How to change career in your 40s

Considering a career change in your 40s? 5 tips to make it happen.

If you’re wanting to change career in your forties, you’re not alone. According to the Australian Institute of Business, it’s assumed people change jobs 12 times in their working life and spend approximately 3.3 years on average with a single employer. Indeed’s ‘Career survey report’ from 2019 states that the average age of people looking to change careers is 39, with 49% of respondents saying they have made a complete career change.

But taking the plunge into the professional unknown might still feel intimidating. You’re not as young as your 30-year-old colleagues who are leaving Defence, nor do you have an extra decade of experience under your belt like those changing careers after 50. But sitting smack-bang in the middle means you have the best of both worlds when changing career in your 40s; you’re experienced, and you’re agile.

Leaving the Defence Force for a civilian career, however, comes with a different set of challenges. If you are finding it hard to translate the skills gained during service for the civilian workforce as you set your sights on a career change at 40, then the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program can help.

Career change at 40: 5 tips to make it happen


You’ve decided to leave your ADF or civilian job for something new. But do you know what you want to do? Some people may follow a long-parked dream while others may be seeking inspiration on where a career change could land them. If you fall into the latter, there are some ways you can narrow down the options.

Firstly, speaking with a career advisor through the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program can help you identify your interests and skills and guide you on the best way to highlight these on your CV. This will provide you with a sounding board and a professional who can help you identify possible career directions.

Looking through university or vocational college career catalogues can provide a source of inspiration and may highlight some knowledge gaps.

Finally, dig deep and ask yourself the hard questions: What do I like and not like about my current role? What does an ideal workday look like to me? Do I have the time and willingness to upskill or retrain? What is my minimum salary requirement?

Once you have narrowed down your options, make a list.

Tips: A financial buffer can help offer you a safety net before launching into your new career. This will give you more options if you choose a career that requires more study or a pay cut.

Tip 1: Remember your skills are valuable

After potentially two decades or more in your ADF role, you have honed the hard skills of your trade. But you’ve also got an armoury of so-called ‘soft skills’ that may be harder to define but are easier to translate onto your CV. These soft skills are highly appealing to a new employer and transfer to any role in the civilian workforce.

Some soft skills you may have gained in the ADF include:

  • Discipline
  • Leadership
  • Work ethic
  • Problem-solving
  • Risk management
  • Strong values

Tip: you may be able to use this fresh start as an opportunity to rebrand your professional image. Building a personal brand is a vital step in carving out the future you want for yourself.

Tip 2: Find the overlap

With your skills identified and your career options listed, you can start to look for overlap or identify areas you may need to upskill.

  • What are you good at?
  • What skills do you need?
  • What do you want to be doing?

Finding common ground between these three questions can help narrow down your list.

Tip 3: Be ready to upskill

Some Defence roles have specific skills that are not easily transferable to civilian life. Maybe you were an infantry leader or an aircraft specialist. Finding overlap with an unrelated civilian career may be challenging, so upskilling may be required.

There are plenty of online courses available, which can be found at institutions like Online Courses Australia and Upskilled. Places like Udemy also offer short courses. While universities can help guide you through the appropriate courses if you need to study for a degree.

Tip 4: Build your network

Networking isn’t everyone’s strength but it’s well worth the effort. Whether you’re an expert on social media or prefer an in-person approach, networking will generate leads and help you to build a support base.

It helps to have people who can connect you with potential employers, bounce ideas off, and be a sounding board during your career transition. You might even find a mentor.

Tip 5: Reach out to the experts at the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program

If you’re considering a career change in your forties, the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program can help. Whether you’ve got a transition date to leave Defence or you’ve been in the civilian workforce for years, our expert career coaches can help you to make it happen.

Make your move today!