Career Changers’ Biggest Fears—and How to Face Them

Rachel Meltzer

Changing careers can be scary! But trust us, breaking into a career in tech isn’t as daunting as it might feel at the very beginning.

In fact, you might attribute a large portion of the career change pressure to fear. Fear of failure, ageism, losing money, or even just making the wrong choice. 

Here, we’ll look at five of the most common fears that career changers face, how you can combat those fears, and what you should do next to gain momentum in your career change. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. I’m too old to change careers into tech
  2. I’ve already sunk time and money into my current career
  3. I’ll have to be a junior again and start from scratch
  4. I don’t have time to make a career change
  5. Career change comes with so much uncertainty

A man sitting at a desk, working on a computer in an open office
Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

1. I’m too old to change careers into tech

This fear is natural—society often paints a picture that you’ll be on one career path your entire life and retire at 70 with decades of experience. 

This situation is simply not true for the majority of people. In fact, about 49% of the workforce has made a dramatic career shift! If they can do it. The average age of career changes is 39 years old, but making a career change later in life is also completely achievable—take CareerFoundry grad, Jeff, for example!

The truth is that no matter what shape or direction your career takes, and no matter your age if or when it changes, you bring valuable experience to any new role. If you’ve ever had a job (in any field), you have transferable experience. It’s that simple. If you feel “too old,” it’s very likely that you have more experience and persepctive to bring into a new career. 

Tips for committing to a career change later in life: 

  • Negotiate with your current employer: Some jobs will offer a more flexible schedule or allow you to telecommute which will give you space to learn a new skill and change careers.
  • Leverage the skills you already have: Talk to a career counselor to find out which of your current skills you could transfer to your new career
  • Network: If you’ve been in the workforce at all, you probably have a connection to the tech industry! Ask around, set up informational interviews, even network via LinkedIn or Facebook with other people who’ve changed careers later in life for support. 
  • Make a plan: Use the tips throughout this post to create a solid plan for your career change – but be flexible! No plan is perfect, be willing to shift your game plan where needed. 

For more guidance on how to face this particular fear, check out our guide: Are You Too Old for a Career in UX (much of this guide applies to other fields in tech as well). 

2. I’ve already sunk time and money into my current career

If you’re worried about losing all the hard work you’ve already put into your current career, you’re not alone. The sunk cost fallacy is one that many career changers struggle with—particularly those who are coming to tech from seemingly unrelated fields.

The reality is that most people who want to start a career in tech are able to find at least a few transferable skills to add to their resumé. And most often, it’s your soft skills that are the most transferrable and that take the most time and effort to cultivate. 

Anyone who has worked in design, marketing, engineering, accounting, copywriting, customer service, sales, human resources, or recruiting—in just about any sector—will most certainly find that the skills they’ve invested in already will transfer to a tech career. 

The truth is, you can learn how to code, design, or analyze as a complete beginner but some experiences will give you a leg up. Take CareerFoundry grad Anja Lena’s journey from design to UX, for example.

How to use your previous career experience to change careers

  • Start gathering micro-experiences: These are learning opportunities that involve you working on small gigs and projects to boost your portfolio and resumé. Be sure to state how you approached the project, the results of the project, and what technologies you used to create it. 
  • Share your micro-experiences: Share your work LinkedIn, in a portfolio, through a personal website, and on your resumé. If anyone helped you or worked with you on the project, ask them to leave you a review on LinkedIn!  
  • Talk to a mentor or career counselor: They’d be equipped to help you pick and choose which skills are the most transferable and how you can display them for maximum prestige. 

A woman sitting at a desk with a notebook and pen, considering career change.
Photo by Surface on Unsplash

3. I’ll have to be a junior again and start from scratch

First of all, you’re not guaranteed to have to start at a junior level. This is very dependent on your previous experience, transferable skills, and ability to “sell” those skills to potential employers. 

But what if you do need to start in a more junior role? Sure, a junior position doesn’t hold the prestige of a senior position—or perhaps the same paycheck. Depending on where you apply and how you present your transferable skills, you could get a mid- or senior-level position as soon as you gain the skills you need. In other words, a junior role isn’t forever!

And a junior role still carries a lot of value. A junior position gives you the ability to get a job without tech experience, explore the tech industry, and develop transferable skills for a mid- or senior-level job. Many teams have a high appreciation for junior designers precisely because they often bring fresh perspective and insights to the job!

The best part about a junior position for career changers is that it takes the pressure off of your career change. Juniors are expected, to some degree, to do some learning on the job. So if you start at a junior level, you won’t have to “hit the ground running” and feel the pressure to be the amazing expert-tech-genius-leader on the team. 

Read about Nico’s experience in going from UX newcomer to Product Lead.

How you can maximize your junior level position

  • Utilize your role to network: Schedule informational interviews, establish a good rapport with your team and supervisors, and reach out to people in other departments you’re interested in. 
  • Embrace performance reviews: They’ll tell you where to improve, might give you something to add to your résumé or LinkedIn, and they’re an opportunity to create a great relationship with your manager so that they’ll be willing to recommend you later. 
  • Education: Many tech companies offer training for their employees or vouchers for education. Take advantage of them if they’re offered at your employer!
  • Bonus tip: Brush up on your negotiation skills well before any interviews (and/or performance reviews) to make sure you know how and when to ask for a higher salary. Starting in a junior role doesn’t mean you necessarily have to settle for a salary that is far below your range. 

4. I don’t have time to make a career change 

People often point to a lack of time or overabundance of busyness as the main obstacle to switching careers. If you’ve got a lot of other obligations and people or activities in your life that really matter to you (current job, family, healthy habits, and more) that making time to learn new skills can certainly be a challenge. So how do you overcome this very legitimate fear?

First, remember that you’re interested in changing careers for a reason—and it’s likely a reason that matters just as much as those other, important parts of your life. You can prioritize the rest of your life in healthy ways and still work toward transforming your career into one you love. 

Second, know that there are many ways to learn new skills—and many that can be adapted to your schedule. There are many tech bootcamps, for example, that allow you to study at your own pace. 

Many career changers have faced this fear. Take Flora for example. She trained for her new career while she worked a full-time job and attended to life’s other demands.  

How to make time to change your career

  • Define and prioritize what’s important to you: If a career change is something you’re passionate about, bump it as high on your list of priorities as you can. Be realistic about how much time you can give to this, but also know that career change is a creative endeavor that allows (and requires) adaptation.    
  • Know your “why”: Why do you want to change careers? What is the result of changing careers? This is your motivation, the source of your passion! 
  • Make a plan: Make a schedule, a roadmap, and a plan for where you’ll get your education and your ideal job situation. Keep it as flexible as you need to, but it’s important to know where you want to go, what you want to explore along the way, and a general idea of how and when you’ll do this.
  • Find support: Is your family going to support you by making dinner when you’re studying or watching your kids for a while or just being moral support? Do you have friends you can lean on emotionally? Any tech friends who are willing to talk to you? Will you have a mentor or tutor? 
  • Evaluate your time: Record how you’re spending your time each day for a week or two. Where can you redirect your time more wisely? Where can you ask for help so that you have more time to learn? 

A woman sitting at a makeshift desk on the floor, working at a laptop with her infant nearby
Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash

5. Career change comes with so much uncertainty

Career change can certainly involve some uncertainty. And it can take courage to finally make the jump. How can you know that you’ll succeed? What if you don’t love your new field as much as you thought you would? Not to mention, you’ll probably have to invest some money to make the change. 

When it comes down to it, these uncertainties are largely your brain’s natural reaction to diving into something unknown. And this uncertainty can be all tangled up with imposter syndrome, concerns about money, not knowing how long it will take to land that first role, and more. 

It’s important to be realistic, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the unknowns need to keep you from pursuing a career you love. The best way around the fear of uncertainty is to work on feeling more prepared and proving to yourself that you are ready for this.

How to overcome fear of uncertainty

  • Make a plan: Plan how you’ll upskill, how much money you’ll need, how you’ll find time to make the switch, how you’ll explain your career change, and who you have for support. 
  • Find a mentor: Whether it’s someone you connect with on LinkedIn or a seasoned pro you meet in your bootcamp or other training, work one-on-one with someone who’s experienced in the field you’re interested in. This will allow you to gather insights and receive feedback. Get an objective point of view on what you’re doing well and what you can do better—from someone who knows.  
  • Talk to yourself: When you notice yourself thinking, “I can’t,” or some form of, “I’m scared,” talk to yourself. Out loud. It might sound silly, and you might laugh at yourself while you do it, but it works.Engineers do it all the time
  • Find evidence: Anything that will dispel your fears whether that’s other career changers’ stories, videos on YouTube, motivational Instagram icons, that TikTok that just really understands your struggle, or objective truths about the job market in your desired field. Whatever helps you feel empowered!

Next steps

We’ve talked about the five most common fears that career changers face. From ageism to money, job titles to a busy schedule, and even the fear of uncertainty itself—there are a lot of feelings that come with a career change into tech. But these fears don’t have to hold you back from creating a career you love. 

What’s holding you back? Is it one of these fears or something entirely different?

Use the action steps we’ve offered here, adapt them to meet your needs, and don’t let fear hold you back from taking your career into your own hands. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to break into a tech career, check out these articles:

What You Should Do Now

  1. Check out one of our free design or development courses.
  2. Become a qualified UX designer, UI Designer, or web developer in less than a year—complete with a job guarantee.
  3. Talk to a program advisor to discuss career change and find out which fields are best for you.
  4. Learn about our graduates, see their portfolio projects, and find out where they’re at now.