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Home | Got a Minute | Career advice | No. 7 – I’ve jumped around a lot in my career. Am I getting too old to do so?

No. 7 – I’ve jumped around a lot in my career. Am I getting too old to do so?

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31 March 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, the challenge of switching careers, returning to work after being a stay-at-home dad for a decade, and pushing for change in the workplace.

I’m in my mid-30s and have moved companies a lot in my career. I’ve always wanted to stay in one role, but it just hasn’t worked out. I am currently studying two days a week to start my own business and working in a sales job on the side that I don’t enjoy. It’s all very daunting and I do question whether I should just go back to my rocky first career. Am I too old for such a big change?

The great news is that you are never too old for a career change and especially not when you are just starting out in your ’30s; you have recognised early in your life that your first choice of career was not for you. The fact you have then gone and done something about it is admirable. Many people never take that step so you should feel very proud of yourself for having done so.

I know from personal experience that changing careers can feel daunting as you move from being comfortable in your environment to almost feeling like a beginner again. But trust me, the change will be worth it. It sounds like you were unhappy in your first career and so finding what it is that you love means you will be more likely to succeed and find stability in a role you enjoy.

Please also try and hang in there with the extra study. Like you, I have undertaken part-time study a number of times during my career and each time I felt the same way. Balancing study with work is definitely difficult however it is well worth it and every time I have finished, it has opened up different opportunities.

Think about this period of transition in a positive way since it is taking you down the path to a fulfilling career.

I have been a stay-at-home dad for nearly 10 years, and I am currently studying to re-enter the workforce. I don’t have any work references due to being out of work for some time, and it has been a number of years since I’ve done volunteer work. How should I approach the question of referees for my resume when applying for jobs when I have no suitable professional references?

Many stay-at-home parents have faced the same predicament, so thank you for your question.

Thankfully, times have changed and there is a much greater acceptance of people having a career ‘gap’ that can be explained when you look to re-enter the workforce. My advice is to be very upfront about why you don’t have any professional references and explain it is because you have been prioritising your family for the past decade.

If you have remained in contact with people from your earlier career period, perhaps check in with them to see whether they might be happy to chat with a potential employer and speak about your qualities from that time. While any reference that old would ordinarily not be something you could present, given your circumstances and if you are open and honest in your job application, I am hopeful most employers would understand. Good luck!

How can you help change company culture when you are not in a position of power or influence?

Brittany Higgins is a wonderful example of why you do not need to have a formal position of influence to drive change. She has never had a senior position of power yet through sharing her story she has driven considerable cultural change in the halls of Parliament and more broadly throughout Australia.

The reality is that anyone can influence cultural change. We are all leaders in that respect as we affect culture through the words we choose, the actions we walk past, the behaviours we tolerate. We all play an important role, whatever it might say on our business card, to drive change and improve corporate cultures.

Send your curly questions about work, career, leadership and anything in between to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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