For many people, retirement is a time to do work they always wanted to do. Maureen Power can testify that retirement isn't what it used to be. As executive director of the Intergenerational Urban Institute at Worcester State College (WSC) in Massachusetts, Power has seen more than 1,500 students beyond the age of 60 return to school.
"Some take a course here, a course there," she says, while others are degree- or certificate-bound. "They put their toe in the water, and they love it. They love the sense of purpose and how it spills over into the rest of their lives," she explains.
Take Nate Mencow, now in his 70s. A retired lieutenant colonel from the US Air Force, Mencow returned to school, got his degree, and became a permanent, full-time substitute teacher in a local middle school.
Then there's Henry Souda, a retired businessman who always wanted to write. After attending WSC, he's now a reporter for a local paper.
Power is full of such stories, demonstrating that more and more "retirees" are combining leisure with employment—part-time, full-time, or volunteer.
The face of retirement is changing for many reasons. Financial pressures, need for social interaction, and a wish to do something "useful" all drive people back to the workplace. And, as life expectancy and overall level of health increases, the ability and desire to remain active during later life increase dramatically.
While mature job seekers used to settle for low-paying, low-skill jobs, this is no longer the case. Because of the scarcity of qualified workers in virtually every sector of the economy, older job hunters now have a variety of options.
"We're quite simply in the best job market there's been in the history of the modern worker. It's never been better," says Martin Yate, author of such best-selling career books as
Knock 'Em Dead 2000
CareerSmarts: Jobs with a Future.
J. Michael Farr, co-author of
Best Jobs for the 21
, says, "With the shortage of workers in the current labor market, employers are more willing to hire people of any age if they have the skills that the employer can use."
Not only are more doors open than ever before, Yate adds, but there's also an increase in the availability of flexible working arrangements such as job-sharing, part-time employment, and consulting—all of which may appeal to those looking to blend retirement with work.
Farr's book includes a list of the best jobs for older workers based on factors such as earnings, growth, and percentage of workers over age 55. While some positions, such as those in the medical field, require years of specialized training, many are open to new employees and offer the flexibility retirees may crave. Examples include management analyst, personal and home care aide, property and real estate manager, and private detective. The lesson: When thinking about post-retirement options, go beyond the obvious.
Although a tight labor market makes employers more accepting of older applicants and it's technically illegal to discriminate in hiring on the basis of age, discrimination does occur.
"Anyone who believes that age discrimination doesn't exist is denying reality. Employers are people, and some do discriminate," says Farr.
Yate says that companies and hiring managers may fear that older applicants will not have the stamina for the job, that their health will have an impact on their performance, or that they'll be difficult to manage.
Yate recommends meeting prospective companies' concerns head-on. By putting the issues on the table, you're doing these companies (and yourself) a favor since they can't legally raise these issues. Not only can you assure interviewers that you're in the prime of health and loaded with energy (if you indeed are; if not, don't mention it, says Yate), you can also stress the advantages that a mature employee brings to the position.
"Anyone, young or old, has good things to offer. [You] do have to clearly define [your] skills and assets and present them to an employer who needs them," reminds Farr.
According to Yate, some of those advantages may include:
- Experience gained on someone else's payroll.
- Loyalty and team orientation rather than desire to move upward, onward, and out the door.
- A balanced, calm perspective.
Even with these assets, mature job hunters may need to brush up on a few areas, especially if they've been out of the work loop for awhile. Many times, technological skills in particular can make or break an application.
"Employers will often hire someone who knows how to use the current technology, irrespective of age, and…many older workers just can't compete," Farr says.
If your computer skills need an overhaul, check out resources like SeniorNet, an organization offering online and regional computer training for people over 50. Also, for help in technology or other fields, check with the United States Administration on Aging or your state's equivalent. Many communities offer free or reduced-cost educational opportunities for seniors; for instance, Massachusetts offers free tuition to seniors at any of its state or community colleges.
Sometimes a paying job, even one that's part-time, requires more effort than you're willing to provide. Or maybe you're investigating new careers and don't want to commit yourself prematurely. In either case, "another way for retirees to get involved in the workforce is to volunteer," Yate says.
Volunteer positions are usually more flexible than paying positions, and they offer the opportunity to use your experience and skills for the benefit of others. Whether you're working at a food pantry or counseling budding entrepreneurs through the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), you're keeping up your interpersonal skills and giving back to others, as well as figuring out just how much of your leisure time you're willing to sacrifice.
Whichever path you choose—full-time or part-time, volunteer or paid—one thing is certain: Retirement is no longer one-size-fits-all. Keep exploring different arrangements until you find the one that suits you best.