In Your 30s And No Career? 10 Real World Tips

In Your 30s And No Career? 10 Real World Tips
In Your 30s And No Career? 10 Real World Tips

In Your 30s And No Career?  10 Real World Tips

Have you suddenly traded your care-free 20s for the responsible 30s?  A decade change can come as a big shock, things which seemed perfectly acceptable at 26 suddenly seem irresponsible at 32.  It is all too easy to be sucked into a rut and then suddenly look round and realize that the rut is going to cause you big problems.  

There are many reasons for getting to your 30s and suddenly realizing that you have no career.  If you went to college to get a degree it is likely that you are now stuck with a lot of debt.  If you took a part time or nonprofessional job to pay it off you may not be able to take the financial hit of doing a low (or even non paid) internship and are therefore stuck, you can’t get on the career ladder until you give up your job and you can’t give up your job until your career gives you a well enough paid opportunity.  

Perhaps you or your girlfriend got pregnant and you had to put your degree and career aspirations on hold or you ended up having to care for an elderly or sick relative.  Maybe you just enjoyed the party scene in college and never really knuckled down to hard work in the real world.  Alternatively did you go to college on the assumption that the jobs market would be buoyant only to find that the market for your particular skills no longer exists?  

It does not matter why you found yourself without a career in your 30s what matters is what you are going to do about it.  It may seem that you have no or very limited options but that is not true.  Firstly because opportunities are out there and secondly because, given the length of time people live these days, you are no longer considered middle aged at 30.  We have set out 10 effective and proven tips that can help you get onto the career ladder.

10Consider What Experience You Have And Use It To Build Your Resume

Identify your solid resume-worthy skills

Just because you have not been working your way up the career ladder in a profession does not mean that you do not have useful and transferable skills.  Think about the jobs you have had, each one of them will have given you something back.  Even if you have ‘just’ been doing data entry or flipping burgers, you will have learned the value of time management, professionalism and a whole host of other necessary skills that you can apply in your future career.

If you have not been working the chances are that you have learned something.  Were you looking after a sick relative?  You probably had to advocate on their behalf to insurance and health care providers.  Did you raise a family?  Chances are that you were involved in some type of voluntary work through the PTA or church, what did you learn from those experiences?  Did you do some form of bookkeeping or perhaps event planning?

We are not suggesting you pad your resume, firstly because that would be wrong and secondly because recruiters see through such tricks far more easily than you might imagine.  What we are saying, however, is don’t dismiss your skills just because you may have learned them in a less than orthodox manner.

9Write The Right Kind Of Resume

Know how to pitch yourself

Now that you have established what skills you have already gained that might stand you in good stead when it comes to trying to get on the career ladder it is vital that you work hard on your resume.

Your resume is your pitch to recruiters, it is your best opportunity to get noticed and as such it pays to spend some time making it the best it can be.  When you were at school and college you were probably advised to write your resume chronologically and keep it to two pages long.  That advice is good but if you are in a somewhat unorthodox position having an orthodox resume may not do you any favors.  You should, instead, consider using a functional resume format.  This groups your experience by skill as opposed to chronologically by time of employment and as such can be a good format for people with long career gaps or very little work experience because it highlights the experience not the time you got it.  You should also make the effort to tailor your resume to the company and position you are applying for.  This can be somewhat time-consuming but it will pay dividends.  Hiring managers are looking for a very specific set of skills to fill a vacant position.  By highlighting those skills on your resume you are giving a very clear signal that you are someone that they should be talking to.

8Have A Job To Get A Job

What? I need a job to get a job!?

You may think that you would be better off taking a break from part time or non-career based work (if you can)  in order to put all your efforts into your career search.  You would be wrong!  It may seem perverse but it is a well-known fact that it is easier to get a job when you already have a job.  Indeed an alarmingly large number of companies are known actively to discriminate against job-seekers who are unemployed.  Why is this?  Hiring managers are probably worried that those who are unemployed may have lost some element of their work ethic and that their skills may be rusty.  It may be wrong and illogical but whatever the reason behind this bizarre set of circumstances it is the reality with which you have to work.  

With that in mind if you are not doing a job to cover the bills get something, anything.  It may not be what you want to do, it may be completely unrelated to your career path but the very act of working will make you more desirable to prospective employers.  Add to that the fact that the job will give you transferable skills and the opportunity to demonstrate achievements.   If you are completely unable to find something look into volunteer opportunities or training courses at community college, anything that you can use to demonstrate to a potential employer that you are doing more with your day than sitting on the couch watching Netflix.

7Work Out What You Want

Know your path. At least pick one.

The answer to the questions ‘what do you want?’ is personal and individual.  No one can answer it for you.  You therefore need to sit down and not only ask the question of yourself but also answer it truthfully.  Now that you are in your 30s what do you want to do with your life?  Do you want a career in banking or the law?  Have you always wanted to run your own business?  Take the time to really drill down into your hopes and dreams and find out why they are important to you.  

How can you do this?  Firstly you need to challenge any pre-conceived assumption you may have.  Perhaps your parents always wanted you to be an accountant and all your schooling and work to date was designed with that in mind.  If you don’t want to do that don’t let yourself be forced into it.  Secondly you need to look at what is working well in your life, it would be a shame to damage that by making changes that destroy it in the process.  Thirdly you need to work on selling you.   You have already established what skills you have to help you establish a new career; now you need to be able to identify your unique selling point, what makes you better than everyone else, your core values and your life experiences and how they will help you succeed in your chosen career path.  

If you can’t articulate what you want and why you will not appear convincing to others.  You need to be able to speak passionately and ably about all these points in order to convince hiring managers to take a chance on you.

6Network, Network, Network

You gotta schmooze

You have probably heard the phrase, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ may times.  You have probably also seen many examples of this adage in action.  It may seem unfair but the more people you know the more likely you are to get a break.  

Of course you may be lucky enough to know people who can introduce you to hiring managers and if you do don’t be afraid to use those connections.  Be careful how you approach them, however.  Don’t demand introductions but don’t come across as needlessly humble either.  Arrange to meet for coffee or lunch and be completely honest.  Tell them that you are interested in getting established in x career.  Explain the research you have done into the demands of the work and why your skills and experience would make you a good fit in the industry.  Then ask them for advice on how to take it forward from there.

If you don’t know someone in the industry your options are a little more limited.  Try to attend careers fairs or lectures if any are available in your local area.  Make the most of your time there, go smartly dressed, research the companies you speak to beforehand, ask interesting and on point questions.  Don’t moan about your lack of a job or that you are looking for work, spend more time just talking to people.  Get as many business cards as you can and, when you return home, get in contact via email to express your thanks for their time and reach out to them over LinkedIn.

5Go (Back) To School

You may need to get some new skills

Do you have the requisite education to pursue the career you are now interested in or do you need to go (back) to school?  The answer to this question may depend on why you have found yourself in your 30s with no career.  If you gained a good and relevant degree but have, for whatever reason, not managed to apply it to your career then you probably have the right educational qualifications.  If your degree is in an area that is completely unrelated to the career you wish to pursue, or you never gained a degree in the first place then you will probably have to get one.

You don’t have to go back to college full time.  There are plenty of correspondence and evening courses available and online learning through MOOCs and online providers such as UDEMY may provide you with the necessary qualifications.  Even if you do have the necessary degree you might benefit from doing a few extra qualifications.  You may have noticed that all the job adverts that you see ask for proficiency in a certain type of software.  If you are not working in the field already you will need to be able to demonstrate that you are proficient.  The best way to do this is to undertake a course.  For example you could get  a project manager’s PRINCE certification or train yourself in the use of a few different types of bookkeeping software?  The opportunities are wide and varied and there will almost certainly be something available that can help make you a more employable prospect.

That said make sure that your courses are targeted towards your desired career, otherwise you run the risk of looking like a dilettante who cannot settle to anything in particular.  Courses are also expensive so you want to make sure you are spending your money as efficiently as possible.

4Do A Practice Project

Create a neat app

It may sound strange but you won’t really know if your desired new career will suit you until you try it.  If you can, therefore, do your very best to give it a go by setting up a short, time and scope limited project.  They key to success is not just to plan or run a virtual project in your head but to actually do something.  It may seem daunting but there are all sorts of ways you could go about it.

If you are looking to develop a career in something creative, whether it be flower arranging  or game design just go ahead and do it.  If a friend is getting married offer to do her flowers for cost as long as you can use the photographs for marketing purposes.  Ask a few local businesses if you can do the flowers for their front desks or bring some in to your local hospice.  Leave a business card in each display and take photographs, build a website and use the projects you have already done to generate more business.  Design a game and launch it on an app store, generate interest through social media and get friends to submit (honest) reviews.  

If you are looking to break into a more traditional industry you could offer to volunteer at conferences where you get to know people and search out opportunities where you can offer to help, even if you have to take a vacation from your current position to take advantage of an internship opportunity.

What these projects will do is give you the opportunity to see whether you enjoy your potential new career, not only the key nuts and bones aspect of it but all the other background stuff that comes with any job.  

3Go Freelance

Get your name out there

Sometimes the best way to do something is to do it yourself.  You may find that you have excellent skills and are good at a potential career but that you are overlooked for career opportunities because you do not have the same background experience as everyone else in the industry.  

If this is the case you may be better off contracting or freelancing than working as an employee, at least at first.  Take the example of the flower arranger in 4 above.  If, after they have come to the end of their first project, they have found that they enjoy all aspects of the business why should they consider working for a florist when they could be running their own business, being a freelancer would enable them to take advantage of all sorts of opportunities that may not be available to them otherwise.  There are also plenty of online marketplaces such as People Per Hour or Upwork where people can sell their skills, from graphic design to translation.  This can prove a fantastic opportunity to build up a portfolio of high quality work, repeat business and good client recommendations.  

Once you have a significant amount of experience under your belt you can decide whether to apply for an employed position or whether the flexibility of freelance work appeals to you.  

2Be Prepared To Start From The Bottom

Get ready to work your way up

One of the things you need to be prepared for, when you start a new career in your 30s, is that almost everyone on your level is going to be younger than you.  Many of your peers will be starting out just after college, that means you could be 10 years (or more) their senior.

You can look at this in one of two ways.  Firstly you can let yourself think that you have lost those 10 years, that you will never be able to go as far in your chosen career as those who knuckled down when they were younger.  That could be true but only if you let it be.  Another  way to look at it is that you are more mature, now that you are in your 30s with your party years behind you, you can devote yourself to working hard.  If your basic work skill and background knowledge are good there is no reason why you should not excel, just work hard and concentrate on your own career without worrying what others are doing.

Of course you may have built up enough transferable skills to allow you to start a little way up from the bottom of the pile.  Whether or not that is the case will depend on what work you have been doing in your 20s and how applicable it and your resultant skills are to your new career.

1Find A Mentor

Get some help from an expert in your chosen field

We have already spoken about the importance of networking, of speaking to the people you already know in your new career (see 6 above).  Gaining a mentor is a more intense version of this.  A mentor is someone who has been where you have been and knows the steps needed to advance in your new career.  Even leaders like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs had mentors, indeed they say they owe their success to the investment of time and energy that their mentors gave to them.  

A good mentor will challenge you to grow, encourage you to take opportunities and give you emotional and professional help when times are tough.   They will tell you when you are getting it wrong and give you the support you need to put it right.  They will allow you the opportunity to sound out new ideas and act as a critical friend.  They can also introduce you to the people who matter.  


No matter what you have done with your life to date there are no barriers to future success.  For whatever reason your 20s, and the career opportunities they provided are behind you but that does not mean that you cannot live your dream and find yourself a career in your 30s.  We have set out 10 tips that will help you on your way.  If you follow them there is no reason why you should not find yourself, 10 years from now enjoying an established position in your new career.

These tips on their own will not, however, do it.  Each of them requires a significant degree of input and potentially hard work from you.  In the end, however, if you are willing to put in the time and effort the investment will pay dividends.  Good luck!