Last fall, I had the opportunity to attend the Gerontological Society of America meeting, which brought together 3,600 researchers from around the globe to present research on the aging population. My agenda was to attend sessions on working in our 60s and beyond and the challenges and rewards if entrepreneurship and being your own boss.
It was a little depressing, to be honest.
Their gloom and doom made be bristle. I am squarely in the other camp. I see tremendous opportunity out there for workers who take their time to find ways to redeploy their skills from their first career, pursue lifelong learning to keep their skills sharp, and network aggressively–mining who they know to find work that has meaning to them, and in many cases, has a lasting impact on others and making the world a better place.
That work will be different for everyone. It might be bridge jobs that phase you into full-time retirement when you’re ready or part-time ventures, or starting a small home-based business, but at the core of it is staying healthy and socially and mentally engaged-key benefits of continuing to work.
And importantly, that work will allay the fear of outliving your money, by allowing you to continuing to add to retirement accounts and not have to tap into them too soon, so the funds can continue to compound and grow. And, certainly, those bonus work years will let you stave off taping into your Social Security, and, in essence, giving yourself a 8 percent a year bump in your payout when you do.
That said, surveys like the recent one from the Employee Benefits Research Institute indicate that workers say they will continue working after 65, but many don’t-often because of health issues, perhaps, or they’re caught up caring for aging relatives.
But a big reason is that many of the people I meet have trouble envisioning what it is they can do, or have a passion and true desire to do, at this stage of life.
So they freeze in place. They need a plan of action.
You can ask your friends, family and colleagues past and present for advice, but often I find it helps to get unbiased guidance from an outsider who is trained to observe, inspire and lead you to find your next act.
If you know you need a change but are unsure of what to do, a career coach can help you set goals, clearly outline the steps to take you there, and motivate you to make it happen.
I have personally used a coach to give me the kind of unbiased help a friend or family member couldn’t. I found her through my dog. She and I met when training our puppies a few years ago. While serendipity allowed me to meet my career coach, asking friends for recommendations is a good place to start. You can also do research online, where you’ll find a slew of directories.
Hiring the right person to guide you along on this personal journey is not simple and takes legwork. There are countless career coaches touting their services with a variety of styles and philosophies, and winnowing down the field requires doing some due diligence. The Life Planning Network and 2 Young 2 Retire offer coach directories geared to midlife workers. I recommend both sites. Also you might want to tap into expert mentor advice viaPivotPlanet.
Here are some smart ways to find a coach who is qualified:
• Look for qualifications. Career coaching is a self-regulated industry and emerging profession. Many coaches have been doing it for years without adding professional designations. But designations are a sign of some formal training and of adherence to general standards of professionalism. A good place to find a directory of coaches is the International Coach Federation. The organization awards a global credential, which is currently held by thousands of coaches worldwide. ICF-credentialed coaches have met educational requirements, received specific coach training, and achieved a designated number of experience hours, among other requirements. Two other helpful sites are the Association of Career Professionals International and the National Career Development Association.
• Explore the past career path of a potential coach. Many so-called career coaches are more life coaches, who focus on esoteric life choices and may lack practical work world advice. Find out as much as you can about their career path, both in the coaching field and in the regular work world. It’s even better if they have been through a career transition or have a track record of working with people going through the process. Don’t be bashful about questioning potential coaches on their level of expertise for your particular needs.
• Ask for at least three references. Of course, no one is going to hand over the names of clients who didn’t love them, but asking for references is an important step in your process. You never know what you might learn when you get someone on the phone. Plus it’s imperative to know a potential coach’s work style and how he or she succeeded with other clients starting a new career.
• Say no to group sessions. Find a coach who conducts one-on-one sessions. These can be in person, by phone, or by Skype, by Google+ Hangout, or by email, but you want his or her full attention. Phone sessions are commonplace these days, which in many ways is to your advantage. You aren’t restricted to signing on with a coach in your town, and you don’t waste time getting to and from meetings and making small talk.
• Expect a free initial consultation. Once you’ve narrowed your search, you’ll want to interview a few candidates. Never agree to work with a coach without a trial run. This initial session should be gratis. If there is a charge for this meet and greet, pass.
• Ask about fees. Rates vary significantly, anywhere from $50 to more than $200 per hour. Some coaches require a minimum number of hours. On average, coach–client relationships last from six months to a year. You might sign on for one or two meetings to jump-start your new career course, or weekly or monthly meetings might suit your needs better. Some coaches will provide resources such as books and give homework assignments to prepare for future sessions.
• Check out the coach’s website. This should give you insight into the coach’s areas of expertise and what he or she has published. Search the coach’s name on the web and see if you find uncensored comments written by other clients. You can find coaches who have a blog via directories such as Alltop.com (search under “career”) or who are on Twitter by searching WeFollow under #coach.
Get a written agreement. This is a business relationship, so treat it like one with a formal agreement that defines the duties of each party. Verbal agreements can be risky and leave both the client and the coach susceptible to unexpected misunderstandings.
By working through these steps, you have a good chance of hiring a reputable coach. But there is one more thing. It comes down to something intangible—a human connection.
You’ll be doling out private details of your life, your dreams, your strengths and weaknesses with your coach. You have to trust the coach and feel comfortable laying it all before him or her. This is scary stuff , and you need a steady hand to hold from time to time.
Ultimately, the career coach you hire should inspire you, push you, and give you the inner confidence to step into the unfamiliar with the grace and strength that comes from knowing deep inside that you are on the right path. Keep in mind that if you’re unemployed, your local unemployment office may be able to set you up with free career counseling.
Look for library, community colleges, and the alumni offices of your alma mater for coaching sessions and workshops. CareerOneStop, sponsored by the Department of Labor, offers coaching and special programs for military members moving into the private sector at various locations around the country. These could be small groups, but helpful nonetheless to get you moving forward.
I was invited to attend the Gerontological Society of America meeting with support from the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellows program, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.
Portions of this article were excerpted from my latest book, What’s Next?: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon
I’m also the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), available at www.kerryhannon.com.