can sound unappealing to a lot of people—not to mention expensive. Plus, there's the worry about having to work your way up again in entry-level positions and potentially taking a salary cut. It's not exactly an enticing picture, especially if you're at a point where you've reached a degree of success. Even if you're not rolling in dough, chances are that by the time you hit 40 you've put some time and energy into your career, so the idea of starting over can feel overwhelming.
Yet the world is chock-full of examples of people who switched careers midlife and say they don't regret it. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't track how often the average American switches careers (officials say it's too difficult to define “career change”), but a poll by the jobs website Monster found that 50% of respondents between the ages of 45 and 65 had switched careers at least twice.
Whether you're burnt out from the repetition, you're not making enough money, or you just don't enjoy your job as much as you used to, if you're contemplating a career change there's clearly something about your current vocation that isn't making you happy. The average life expectancy in the United States is 78.6 years, so if you're only in your 40s, you have quite a few years left. Unless you're independently wealthy, many of those years will be spent working—so why not spend them doing something you love?
That's not to say that if you decide to make the leap there won't be challenges. On the contrary, challenges will abound—financial uncertainty, extra-long work hours, ageism, etc. But if you've been working for 15 to 20 years it's likely you've accumulated a number of transferable skills, many of which you may not have even thought about. There are many career options that let you use those skills, or even start completely fresh without having to get a new degree. These careers may require some extra training or even a bit of school, but those requirements are generally manageable and you won't spend years fetching coffee for higher-ups before establishing yourself.
To offer some inspiration, Stacker has put together a slideshow of some of the most practical, realistic jobs and industries for people considering a career change in their 40s. We've found examples across multiple disciplines, including science and technology, medicine, social services, professional services, art, physical trades, and more. As much as possible we've tried to stick to mid- to higher-income options that are stimulating and won't trap you in the entry-level cycle. Take a look through to find one that fits your interests and personality.
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You don't need a college degree to write code—in fact, you can basically train yourself. Or, if the self-taught route seems too hard, there are tons of boot camps and crash courses that will train and certify you in six to eight months, sometimes even less. And while having a computer science degree will certainly help when seeking a job, the reality is that businesses want the person who can make their website look the best, not the person with a fancy degree. If you're good at what you do and can create an outstanding portfolio, it's a career you can get into without a four-year degree. Plus, the median salary for web developers in 2019 was $73,760, according to U.S. News, with the lowest-paid 25% of web developers still making around $53,520.
If you have a green thumb and enjoy spending time gardening or being outside, the landscaping industry offers many ways to turn this into a fulfilling career. It's ideal if you're someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, as business owners and top executives earn the most. However, even if you don't have management drive, it can be worth the switch if you enjoy the work. The average wage for landscaping and groundskeeping workers is $15.26 per hour, or $31,730 annually, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're looking for a higher wage, landscape architects made a median pay of $70,630 per year ($33.96 per hour).
Becoming a registered nurse will require some school, no question. However, if you already have a bachelor's degree, it can be completed in as little as two years, depending on the type of classes you took as an undergrad. Even without prerequisites, students can typically complete the program in four years, after which the prospects are some of the best of any vocation. It's an inelastic field that doesn't wane when the economy is down, and every city and town has demand, so you can go practically anywhere. Plus, you'll earn a good wage—registered nurses bring home an average salary of $73,550 a year.
Financial planner or advisor
Although it may sound like a job title that requires highly specialized education, financial planners and advisors come from a wide range of backgrounds, with undergraduate degrees in business, economics, psychology, accounting, and many others. You can train to become a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) if you want the extra accreditation; however, in the United States, only 25% of practicing financial advisers are certified. (The certification is only required by law if you want to sell stocks and bonds). There are tons of stories online about financial planners who once had radically different careers. It's a promising vocation, with the number of financial advisors projected to grow 15% by 2026—almost double the overall job growth of 7.4%. The average salary of a CFP is $67,914 and the average personal financial advisor salary is $89,330.
Dental hygienists comprise one of the career fields with the highest “school-to-salary” ratio, meaning that you need relatively little training yet can expect to earn a relatively high salary almost right away. The median income for dental hygienists in 2020 was $77,090. There's also high demand, making it one of the most practical fields to transfer into later in life. You will need to complete an entry-level dental hygiene program (make sure it's one accredited by the American Dental Association), followed by a two-year associate's degree. Many of these programs are offered online, although there is some accompanying clinical and laboratory coursework that must be done in person.
Most geoscientist jobs require a bachelor's degree but some don't even ask for that. According to a report updated in 2020 by the Occupational Information Network (ONET), 38% of all working geoscientists only have an undergraduate degree. If you're someone who took any science courses in college, you may only need two years of school to get a geoscience degree, and if you already have a degree in geology, physics, or other related fields, you probably don't need it. The median annual wage for geoscientists was $93,580 in 2020, with the highest 10% earning $201,150 and even the lowest 10% doing well at $51,890. It's considered a “bright outlook” field by ONET with projected growth of 5-7% by 2029.
Being a veterinary technician isn't something that's going to make you tons of money, but there are lots of jobs available. The industry is growing much faster than average (at 8% or higher), and if you love animals, it may be worth the pay cut. The average veterinary technician makes about $36,2600 per year and you only need an associate's degree to land a job. Plus, there are ways to make bring in a higher income if you show an exceptional knack for the field. “There are opportunities in research to make more money quickly as you progress,” Certified Veterinary Technician Mary Mould told All Allied Health Schools.
Multimedia artist or animator
If creating visual effects for TV, movies, or video games seems like something you'd enjoy and you have an artistic streak—preferably combined with a knack for computers and technology—becoming a multimedia artist can be a highly fulfilling career and one that isn't too late to start in your 40s. Similar to web developers, what matters most is your portfolio, so a lot of the skills can be self-taught. Many employers will require a bachelor's degree, typically in computer animation, digital arts, or graphic design. Plus, if you do move forward, you can expect to earn $77,700 per year.
While personal training may not be the first thing you think of when pondering age 40+ vocations, you'd be surprised how many fitness gurus got their start later in life. In fact, a 2016 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the average age of the trainers who responded was 39.8. It's a career that takes relatively little training, you can earn a decent salary—top earners make up to $76,517—and it's a fantastic way to get in amazing shape and stay that way as you advance through the years.
While you must be a minimum of 18 to 21 years old to be hired as a flight attendant, there's no age maximum and many people make the switch in their 40s. If you're someone who loves traveling and has a friendly personality, it's a great career fit and one that's fairly easy to start midlife. It doesn't require any formal education—30% of flight attendants have only a high school diploma, 33% have some college but no degree, and 26% have an associate's degree. You basically just need to convince the airline to hire you, after which they put you through a three- to six-week training course. It's another “bright outlook” career projected to grow faster than average by 2029, and the average flight attendant salary is $59,050 per year. Plus, there are some nice travel perks.
Eighty-nine percent of correctional officers only have high school diplomas, yet the average salary is $47,440, making it a fairly easy-to-obtain, middle-class vocation. To get hired, you need to pass an entrance exam and attend a special three- to 10-week training academy to learn about weapons, self-defense, crisis management, and other skills. When applying for jobs, you won't be competing as often with fresh-faced graduates, and physical appearance plays almost no role in the hiring process. Elite physical endurance is not required but you will need to complete tests involving push-ups, sit-ups, and other exercises. As Bronwyn Timmons wrote for The Nest: “A correctional officer needs to be strong enough to defend [themself] and take down inmates if a fight breaks out or a situation gets out of hand. You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to become a correctional officer, but you do need to be reasonably fast and capable of moving quickly.”
If you enjoy giving massages, you're a good listener, and you like working with people, you're a good candidate to become a massage therapist. It's a career that requires minimal formal training and it's easy to start later in life—your clients don't care how old you are as long as your hands work well. It's a flexible field with the option of working for yourself or getting hired at a spa, and you typically create your own hours. The salary isn't huge— about $42,820 a year—but it's enough for a comfortable lifestyle in many places. It takes anywhere from a few weeks to two years to get licensed, depending on the state you live in.
If you love crunching numbers, specializing in data science and visualization is a great way to make a healthy income. It's a lucrative profession—the average data scientist earns about $114,673—and if you already have a bachelor's degree, particularly in math or computer science, it can be a natural next step. You will most likely need more school—about 73% of data scientists have a graduate degree and 38% have a Ph.D. For those with related backgrounds it can be a great career change that offers significantly more money, too.
Real estate agent or broker
Getting licensed as a real estate agent is a great way to make a fairly comfortable middle-class income doing something you can train for in your 40s. Real estate licensing requirements vary by state but typically involve 60 to 100 hours of coursework, followed by an exam. The difference between an agent (average income $49,040) and a broker (average income $60,370) is that a broker can work independently, while an agent must work under a broker agency—which means everyone starts as an agent. However, if you decide you want to take the next step, you'll typically need to have one to three years of on-the-job experience to get a broker's license.
Physical therapist assistant
If you enjoy working with people and caring for others, you can train to become a physical therapist assistant without a huge time commitment. You'll need an associate's degree but night classes and online options abound in this field. It takes about two years, after which you can expect to earn an average salary of about $59,770. Note, however, that there is a significant difference between an “assistant” and an “aide;” the latter does not require special schooling and earns about $26,240). As a bonus, if you find you love the field, you can continue your education and become a physical therapist yourself. This requires a master's degree, but your experience as an assistant will work toward it, and once you're on your own, your salary will average around $91,010 per year.
Businesses of every kind need experts to consult, so if you already have any kind of career, chances are you could branch out and become a consultant, providing advice and expertise to other businesses. You will essentially be your own small business, so you'll need to have an entrepreneurial streak and can't be someone who's afraid of unpredictability. However, if you're someone who thrives on novelty and enjoys a lack of routine, working as a consultant can be a great way to do something new and breathe fresh life into your current career.
Commercial truck driver
If you like driving and don't mind hours of solitude, a career as a commercial driver may appeal to you—and it's one of the easiest jobs to get into midlife. Unlike many vocations that are saturated with young people, the average age of a commercial truck driver in the United States is 55. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers make about $47,130 and you typically only need a high school diploma. Driving schools range from three to six months, after which you take a test to get your commercial driver's license. One thing to consider, however, especially if you have kids, pets, or a partner, is whether you want to spend long periods away from home.
Computer programmers are similar to web developers in that both write code. The difference is that web developers use code to create websites, while programmers make programs and applications. Like web development, computer programming is a field where you can get a lot of initial self-training; Free Code Camp is a popular and reputable place to start. That said, about 88% of programmers have four-year degrees and most employers will want to see a bachelor's degree. The good news is that many universities offer accelerated bachelor's programs, most of which can be completed online. Once you're in the field, the average computer programmer earns about $89,190 a year.
Creative types who have friendly personalities and enjoy talking to people generally make great hairdressers. It's a career that's easy to get into at any age—most cosmetology schools can be completed in eight months to two years, depending on how many hours you can attend per week, and the acceptance rate is almost always 100%. The average salary is only about $32,740. Stylists who work more, build up a comprehensive client list, or work with higher-end customers can make significantly more. Just keep in mind that you need to be OK with standing on your feet eight to 10 hours a day, and making conversation throughout.
If you're someone who has an insatiable wanderlust and loves looking at maps or dreaming about your next exotic vacation, you may enjoy a career as a travel agent, in which you'll help clients plan the perfect trip. In addition to travel expertise, the job requires excellent organizational skills and the ability to multitask. With a median salary of $42,350 per year, it's not going to make you rich, but it's a respectable income—and the travel perks make it worth it to a lot of people. As a bonus, many agencies these days let their employees work remotely.
You'd think a private investigator would need lots of formal education and training, but really all it takes is a high school diploma and a knack for research. Though many investigators have law enforcement backgrounds, it's by no means a prerequisite. Some states do require a license and bigger firms will want two- or four-year degrees in fields like criminal justice. Still, only 38% of private detectives currently working have bachelor's degrees; 16% have only associate's degrees and another 25% have just a high school diploma. The average income for private investigators is $53,320.
If you have a degree in communications, business, hospitality, or another related field, you can transfer your background fairly easily into event planning, even if you haven't specifically carried out that role before. You need to be an organized person with excellent attention to detail—the type who's great at juggling a lot of balls. If that's you then it might be a perfect match. The mean salary for event planners is around $51,560 and if you work your way into upper management roles, such as business operations specialists (overseeing conventions and other large events), you will average $71,450. Even if you don't have a degree in a related field, you may find success running your own business.
If you have natural talent, writing is a field you can break into at any age, although you'll have to work your way up and likely take some lower-paying jobs in the beginning while you build your portfolio. It helps to be published anywhere, especially online, so writing for blogs and small publications can be a good way to gain writing samples. Writing jobs can include copywriting, blogging, content marketing, advertising, books, and even script-writing for commercials, TV, or film. Most major employers will want to see a degree in English, journalism, or communications; however, 64% of writers are self-employed, typically as independent contractors, for which formal education is less important. The average salary for writers is $67,120 a year, but special niches can earn more.
Plumbers earn an average of $56,330 per year and, because the field generally favors apprenticeships over formal education, it's a career that's well-suited for a midlife change. Pipefitters and steamers, particularly those in manufacturing or government roles, earn more than other types of plumbers, and the overall range is wide. It's a highly unionized field where you won't make much money as an apprentice, but as you learn new skills, you'll get steady pay raises.
Many radiologic technician roles require just an associate degree, so if you decide to pursue this career in your 40s, it's doubtful you'll spend years in school. The options are wide-ranging—you can work in big hospitals, small outpatient centers, physician's clinics, diagnostic labs, and other medical facilities, and the median wage is $64,840. If you do go for the associate degree, it will likely be in MRI or radiologic technology and will take about 18 to 24 months.
If you're already internet savvy, search engine optimization (SEO) can be a great late-in-life career that won't require much school. According to Rick DeJarnette of Internet Marketing Ninjas, ideal candidates are people with backgrounds in writing, business marketing, graphic design, web development, and online advertising. “I've come to realize how many varied paths there are to becoming a working SEO,” DeJarnette wrote. “... A successful career strategy is to become an expert in one thing and conversant in many more. That will help make you more marketable in this career field.” The average annual salary is about $46,543.
Lots of folks dream about running a bed and breakfast, and if you're one of them, starting in your 40s or later is not only possible, it's ideal. In fact, a study published in 2010 found the average age of respondents was 53. It's a common vocation among empty nesters, divorcees, widows, and retirees, all of whom tend to have extra rooms available that once belonged to kids or other family members. Not only that, many younger people don't have the resources to purchase property, nor have they gained the life experience that helps innkeepers be successful. Salaries ranges vary for this job because of numerous factors, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track the category. But some estimates put averages around $34,428.
If you love tinkering with cars and already do hobby repairs, why not turn it into a full-blown career? Folks who already know a lot about working on cars have obvious advantages, but you can glean the skills from scratch by completing a six- to 12-month vocational program (which you’ll need anyway to get hired at most garages). Service technicians make about $44,050 while vehicle mechanics, installers, and repairers bring home about $46,530 per year.
Social media marketer
For people who love posting clever remarks on Twitter or keeping their Instagram accounts up to date with pristine, beautifully composed images, a career in social media marketing makes a lot of sense—and it’s easy to get into after 40. As long as you’re someone who has a good sense of humor and knows how to engage with people, you probably won’t need formal training either. What you will need, however, is a quiver of your own social media accounts that look amazing because that’s one of the first things hiring managers look at. The salary range varies widely, ranging from $35,000 to $79,000, depending on the type of work you’re doing.
People who love nature and the great outdoors often find a lot of joy and fulfillment as park rangers—and it's a career you can start at any time. The money isn't huge; entry-level jobs start around $15 an hour and the overall median is $39,984 a year, but many rangers report higher levels of job satisfaction than those in other fields. Plus, supervisory positions can earn up to $80,000, so if you do decide to explore the field, you can increase your salary by climbing the career ladder.