As I look back at my 30s, my career change stands out as a huge moment of personal development. It was one of the most transformative decisions I made in the past decade and required an extraordinary amount of patience, hard work and good luck. So was it worth it? Absolutely. Here’s why I recommend doing a career change in your 30s.
Why I decided to do a career change at 35
I studied film theory at university and was so lucky to land a job in the film industry before I even graduated. What followed was 13 years of roles in some high-profile film and TV companies (including MTV and the production company that make the James Bond films). So why on earth did I want to leave it?
There were many reasons but essentially I’d fallen out of love with the film industry. I’d been all starry-eyed, full of awe and ambition in my 20s but by 35 I was all too aware that it wasn’t as creative or diverse as I’d anticipated. This was just before #metoo and Black Panther, so I hope that things are a lot better now.
It’s also a very unstable industry, with lots of low or unpaid roles at the bottom but very few well-paid, stable jobs as I moved up. After a decade of working my ass off, I realised that I was going to have to work even harder to find a role with a company that could grow me long-term.
By the time I went through redundancy for the second time in six years, I knew I was done. In fact, my love affair with film died a slow death during that time. My heart was now captured by solo travel and writing content about it, so I wondered if perhaps there was some way I could make a leap across to the travel industry?
Saying goodbye to film was hard though. It was the only industry I’d known and one I’d thought I’d always work in. Was I simply throwing away years of career development? Who would I even be if I didn’t work in film anymore?
Making the leap from film to travel
Once I decided to change careers, my biggest problem was not knowing exactly what I wanted to do. How did people get paid to write about travel? What job titles should I be looking for? I no idea how the job sector even worked outside of film and TV.
I figured the best strategy was to get a job — any job — in travel that would pay the bills and give me an insight into the industry. This is how I ended up working as a travel agent for nine months. It was a huge culture shock for me. I went from a job in script development, where I spent most of my days reading books while talking about genre and character development with writers and producers, to a sales role where I wore a uniform.
The biggest benefit of this first job in travel was I saw how the industry worked behind the scenes. How flight routes are mapped out. How hotel rooms types are structured. How so much of travel is focussed upon only a handful of destinations. My understanding of geography boomed and I was more excited than ever to go travelling myself.
I quickly realised that one thing that film and travel had in common was that they are both in the business of selling dreams. I just needed to find the story for each client and paint the picture of their dream holiday for them. Suddenly, I became a good travel agent — but I didn’t leave the film industry to book other people’s trips for them.
Am I too old for an internship?
During those few months spent working as a travel agent, I kept blogging and applying for entry-level roles that somehow combined writing and travel but with zero luck. Surely people could see the value in my skillset from years spent working on film scripts? Turns out, they couldn’t.
When you’re competing against hundreds of other people for a role, it’s incredibly rare that an employer will be able to see your potential if you don’t have some form of relevant experience on your CV. So I suddenly found myself having to do something I’d never done before: I was going to have to become an intern.
It was only through sheer luck that I had managed to get into the film industry without ever having to do an internship — it’s practically unheard of. However, I’d managed many interns during my time in that industry so I figured I had a unique advantage. I knew what employers expected from an intern.
The biggest barrier was my age. Would anyone want to take on an intern in their 30s? I was unaware back then that this was a growing trend. A ‘minternship,’ as they are now known, is a mid-career internship for people in their 30s and 40s. As always, I was ahead of curve.
I had no qualms starting from the bottom again and working for people who were younger than me. Plus, I figured with my colourful hair and fun style, I could pass for someone in their late 20s at first glance. All I needed to do was explain why I wanted such an opportunity.
I created a CV that downplayed my previous experience in film and focussed on my blogging, so potential employers could see why I was so keen to intern. I knew once I got an interview, I could explain why I was a bit older than their average intern.
Life as a 35-year-old intern
I ended up spending a year interning for a variety of companies in the travel industry before I landed a permanent role. This was longer than I’d anticipated, but each role bought new opportunities for my CV. I was extraordinarily lucky to have an incredible partner who was willing to support me financially through this experience. Like most interns, I couldn’t afford to live on what I made in some of my roles. By law, UK employers have to pay their interns the national minimum wage, but not all of them do.
There were some roles I left after only a week. I could see that they weren’t going to bring me any experience of value. This was one of the biggest benefits of being an intern in my 30s — I knew what would and wouldn’t be worth my time. I needed to find the right opportunities that would help get where I needed to be.
I was lucky to score two great internships during this year: an editorial internship at APL Media (who publish National Geographic Traveller UK) and a social and content internship at Generator Hostels. The editorial internship helped me build my portfolio with a range of bylines but also helped me to realise that I wanted to work somewhere with a digital focus. The social and content role introduced me to the world of SEO and Snapchat, helping me to land my first permanent role with Hostelworld.
One of the hardest things I found about being an intern in my 30s was the very basic work. I ready for this and thought I would be fabulous at all the menial tasks, whizzing through them and becoming a much-loved member of the team. The reality was, I often so uninspired that I struggled a little from time to time. I learnt a lot about myself during this time and how I dealt with the challenge of not being challenged. Thankfully, I knew these were only short-term roles that would help me get where I needed to go.
Should I change careers?
Yes. Our working life is long. How can you know at 20 what will hold your interest for the next 40+ years? We all grow and evolve throughout our lives. Our careers should change with these shifts too. Plus, the job I now have (as a digital content producer for travel and lifestyle brands) didn’t exist 20 years ago. Perhaps the job you have now won’t exist in another decade?
It took me two years to effectively change careers. There was nothing like the joy I felt when I scored my permanent role as a Social and Content Executive at Hostelworld. All that hard work had paid off and now I had a job I genuinely wanted. It is still to date the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had — partly because I love hostels so much and partly because it was so rewarding to have successfully changed careers.
This experience also taught me that I can grow myself. Knowing that I had the power to shape my career and develop my journey through my working life helped me to realise that I could create the job I wanted, rather than relying on employers. This led me to go freelance last year, which was a blessing considering how much the pandemic has impacted jobs in the travel sector. I was already autonomous and knew I had the skills and resilience to find or create work for myself.
My tips for doing a career change in your 30s
Go part-time in your current job: talk to your employer about reducing your days so you have time to put into changing careers while still having an income. I know plenty of people who have done this in the past couple of years. If your current employer truly values you, they will do anything to hold onto you. You can study, retrain, do a part-time internship or work on your portfolio in these spare days.
Look for companies that offer minternships: this trend has meant that some employers are now actively seeking interns in their 30s and 40s. They recognise how much someone with years of previous experience in another field can bring to their business.
Take risks: be willing to leave a well-paid job you hate for an opportunity that will take you where you need to go. Don’t waste your life. Be brave. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can grow your new career with the passion you have for it.
Be confident but not cocky: yes, you used to have a great job but you didn’t like it. That’s why you’re changing careers. So have confidence in your abilities but don’t be cocky about them. Your new colleagues don’t need to hear about your previous career highlights all the time. You will give the impression you are ‘above’ your new job.
Make friends: when you enter a new industry, you have to build your contact list from scratch. Every internship and job is an opportunity to grow your network, so put effort into making friendships. People will be so much more likely to tell you about or recommend you for new jobs if they like you.
You can always go back: it’s always possible to step away from your career and try something new, then go back if you want. Your years of experience will still be there and taking a few years out to explore something new won’t hinder your career progression in the long run. It shows that you are brave, passionate and can show initiative. What employer wouldn’t value that?