It can be a challenging job market for older workers, especially for the unemployed and retirees who want to return to work after time away. Older workers can face job discrimination, lower salaries and skills gaps as they navigate the uneven labor market, say career counselors and job seekers.
But with some planning and hard work, baby boomers and seniors like Jackson are finding jobs as well as transitioning to second or third careers.
“Be patient. It can take a little time and you may need to retrain,” said Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons Inc., $18.95). “Landing a job is not a matter of luck. It’s that oft-repeated phrase — it’s when preparation meets opportunity.”
Planning for the next professional act into your 60s and 70s is more important than ever as more older workers plan to stay in the workforce, forgoing traditional notions of retirement. And it’s not just financial considerations that are fueling this wave.
A study released in June by Merrill Lynch found that 72 percent of pre-retirees older than 50 say their ideal retirement includes work that is more flexible and fulfilling.
Hannon found this to be true with many older workers who transitioned into new jobs or careers. In her book, she identifies part-time, seasonal, holiday and work-at-home jobs for older people. They include personal assistants, a grant writer and a Santa Claus.
“It’s about being relevant,” she says. “They want to feel needed and that they are making a difference.”
She adds, “Studies show that if you stay active and work in some fashion, you’re mentally engaged and you stay healthier.”
Still, it can be tough in the labor market for older workers, especially if you’re out of work when looking for a job. In general, unemployed workers older than 55 stayed unemployed longer than their younger counterparts. That means older long-term unemployed workers are having a tougher time getting back into the labor force.
“Age and unemployment combined are a pretty toxic mix unfortunately,” says Sara Rix, a senior strategic policy adviser with AARP Public Policy Institute’s economics team.
The good news is older workers who have jobs are faring well, Rix says.
That’s why it’s crucial that “older workers who are thinking of changing jobs or working in retirement shouldn’t make a major move away from the job they have until they have something firmly in hand,” she says.
Hannon agrees and cautions against taking time off after leaving the workforce.
Pete Foster retired in 2010 after 32 years of combined service as an aircraft mechanic for the Air Force Reserve and active duty officer for the U.S. Navy.
Though he wasn’t ready to retire at 55, he had hit the age and service limit for mandatory retirement.
For a few years, he traveled with his wife and took care of things around their home. When they moved to the Dallas area in 2012 to be closer to their son, Foster wanted to go back to work part time.
Foster, 59, put his résumé on careerbuilder.com and received calls fairly quickly. A few employers were interested in his aircraft-mechanic experience, but he wasn’t interested in going back to work full time.
Instead, Foster found a job delivering beauty supplies three days a week around Plano, where he and his wife live. The delivery work has kept him engaged and active for two years.
“Fifty-five is really too young to retire and do nothing,” he says. “You have to find something to do. A military doctor told me when I retired, ‘If you retire and stay on the couch, you’re going to be dead within two years.’”
Foster believes his military experience and work ethic helped him secure part-time work.
Start planning several years ahead of when you may want to shift to part-time, more flexible work or consider a new profession.
The Merrill Lynch survey found that five years before retiring, 37 percent of workers who want to continue working will have already taken some steps to prepare for their post-retirement careers.
Planning may require getting additional training or skills. More often, Hannon says, the transition means using skills and experience from your previous profession in a new way.
Hannon points to a teacher who became a senior fitness trainer, still using his teaching skills and experience to help his clients get fit.
Garland career counselor Helen Harkness, too, sees many of her 50-something clients making career transitions by shifting decades of experience and skills into another profession. One client sold his McDonald’s franchise to use his management skills in the nonprofit world.
While going back to school makes sense for some people, it’s not always necessary or financially possible, Harkness says.
“Do not go back to get another degree until you know that degree is absolutely necessary to where you want to go in your future,” she advises.
One of Harkness’ clients did go back to school.
Sheree Anshel, of Dallas, spent many years in operations and leadership roles in the health care industry here and abroad. A few years before she turned 50, Anshel had an ah-ha moment and decided to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a nurse.
Anshel had her doubts about making such a dramatic change at a late stage in her life, but she pushed on.
“The thing that kept resonating with me was, ‘I’m going to be 52 anyway. If I was going to be 52, why not graduate with a degree for something that I always wanted to be?’” Anshel says.
Now 59, Anshel is semiretired, traveling and also working part time as a member of the Dallas-based Mary Crowley Cancer Research Centers’ institutional review board for clinical trials. Previously, she was the registered nurse coordinator of the palliative care program at Medical City Hospital, a job she left in November.
“I feel like I’m in the third or fourth act of my life,” Anshel says.
Jackson, too, has been re-energerized by what she calls a “beautiful situation.”
As soon as she lost her job, she found seasonal work selling Medicare coverage in Richardson. Her employer also paid for Jackson to gain multiple insurance licenses from other states, adding value to her résumé.
She also found contract work for customer-service call center LiveOps selling health and life insurance for major insurance companies from home.
This year, Jackson decided not to go back to the seasonal job selling Medicare coverage and instead focuses on working full time as a contractor. She has flexibility to manage her own schedule, which allows her to help care for her grandchildren.
“I do enjoy my job. I can’t imagine being idle. What would I do?” says Jackson, who was recently rewarded for being an elite seller. “I’m going to work as long as I can.”
STRATEGIES FOR FINDING A NEW JOB
Here are tips on transitioning from one career or job to another from Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+.
Plan early. It’s best to look for a job or plan for a career transition while you are working.
Gain additional skills. Community colleges are a great source to pick up new skills or brush up on old ones.
Moonlight or apprentice. You may discover that the job is not for you or is a perfect fit.
Ask for help. Reach out to different organizations such as your college alumni association. They often offer services for even those who graduated long ago.
Be tech savvy. Join or update LinkedIn, a social networking site for professionals.
Redeploy your skills. You can transfer skills and experience you’ve gained from your primary career into a different industry or job.
HELP IS AT HAND
The Senior Source in Dallas offers career counseling, networking meetings and job-search workshops. The nonprofit is holding a mock job interview session at noon Aug. 21. The Senior Connection Networking and Support Meeting will be held at 3910 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas. Reservations are required at 214-823-5700 or email@example.com.
AARP provides news and how-to resources for older job seekers at aarp.org/work
RetirementJobs.com is a job board for 50+ job seekers. The site lists job postings by state and city.
On Twitter: @hanahcho