If you are approaching (or have already reached) retirement age and you’re not ready to disconnect from the workforce, you are not alone — thousands of professionals 55 and older are embarking on second-act careers. The phrase “encore career,” made popular by Marc Freeman in his book Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life refers to a new stage of work between the middle years and true old age. In fact, more than 80 percent of Americans over age 50 say work will continue to be part of their life throughout what used to be retirement years, according to a 2013 survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Reasons to Keep Working
People are healthier and have a longer life expectancy than previous generations, and they are better educated — all of which increases their likelihood of staying in the labor force. Two primary reasons have been identified for why people are working later in life: financial stability and a sense of well-being.
Changes in Social Security benefits and the steady demise of defined pension plans have created financial incentives to keep working. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66, and it gradually increases to age 67 for people born between 1955 and 1960. Because people are living longer (the typical 65-year-old today will live to age 85, with more than one in three people living to age 90), it is financially prudent to delay receiving your retirement benefits until age 70, at which time your monthly benefit amount would have increased by 20 percent or more.
Bridging the health insurance gap between early retirement and eligibility for Medicare at 65, the added cost of Medicare Part B, supplemental insurance, and a prescription drug plan, as well as worry about future healthcare costs (the average 65-year-old couple retiring this year are likely to spend $245,000 on medical care not covered by Medicare) all create a greater need for additional income. And, to further compound the need to keep working, there is an upward trend in Baby Boomers supporting their “adult” children into their late 20s or 30s, as well as becoming primary caretakers of grandchildren or aging parents.
However, there are reasons to go to work that go beyond financial necessity. For Traditionalists (those born in 1945 and before) and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), work has helped define them for decades. A 2012 report from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work cites the importance of still feeling connected and having a sense of purpose to remain healthy, both physically and mentally. In fact, when AARP examined why older workers stay in the labor force, approximately 70 percent said they do so, in part, because they enjoy working.
Many people are repurposing their corporate skills to support nonprofit groups. Others are taking on part-time jobs to pursue new or longtime interests. And still, others are pursuing a passion — while simultaneously filling a market niche — by starting a small business.
Is Age a Concern?
Let’s address the elephant in the room: age discrimination is real. Two out of three workers between the ages of 45 and 74 say they have seen — or experienced — age discrimination at work, and surprisingly, jobseekers over age 35 cite age as a top obstacle to getting hired.
No doubt there are employers who can’t look past a candidate’s age. However, there are many traits associated with “old” that are within your control. These include:
• Being inflexible and unable to manage change
• Resistance to new ideas and business approaches
• Being unwilling to accept new challenges
• Ceasing to learn and upgrade knowledge and skills
• Resistance to computers, smart-phones, email, social media, and other technology
• A belief that they deserve special consideration because of their status in life
How you present yourself on paper, during the interview, and on the job, can help sway a prospective employer’s perceptions about your age.
And the tides seem to be shifting. Adults aged 65 and older are a rapidly expanding segment of the U.S. population, and they are projected to make up approximately 22 percent of the workforce by 2022. While the number of workers under age 50 will decrease 3 percent by 2022, the number of workers age 50+ will increase 62 percent, providing employers with an experienced, engaged, motivated, and emotionally stable demographic from which to hire.
An Aon Hewitt Survey revealed some impressive numbers:
So, instead of hanging your head — certain that your age will be a barrier to attaining an encore career — market your age as a plus. Get up to speed on the latest technology. Fight ageism by being physically fit, energetic, and positive in attitude. And don’t be a know-it-all with a chip on your shoulder. Stay at the top of your game through effective brand management.
Discovering Your Ideal Career
The most popular encore career fields are found in education, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations. A MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures New Face of Work Survey revealed that the desire to do work that enhances the well-being of others is widespread.
“Fully half of all adults age 50 to 70 (and 58 percent of those 50 to 59) aspire to work in seven areas that combine the seriousness, income, and other benefits associated with work with the desire to contribute to the greater good. Indeed, when asked specifically to name the kind of work they would prefer to do in the future, those surveyed named education and social services as two of their three top choices. Both finished just behind retail work — an area where much recruitment of aging Americans is underway. Health care jobs also finish high on the priority list.”
If you always wanted to be your own boss, self-employment is an attractive option for an encore career, as is freelance or “gig work” (independent contractors, on-call workers, and workers provided by temporary help agencies or contract firms). Knowledge and resources gained through years of experience may also put older workers in a position to work for themselves.
According to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in older age groups have higher rates of self-employment than do workers in younger groups.
In her book, What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job, Kerry Hannon offers the following advice on finding a successful encore career:
• Get your life in order. Get physically and financially fit. Change is stressful. When you’re physically fit, you have more energy. Lowering debt will allow you to have more choices. Debt is a dream killer. When you have your finances in order, it gives you options.
• Research. Check out websites to get an idea of what others are doing and what jobs are out there now. Some examples include Encore.org, RetiredBrains.com, Workforce50.com, and aarp.org/workresources. Investigate fields that have a growing demand for workers.
• Have a mental picture of where you want to go. Tape a photograph on your office wall of what it might look like. Journal about your goals. Stay focused.
• Get things moving by taking small steps. That might mean making a phone call to ask for advice or reaching out with an email each day to make a lunch date to discuss possibilities.
• Be practical. You may need to upgrade your skills and education, but take one class at a time. You can add more classes as your direction and motivation become clear.
• Don’t lock yourself into a must-have salary. Chances are you’ll need to take a pay cut, at least initially. Understand the tradeoffs.
Does It Pay To Go Back to School?
If you have determined that upgrading your skills is an essential step toward beginning an encore career, you will want to choose wisely. Although you have decades of workplace experience, you have fewer years in which to undertake lengthy (and often costly) additional schooling. Set your sights on finding a career in a growing field that will continue to add jobs and offers pay that will justify the cost of your education.
You don’t necessarily have to pursue a college degree to train for a new career. Consider taking online and in-person classes and workshops to fill the knowledge gap or to earn a certification or credential. Look at your local community college’s continuing-education offerings as well as trade groups/industry associations that offer coursework leading to certification.
Your Résumé and Job Search
It’s quite possible you never had a résumé — or the one you do have might not be up to date. Career document standards and formats have changed significantly, and not adhering to these changes may raise red flags about your age.
Does the content and format of your résumé shout, “I’m old and wanting to retire,” or “I’m alive, have a lot to offer, and am ready to take on new challenges.” Whether you hire an expert to write your résumé (highly recommended) or DIY, following are a few recommendations to “youthanize” your résumé:
Pay attention to 21st century standards for résumé content and design:
• Avoid using the template that came with your computer — it’s outdated and effective.
• Don’t tell your life history. An effective résumé is not an obituary of your career, it is a marketing brochure that sells your unique brand.
• Focus on the last 10-15 years of your career — and eliminate age-revealing information, such as serving in the Vietnam War or graduating from college in 1973.
• Use words that portray energy and enthusiasm. Instead of “seasoned professional” (aka “Old Guy”), substitute “dynamic change agent” who “transformed operations, ignited sales, pushed through new initiatives…”
• Begin with a strong professional summary that gives the reader an overview of your experience and all you have to offer.
• Summarize your job responsibilities in two or three sentences and hit hard with bulleted achievement statements that illustrate how you saved companies time and money and positively impacted the bottom line.
• Show your reader that you are flexible, manage change, and accept challenges. Highlight projects you initiated, problems you tackled and resolved, and cross-functional teams you collaborated with.
Show your reader that you embrace technology:
• Include your email address (not your family’s or spouse’s) and don’t use silly account names such as “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com.”
• Include your cell phone number. Don’t have a cell phone? Get one!
• List your computer skills (at a minimum Microsoft Word, Excel, and/or PowerPoint). Don’t have any computer skills? Learn some!
• Include the vanity URL to your LinkedIn profile. Don’t have a LinkedIn profile? Get one!
Prove that you are committed to continuous learning:
• Include a section for professional training and development — and list things that are current and relevant to your targeted job: credit and noncredit classes, company-sponsored training, conferences and workshops, e-learning modules — even industry journals to which you subscribe, or industry-recognized authors whose books you have read.
• List the professional associations of which you are a member. Don’t belong to any associations? Join some!
• Include links to articles you have published or to your professional blog. What, you don’t have any? It is never too late to start writing them.
Prepare for interviews by researching the company prior to the interview. Visit their website and learn more about their products and services, their customers and clients, and their culture, and the people who work there. Look through their social media accounts (LinkedIn and Facebook) and see if you are connected to someone who works there — or who has worked there — who can provide you with some insight into the company.
Anticipate interview questions about your age and future goals and prepare appropriate responses. Do a practice run by interviewing for jobs or companies for which you may be overqualified or that are too long of a commute. If you start by interviewing with employers at the top of your list, you may have too much riding on it to manage your emotions well.
Consider starting on a project basis or as a consultant. This often gives you a leg up on younger workers who are often unable to accept these kinds of employment positions — and these can often lead to full-time work. Another way to get your foot in the door is by volunteering with a charity or nonprofit. This often leads to employment down the road with an employer who recognizes your knowledge and skills and appreciates your work ethic.
Encore.org provides access to numerous tools and resources for “encore jobseekers,” including The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life, by Marci Alboher, an executive with the organization.
Coming of Age helps people 50+ explore their future as well as connect and contribute through opportunities — both paid and unpaid — in their communities and provides training to nonprofits.
Life Planning Network is a community of professionals and organizations from diverse disciplines dedicated to helping people navigate the second half of life.
The National Older Worker Career Center provides experienced workers using cost-effective, flexible, innovative, and contemporary staffing options for two government agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Opportunity Knocks is a career site with “jobs that change the world.”
Retirement Jobs features jobs for people over 50 (including volunteer opportunities).
Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). The National Council on Aging (NCOA) manages 27 SCSEP offices under a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. SCSEP helps adults aged 55+ return to or remain active in the workforce by providing job training, job search services, and on-the-job experience.
Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) program. Another program sponsored by NCOA allows workers ages 55+ to share their skills and expertise with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). SEE positions range from clerical to technical and professional assignments as technicians, writers, engineers, scientists, and accountants working for the environment. NCOA is one of six national aging organizations administering the SEE program through a cooperative agreement with the EPA.
The Transition Network is a nonprofit that creates inclusive communities for women 50+ in personal or professional transitions who are seeking new connections, resources, and opportunities to grow and contribute.
The traditional three-stage life cycle comprised of full-time education, full-time work, and full-time retirement is rapidly fading, and in its place is a unique workforce model where professionals from five generations work side-by-side. And, as changes continue, more and more encore career opportunities will unfold, and age stereotypes and discrimination will increasingly become outdated.
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