Second time around

Erinn Hutkin

As author of the book “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+,” Kerry Hannon has interviewed plenty of retirees who have put their expertise to use at second careers. One of those was a retired Navy man who loved the circus so much, he started working as company manager of the Big Apple Circus, a job that allowed him to travel the East Coast for part of the year.

While they may seem like opposite worlds, he’s told Hannon the military and the circus really aren’t that different -- after all, he’s still using his coordination skills to move a big group of people from place to place. As a bonus, he told Hannon, every time he goes to work, he feels like a kid again. “It’s not that you’re reinventing yourself, you’re redeploying skills you already have into a new arena,” Washington, D.C.-based Hannon said of baby boomers finding post-retirement careers. “Don’t get locked into the idea that you have to be a Walmart greeter -- there’s all kinds of cool ways to find work.” Because people are living longer, working after retirement has become a reality for many adults. According to a 2010 Del Webb survey, 72 percent of boomers plan to continue working in some form post-retirement.

There are a variety of reasons why retirees may return to work. For those considering the move, Hannon and other experts offer some job-finding advice.

For those who are bored

Get fit. The reality of re-entering the workforce, Hannon said, is that boomers will compete with younger applicants. “Age discrimination does exist,” she said. “This is... a reality today.” To stay competitive, she suggests getting physically fit in some way -- whether it’s updating your look or starting an exercise program -- which she said is often followed by more mental sharpness and the ability to better deal with stress. “If you can show vibrant energy... and sharp-mindedness, that’s going to go a long way,” she said.

Draw on experience. Work you’ve done in the past might help you find a job as a retiree, Hannon said. If you have experience working with numbers, consider looking for a job as a bookkeeper, for instance. Hannon said offering to lend a hand -- especially on a contract basis -- at non-profits or small businesses is a great option because they often can’t afford to hire full-time workers.

Follow your passions. Dave Bernard, a blogger who writes about retirement for U.S. News & World Report, said boomers shouldn’t wait until they’re 65 to think about staying active. He urges people to consider what they’re passionate about and what would make them feel they’re doing something worthwhile. While it’s not practical to become a fireman or a ballerina at age 60, he urges retirees to think about what they wanted to be growing up. Another idea, he said, is looking around the community to see how you can contribute, whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping an elderly neighbor go grocery shopping.

For those needing extra income

Get tech-savvy. In today’s job market, being comfortable with technology is “non-negotiable,” Hannon said. While that doesn’t mean “tweeting every five seconds,” she suggests older job seekers create a profile on networking sites such as LinkedIn. Those who need help setting up an account should ask a niece, nephew, child or grandchild for assistance or take a course at a community college. Apple stores also offer free classes on technology, Bernard said, and there are free online webinars. A Google search for “Facebook classes” or “technology classes” in your ZIP code should also produce results.

Make connections. Hannon said older job-seekers should approach college career centers to start their job search and get help rejiggering their resumes. “A lot of colleges are really in tune to this demand,” she said. In addition, she said lots of placement agencies -- Flexforce Professionals in the Washington, D.C., area is one -- pair retirees with small, fast-growing companies that need experienced workers. Meanwhile, Hannon said it’s common for workers to “volunteer their way into a job.” She said working for free or on a contract basis will teach retirees new skills, keep resumes fresh and could ultimately lead to full-time work.

Be your own boss. There are all sorts of ways, Hannon said, for retirees to start their own business. Consider helping senior citizens downsize to smaller houses or condos -- she said the National Association of Senior Move Managers offers courses. There’s a huge need for drivers to take seniors to airports or doctors’ appointments, she said, while many community colleges are developing courses in patient advocacy to help people sort through medical bills and navigate the system. You can also get creative and look around the community for interesting places to work. Hannon said park districts, ball fields and museums are often good about hiring retirees.

For those ready to pursue a dream

Do your homework. Whether its volunteering or being an apprentice, those who want to use their retirement to follow a dream should get first-hand experience. 

Hannon interviewed one man with a passion for cooking who volunteered as a chocolate-maker at Dean & DeLuca and eventually started a home businesses selling chocolate online. She knows another man who worked in every restaurant he could find and made contacts until he finally opened a small bistro.

Find a partner. For those who want to start a business, Bernard -- who’s based in northern California -- suggests partnering with others to mitigate risk and combine skills.

And because so many businesses can now be launched online, he said it cuts down on the inventory and investment. Meanwhile, Hannon likes the idea of starting “legacy businesses,” where older adults pair with children or grandchildren to launch a company that can be handed to another generation.

“It’s a beautiful pairing of enthusiasm and experience,” she said.

Be financially fit. Make sure to have your finances in order before pursuing a dream job. Hannon said create a budget and look at areas where you can downsize or cut back. Also, she suggests not counting on a salary from a new venture for at least a year, so having a cushion in place is essential.