Planning a career change at 30? Don't do anything until you read this

Changing career at 30: Four tiny things that make a big difference.

Career change at 30: Don't make a career move until you've read this

A career change at 30 is totally possible – but what does it take to turn your 3pm day dreams into a reality?

Many of us choose a career while we’re still at school and picking our A-level subjects. Then before we know it we’re packing our bags and heading to university, leaving three years later armed with a degree and unwavering optimism that we’ll end up in a job that we love.

We spend our twenties working our way up, slogging it out for that extra bit of responsibility/money/fancy-sounding title, but when 30 comes knocking, many people have changed. Goals and aspirations can move in a different direction. You’re no longer the fresh-faced 21-year-old that pushed and pushed to get you where you want to be – and you can’t stop thinking about packing it all in and trying a career change at 30. If this sounds familiar, then trust us: you’re not alone. 

30th birthday balloons

“The night before my 30th birthday, in the middle of a lockdown, I sat on the sofa with a gin thinking about what I had achieved in my life,” Hannah Brown tells Marie Claire. She’d worked in engineering for the past six years as a factory scheduler, but her job didn’t feature anywhere in her list of personal successes. What did, alongside marrying her childhood sweetheart and welcoming a baby daughter, was her hypnobirthing side hustle.

“After having a wonderful labour with my little girl in 2018, using hypnobirthing techniques myself, I became obsessed with changing the narrative that birth is something to be scared of. I wanted to show people that birth can be something amazing, empowering and life-changing for all the right reasons,” explains Hannah. So alongside her full-time job, she trained to become a hypnobirthing teacher, and built up evening and weekend clients for her small hypnobirthing business.

As she dwelled on her life at 30, Hannah began to realise that her career in engineering wasn’t what she wanted long-term. “I enjoyed the structure of the job, having a routine and knowing it like the back of my hand. I liked the people, too. But there were lots of aspects of the job that I didn’t like; it was very male dominated with zero room for progression (unless you were male),” she says. Knowing that if she “just had the time,” she’d be able to make more of ‘Hypnobirthing with Hannah,’ she suddenly became very serious about the idea of changing careers at 30.

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“There were lots of risks to consider and to be honest, they outweighed the benefits at points,” admits Hannah. “It had taken me 6 years to reach the position of knowing the job well, and I was about to give up everything that I had worked for. What if things didn’t take off? What if I didn’t earn enough money to pay the mortgage and bills? I was paid well in my day job which made the decision to leave difficult,” she explains. Hannah considered a part time job alongside making a go of her hypnobirthing business, but ultimately felt that if she did this, she wouldn’t be giving it her all. So with the support of her husband - who remained in full-time employment - she decided to take the plunge.

“I turned 30 in the May and handed in my notice in the July. The week after I left, I didn’t even think about hypnobirthing. I was still in shock that I didn’t have to log onto a computer for a certain time or respond to any emails. I felt free,” she says. Now, Hannah is fully in the swing of things, and is loving having traded in her 40-minute-each-way commute for more freedom. “My life is totally different now, I set my own hours, I see my little girl every day, I don’t have any deadlines to meet or anyone to answer to. I am my own boss and I absolutely love it,” she says, adding that the work life balance makes it “well worth” the pay cut. 

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I feel so proud of what I have achieved in such a short space of time,” adds Hannah, encouraging anyone else who’s considering doing the same to go for it. “I believe that some of the best things can happen in your 30’s. You might be older, but you are also wiser and more experienced. If you have the passion and determination to change your career, you should absolutely do it.”

It might feel a bit scary to switch things up and it will certainly involve some careful thought, but once you get to where you want to be you’ll be thrilled with the pay off.

So how can you transform a career change at 30 from a dream into your reality? And where do you turn for advice? We spoke to the experts to find out…

How to navigate a career change at 30:

1. The first step

First thing's first - know what you want. It can be easy to get fed up with your current routine and think that a huge life overhaul will be the answer to all your problems, but if you’re not 100% about making the move then it’s likely things won’t turn out exactly as you’d hoped. 

SCT Director Isla Baliszewska advises taking a big pause. "Thinking about what isn’t right, and what you aren’t happy with in your current career will provide a great basis for looking for the right changes. Make a list of what you would like your life to look and feel like in five years, what you want to have and where you want to be gives you some clear objectives," she says. 

"Swapping careers without some serious thinking and choosing can be a disaster. You need to know what your non-negotiables are and be really clear about longer term objectives."

2. Work out your strengths

Epiphany Life Coach Jenny Butler believes that you need to understand what makes you tick. Are you driven by money or material success? What environment works best for you? Do you favour pay or job satisfaction? Once you have some answers, you’ll get an idea of what direction to go in. 

"You need to understand your strengths, motivation and fit," Jeremy says. "Strengths - make a note of what you enjoy, what makes you thrive and what energises you. Motivation: what would you do for free? Fit: What do you want your day to be like - indoors, outdoors, working on your own, in a big team? Does the purpose matter? Does the end result matter? Imagine your perfect day."

30th birthday cupcakes with candles

3. How to find a role that’s right for you 

So you’ve really drilled down and discovered what your perfect working day looks like - now what? If you know you want to shake things up but you’re not sure what job fits your fantasy, what do you do?

Finding the right role doesn’t need to be difficult, says Isla. "Make a list of key things you want in your new career, then check job ads. Look at different sectors, highlight the words/elements that appeal to you. Not the things that really turn you off," she suggests. "Talk to friends, ask them what they like about their careers, check out LinkedIn, do some internet research. Or ask your friends for five jobs they think you would enjoy or be great at."

4. Preparing your finances

You’ve decided what your perfect working day looks like and you’ve found a role that has practically been made for you, but there’s something else you need to consider - your finances. Do you need to have a lot of cash saved before making the switch?

Leadership Coach and Neuroscience Practitioner Dominique Stillman believes it depends on your situation. "It depends on whether you are going to another role immediately with another employer or if you are going into full time training for the new career," she explains. "If you are going into a self-employed situation this will impact your earnings, too. An exit strategy can mean staying where you are a little longer to allow you to get finances in place so you can make the move without jeopardising important areas such as housing and childcare."

Jenny, however, advises that you don’t necessarily need shed loads of money to make the switch. "You can make a sideways move. If it is a major career change and you need to go back into training or education then you may need a buffer. But lots of careers now offer part-time training and study options as well. And it isn’t just about the cash. You also need to think about other areas of your life. How will it affect your work-life balance and health and wellbeing?"

piggy banks

5. Don’t rush - take your time

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of changing careers, so much so that you take any offer that comes your way. You may even feel as though you need to juggle two jobs at once until you feel secure in your new career. But should you cut off, take a break and start completely fresh? Or should you keep your options open?

Isla suggests it depends on what your career change choice is. "If you have decided to start a business of your own, it might work in conjunction with your current job until the new enterprise is sufficiently successful for you to give up your current job."

Caroline Wellingham, Career Change Coach advises not to put all your eggs in one basket. "The riskiest option is to quit your job and put all your energy into your career change," she says. "You can work in your current job and figure out your next career action steps at the same time. When you are happy with your decision, then you can move on."

6. Network, network, network!

Never underestimate the power of networking. A lot of the time, you’ll hear about positions from people you know, and if you have a professional relationship with that person they’re more likely to pass your details on to prospective employers. 

"Networking is crucial – these days finding the right choices and changes is all about the relationships that you have," notes Isla. "Not only can you connect with people who might give you a career helping hand, but you can also find your support group, possibly a mentor, people to share experiences and knowledge with."

Caroline adds: "When you want to change careers, your network is everything. 70 – 80% of people get jobs through who they know. Network with people in companies that you want to work for. Meet people who are doing the job that you want to do. Expand the group of people in your current circle and be open to new opportunities that arise."

However, IAPC&M Chief Operations Officer, David Monro-Jones, stresses the importance of networking with purpose. "It depends on who you are networking with and for what reason. There are lots of networking opportunities, but always set objectives for what you want to achieve by the experience. There are lots of online networking events too, usually through social media platforms. Always find the one that’s right for you. Plus, learn how to network, as this is a skill in itself."

7. Finally, make sure it’s exactly what you want

Still not sure whether to take the leap? Make sure you’re 100% invested in the career change to save yourself time, money and stress.

"Find people, organisations or bodies that are in this field and talk to them – see if you can shadow people, read articles or publications for the sector to see what is happening in that area," Dominique suggests. "Research as much as you can and assess against the criteria that has been identified from the analysis you have done on your own career so far. How does this career match my motivations and lifestyle?"

IAPC&M Director, Dawn Ann Campbell, advises: "Look at who is already doing what you aspire to doing, then mirror them, ask them to mentor you, few will say ‘no’. Consider what it really means to be a business owner – see my handout – check yourself again the characteristics, the drive, the motivation, the resources, the skills and the resilience because sure as eggs are eggs you’ll never work harder, longer or for less pay until you make it and few do!"

Feeling inspired? Here are some more stories of women who have taken the plunge to change careers aged 30…

TV production to PR

Charlotte Greaves was 30 when she packed in her seven-year-career as a freelance TV assistant producer. “I predominantly worked in casting and development of TV shows for the likes of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Netflix,” she tells Marie Claire. “I loved the creative aspect of coming up with ideas for shows, and I adored working with the people within the industry, they are some of the most hard working and dedicated people I’ve met.” Long filming days of between 12-18 hours were no rarity, which became a struggle at times due to Charlotte’s chronic illness, Ulcerative Colitis. An irritable bowel disease, it can cause fatigue, joint pain and the passing of blood, making it very difficult to work at times. “The condition is incredibly unpredictable and goes through periods of flare ups and remission. It can be triggered by stress, and in such a high pressure environment like TV, I had a few flares throughout my career,” explains Charlotte. While many of her managers had been supportive, the combination of burnout plus the freelance nature of her role (and the risk of financial instability this posed) meant Charlotte found herself reassessing her career at 30.Charlotte“After getting a taste for the digital industries, I knew I wanted to move away from linear traditional broadcast and into a more digital role,” recalls Charlotte. She had moved away from Manchester during the pandemic, back to her family home in Morecambe, and set her sights upon a role in PR. “I don’t have anyone financially dependent on me, so that made the risk a lot less high, and seemed like a good time to make a move,” she explains. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a nerve-wracking prospect. “Leaving any career after a long period of time can be really daunting, but I’d built a career and contacts in an extremely competitive industry,” notes Charlotte, who was also concerned about joining an industry where she’d be going up against “people a whole decade younger than me.”Confident that she had transferable skills in abundance, and with the self-assurance years of professional experience had given her, Charlotte approached the managing director of a digital agency she knew, to express her interest in a role. It paid off, and before she knew it, Charlotte was thrust into a whole new industry. “Learning completely new skills was really exciting, and working from some of the best in the industry meant I picked up a really strong skill set.” A career change at 30 also brought about a significantly calmer schedule. Now in a fully remote role working from home, Charlotte appreciates how “life feels a lot less hectic” now. “I feel more present in the day-to-day. I don’t feel like I have to choose between my career and my life,” she says. The industry move meant taking a £12,000 pay cut, but Charlotte finds the consistency of a permanent employment contract far more secure, and it’s done wonders for her own personal development. “I feel more like myself, even more confident in my own skin at age 32 than I did in my twenties. I think that really helped me reassess what it was I wanted to do, and to start a whole new career in my thirties.”

Business owner to SEO expert

Stacie Jones flipped the script somewhat when she changed careers at 30. For almost 10 years she ran a creative agency offering web design, graphic design, social media, photography and videography to small businesses. But gradually, Stacie found she was “slowly falling out of love with social media” after finding it increasingly toxic and harder to break into for small brands. As her 30th birthday approached, and with the pandemic having slowed her business, Stacied found herself reassessing things. “I was thinking a lot about the future, and decided I felt ready to do something different.” When deciding what it was she wanted to explore, she was immediately drawn to SEO (search engine optimisation), which was something that she had some basic understanding of due to her experience in web design. “One morning in January this year, I woke up and I had a feeling that this was something I should explore. I had a contact who was my intern a few years back, she was working at an SEO agency, and I asked her if she thought SEO could be for me. The following week I started my contract working 2 days a week for them,” explains Stacie.StacieQuickly, the part-time contract morphed into the offer of a full time role. “After a couple of months they came to me with a full time job offer, along with perks such as private healthcare, 30 days paid holiday & sick pay.” Having not had a sick day in 10 years, it was a tempting proposition. “The stability that comes with a salary (plus better mortgage options) was also a pull, especially after COVID and having a few of my clients having to pull the plug on the work we had been doing because they were struggling financially,” Stacie says.After considering her options, Stacie accepted a three-day-a-week role with the same perks, and a salary that was more than her business income. It also enabled her to work on some creative projects on the side if she wanted. “I was really excited about the move,” recalls Stacie. “I thought moving to an employee role after being 'in charge' would be a challenge, but that hasn’t been a problem. It's so nice to work in a bigger team.” The move has been such a positive one for Stacie, in fact, she sometimes wonders if she should have done it sooner. “But I'm a believer that everything happens for a reason. Life is short, and there's no time like the present,” she says.“Our twenties are for learning about ourselves, figuring out who we are, finding where our strengths lie and what we want out of life. Our thirties are for thriving!”

Catriona Harvey-Jenner

Cat is a Senior Editor at Marie Claire, covering news and features across the brand's key purpose pillars, including women's issues, politics, career, mental health, female empowerment and equality, as well as books.