NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There's a big focus on retirement planning and having enough money when we don't want to work anymore. But who plans for a second income-producing career later in life or takes into account that the first career might end before we are ready?
That's when it's time for a career do-over. Baby Boomers - the most highly educated American generation born between 1946 and 1964 and 78 million strong - are driving this trend.
"It used to be a mark of success if you could afford to retire early," says Gary Burtless, research associate at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. "But now, with Social Security incentives to delay retirement and employer-matched 401(k) plan contributions, people are still working at the age of 69 and there's more status to successfully working later in life."
Debt, reduced value or loss of investments and lack of financial readiness, especially in context of the recent recession and its aftermath, can also influence the decision to keep working beyond retirement age, says Elizabeth F. Fideler, Ed.D., researcher and author of Women Still at Work: Professionals Over Sixty and On the Job (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012) and a forthcoming book on aging men in the workforce. "But, those who continue to work generally love what they do, feel they are contributing, find meaning in their work and enjoy their colleagues, students, patients and clients," she says.
In many cases, it is about more than money, says Marci Alboher, vice president at Encore.org and author of the Encore Career Handbook (Workman, 2012). "At this stage of life, people want to pursue their passions and get a paycheck."
You might also see this trend in embarking on new or related careers later in life termed, "Re-Career," "Encore Career," or "Second Act Career."
No matter what it's called, career coaches have some pretty specific ideas on how to embark on a career do-over.
Is it hard to re-engineer a career?
It may take time and money. New research from Civic Ventures shows that the transition from midlife work to a second career can be costly and time-consuming. Of the estimated 9 million Americans already in second careers, almost 25% reported earning no income during the transition. On average, job searches lasted 18 months and about 34% said the process took over two years.
That's the conundrum facing Judi Perkins, the former How-To Career Coach who is re-engineering her career right now, after 22 years as a corporate recruiter and seven more years as an independent career coach. "It's not like you get up in the morning and say, 'I need to find a totally new job,'" she says. "Instead you are thinking, 'What do I really want to do? What am I passionate about?' I want to put myself out there and earn money based on what I love.".
What about age discrimination?
Baby Boomers may think they can't find a job because of age discrimination, and Perkins says you will probably encounter those companies looking to hire young and cheap.
"Just move on and find the companies willing to pay for experience," she advises.
Many industries, specifically scientific, medical or highly technical or mechanical fields, continue to place a high value on older workers, says Jack Plunkett, of Plunkett Research. Sales, consulting and management positions--even part-time or contract work in these fields can be extremely lucrative--can give the older job seeker a way to leverage lifetime career experience from a related field. "So, someone who worked for years designing some sort of equipment might be well suited to handle sales or customer relations in similar equipment," Plunkett says.
Plunkett explains that older workers may not be good at creating the latest electronic games, but they have the experience and the knowledge necessary to operate the laboratories, factories, refineries and legacy systems that keep industry humming. "They are going to be extremely difficult to replace in America, because younger generations have been shunning degrees in science and engineering for softer disciplines," he says.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also estimates that the percentage of workers 55 and older in the labor force is expected to jump from 19.5% in 2010 to 25.2% by 2020.
For Baby Boomers looking for any type of work, career coaches agree: instead of worrying about your age, sell your experience.
"Highlight how your industry or specific knowledge and skills can help the bottom line of any organization you are interested in working for," says Nancy Collamer, M.S., author of Second Act Careers (Ten Speed Press, 2013). "If money is your main driver, try to land something related to your prior industry or job, so transition time will be less and income more."
5 steps to a second career
1. Think about finances first
Alboher advises some financial planning to determine just how much money you want or need to make in your second career. "Hopefully your expenses are less than your mid-life expenses were," she says. "Now might be the time to down-size and re-evaluate what you spend money on."
2. Get into your head
If money is not the only driver, think about what work might be most fulfilling for you. Ask yourself:
- What moments did you find most fulfilling or rewarding in your past (family, work, community)?
- What times were you were the happiest?
- What are activities where you lose track of time?
- What do you like to do when nobody tells you what to do?
- What do you excel at?
- What pulls your attention and engages you?
"The clues are all around you," says Linsey Levine, M.S., president of CareerCounsel in White Plains, New York. She says this is a career search from the inside out to find what you want to do instead of trying to fit yourself into some job description.
Write down answers without dismissing your wishes as "unrealistic" or thinking "nobody's going to pay me for that."
3. Now, get out in the world
See how things on your "wish" list might combine with past work skills and experience, possible job titles or industries in the real world. Another tactic is to focus on a skill or service you can cater specifically to the growing demand of Baby Boomers or to a non-profit organization that represents a cause you want to support.
To gauge your realistic interest in an industry or job skill, Levine advises looking for a local workshop or a free massive open online course (MOOC) offered from schools such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford and others.
After a career as an elementary school teacher, a position as a sales associate at a bookstore while her kids were growing up and then as an unhappy attorney headhunter, Levine took a local community college workshop in her early fifties that was life-changing for her. It directly led her to earn a Master's degree in Career Development and to taken-on the independent career coaching job helping people get un-stuck in their careers.
Alboher suggests maintaining an interest in local news and trends in business which can give you a leg up on the hot job needs and companies in your area.
"The single most effective way to find a job is to network your way in by getting together with people," Collamer adds. "Tap into alumni or fraternity networks and local business, synagogue or church and even job search support groups." Collamer stresses networking should be about "giving" first and "getting" second.
You might also find someplace in the community to volunteer your skills while meeting new contacts and learning new skills. Plus, helping others is a sure-fire path to feeling good about yourself, says Alboher.
4. Go back to school
Are you lacking any relevant skills? Alboher explains that industries and job skills are changing so rapidly, this kind of "skilling up" is just part of keeping a job and you have probably done it before.
Mary Sue Vickers, Plus 50 Initiative Director for the American Association of Community Colleges, says that re-skilling and retraining education and certificate programs for just about every industry and in-demand job skills are on the rise at community colleges nationwide.
5. Get online
One skill that can really help you in all business communications are computer skills, and training for that is available at adult education programs very inexpensively at high schools nationwide. "Create a LinkedIn profile to show that you understand how online networking works," says Alboher. Levine agrees with this tactic and says creating this profile allows you the opportunity to paint yourself how you want people to see you now and directed toward the type of position and industry you now desire.
The beauty of job-searching at this stage of life is that it is also soul-searching, says Perkins. "And if you have the time and enough money to do that (meaning you don't need that full time salary immediately replaced) consider yourself lucky and take advantage of that."
--Written by Nancy Mannino for MainStreet