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Career change at 30: Tips to do it right

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Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

A major career move can be exciting yet intimidating at any age. However, by the time you reach 30, you may have 10 years invested into your career. The labor market has also changed—millions of workers of all ages have resigned in search of better opportunities.

There are many questions to consider before making a career change at 30. How do you break into a new field? Should you walk away from your current employer's benefits? What if accepting a new job means taking a pay cut? What about your 401(k)? A job transition plan can help you find the answers.

4 steps to create a job transition plan at 30

A job transition plan is a thorough strategy for leaving your current job and shifting to a new role—even if your goal is to move into a completely different industry. The plan lays out how to prepare and offers peace of mind before you take this leap.

1. Start with your "why"

Identify why you want to leave your current field, and consider what you're looking for in your next career. Take note of what worked in your previous career and what you'd like to avoid going forward.

Is 30 too old to change careers? Absolutely not. Your 30s can be a great time to explore and try something new. Don't feel obligated to stick with the career path you chose early in life. Simply learning something new and meeting new people are common reasons for wanting a career change at 30.

2. Research new career paths

Once you've narrowed your field of interest, look into what life might look like in a potential new career. What should you expect day to day? Is the income growth aligned with your goals?

Most career fields have professional organizations that can serve as a starting point for research. Expand your research beyond online sources—if possible, reach out to people you already know in the field and attend networking events to get a sense of how the switch might feel.

3. Identify any gaps in skill

Research the skills and experience needed to break into your new career. You can cover minor holes in your knowledge or skill with your transferrable skills, but larger gaps may require formal schooling or certifications.

Depending on your learning plan, this step can take months to years. Depending on your financial situation, it may be helpful to stay in your current career while you close the gaps.

4. Plan out your job search

As you gain the experience needed to thrive in your new career, you can begin your job search. Start by identifying roles at companies where you'd like to work. Look at what qualifications they ask for, and update your resume to highlight any relevant new skills or certifications you've acquired.

Then, create a set of criteria to evaluate your offers against your goals as you move throughout the interview process. This will help you look beyond salary and see the bigger picture, including health benefits, paid time off, company culture and overall satisfaction of the work.

Once you accept an offer, consider creating an exit plan to transition out of your current role.

Financial considerations for a career change at 30

As important as it is to find and research a career path you love, changing jobs has a real impact on your finances—a fact that often gets overlooked beyond comparing salaries. Here are three financial considerations worth considering before you switch careers.

  • Costs of training or formal schooling. Factor in what it costs for you to close the skill gap. Are you enrolling in full-time programs and need to account for a stint of time without an income? Or will you opt for part-time classes, online programs or on-the-job training? Will the employer cover a portion of the costs?
  • Changes to compensation. Will the career change be a lateral move, a pay increase or a pay cut? It's best to know ahead of time if you need to beef up your savings or take greater measures to decrease your expenses. Salary isn't the only compensation to consider: Company bonuses and stock options, for example, may also affect your decision. Make sure you understand the full picture of how you could be compensated before you decide to make the change.
  • Changes to work benefits. Know what benefits you're leaving behind and what you're walking into with your career change. For instance, consider how health insurance costs and coverage will change under your new employer. Knowing how soon your current benefits end once you leave your current role will help you avoid any gaps in coverage. If you have a health savings account, this money is yours no matter where you work, and you can transfer money from your previous account to the one held by your new employer. Flexible spending accounts, on the other hand, are forfeited once you leave the company. Verify the details of your company benefits with your employer to determine the timing of coverage. Be mindful of this as you determine the timing of your move. Lastly, know your retirement plan options at your new employer. Knowing this will help inform your choices on what to do with your 401(k).

How a financial advisor can help

You don't have to plan for a career change alone. A financial advisor can help you anticipate how a major career change could impact your money. Here are some of the ways a financial advisor can help.

  • Understand your current finances. A financial advisor can help you understand your current income and expenses. This is foundational to identifying any financial gaps you'll want to address before you change careers.
  • Establish financial goals. A financial advisor can help you build an emergency fund and devise strategies to reach your savings goals. You may find this invaluable if you need to save money to go back to school or prepare for a move to another state.
  • Budget guidance. Financial advisors can help you build a budget to stay on track. As you dive into your income and expenses together, you can design a realistic spending plan that sustains you throughout your career transition.
  • Handle retirement plans. Financial advisors can advise you on how to best handle your 401(k) when you change jobs as well as provide information on IRAs.

The bottom line

A career change at 30 is exciting, and it can improve your life professionally and personally. Be patient as you create a job transition plan and work with a financial advisor to avoid financial mishaps along the way.