Try Something New With an Encore Career
Many seniors leaving longtime positions are transitioning to jobs that let them pursue their passions.
Jeff Landre is in the vanguard of a new type of retiree: the encore careerist. For most of his working life, Landre held management positions in field service and global logistics at technology giant Hewlett-Packard. "It was all about identifying the needs of customers," he says.
Today, his customers are foster children.
Since last August, Landre has worked for Mission Focused Solutions, a nonprofit in Grass Valley, Cal., that helps child welfare organizations improve their ability to place foster children in permanent homes. He is using his business acumen to guide state and county government officials in streamlining social-services budgets to free up money for additional placements. "The work is very mentally challenging and rewarding," says Landre, who lives in Loomis, a suburb of Sacramento.
Landre didn't know what he wanted to do when he retired from HP in 2008. Encore Fellowships Network, an internship program that annually matches 200 retired professionals with nonprofits in 15 states and the District of Columbia, hooked him up with Mission Focused Solutions. His stint is up in August, but the nonprofit has asked Landre to stay on as chief program officer. "Why should I not stay and have some fun?" he says.
Like Landre, thousands of seniors who have left longtime positions are embarking on second-act careers. Many are repurposing their corporate skills—as in Landre's case—to fit social-purpose endeavors with nonprofit groups. Others are taking on part-time jobs to pursue longtime or new interests, whether it's as a personal chef or a teacher. And still others are pursuing a passion and filling a market niche by creating small service businesses.
Retirees seeking meaningful later-in-life careers spend an average of 18 months from the time they start to "take stock" to the time they find a suitable position, says Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook (Workman, $16). "You need to figure out the best fit for you, and then you need to match what you want to do with the opportunities," says Alboher, vice-president of Encore.org, a nonprofit that provides information and programs for baby boomers seeking social-purpose careers.
Many encore careers won't pay as much as your lifelong job. And they're unlikely to offer health insurance. But if that's not important, you can find numerous resources that cater to older workers searching for new ventures. These tips and tools will help you get started.
Take stock. If you're not sure what you'd like to do, it's time for self-assessment, says Alboher. (Her book includes self-assessment tools and job-search Web sites.) Ask yourself: What did you like and dislike about your old job? Do you want to work on your own or in a team? Are there particular issues and causes that appeal to you? Do certain activities make you happy?
You could seek one-on-one guidance from a career coach (find one at the Web site of the International Coach Federation at www.coachfederation.org). Or check out one of many nonprofit counseling centers that have sprung up to help baby boomers find meaning in their later life. Coming of Age (www.comingofage.org), for example, has nine locations, including Austin and Cincinnati. The 12 chapters of the Transition Network (www.thetransitionnetwork.org) focus on professional women over 50. To find other programs, go to www.encore.org/connect/local.
At Discovering What's Next, in Boston, retirees and those approaching retirement from diverse professional backgrounds meet in groups with a facilitator and individually with a "transition navigator," says Devra Kiel Simon, executive director. "Many people want a change, and they don't know what they want to do," she says. "We help them clarify their passions, skills and expertise. Then we help them create a roadmap." As part of the roadmap, participants may be told about classes they could take, certifications they should pursue and Web sites to review.Ken Wong enrolled in a Coming of Age "Explore Your Future" workshop in San Francisco after retiring in 2008 from Chevron, where he worked for 28 years in information technology. The group met once a week for four weeks. Wong, now 73, says the members spoke freely about their options and possibilities, and their strengths and weaknesses. "I was in a new stage, and it was helpful being with like-minded people who were going through the same things," he says.
With Coming of Age's help, Wong explored a couple of possibilities, and then a job opened up that seemed tailor made. For years, Wong had volunteered at Healthier Living workshops, a nationwide program to help individuals with chronic illnesses manage their conditions. When the organization that operates the local program wanted to expand the number of sites, they hired Wong for a paid, part-time job. "My passion has become my work," he says.
Explore the job market. While you're taking stock, start researching emerging careers and hot jobs. Some resources: continuing-education catalogs, online job boards for older workers and even advertisements in niche publications, says Nancy Collamer, author of Second-Act Careers (Ten Speed Press, $15). By looking at ads—say, in a pet-care magazine—"you'll get a sense of what people are willing to pay for," she says.
You can research the growth prospects for various careers by reviewing the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook (www.bls.gov/ooh). The Riley Guide (www.rileyguide.com) provides information on hundreds of careers as well as job-search tips and links to networking sites and other resources.
One booming field: aging boomers. "There are jobs and opportunities to help the aging population," says Alboher. Builders and architects can modify homes, by installing ramps and grab bars. Boomer career counselors can help their peers find their own encores. Older people who are downsizing their homes are turning to "senior move managers." You can get certified as a wellness coach or a bereavement counselor.
Collamer says a "huge opportunity" for second-act careers is to "teach the business of the business"—that is, using your own business skills to train budding entrepreneurs. She recalls one manager who left his marketing job at 50 to devote more time to a side business as a magician. He realized other magicians were terrible at selling themselves. Now, Collamer says, the magician is using his corporate skills to train magicians how to market their businesses.
Arline Melzer found her new calling by accident. Melzer, who lives in Stamford, Conn., worked for years as a manager in the software industry. During the six months it took her to find another job after a 2001 layoff, Melzer taught herself how to transfer videos of her children to DVDs.
She also created a photo montage on video for her sister-in-law's birthday party. Her sister-in-law, Melzer says, "was so touched that she never let up. She said, 'You have a business here. People will love it.' " In 2004, Melzer left her job and launched Picture Perfections, a production firm that creates marketing videos for businesses, photo slide-show videos and video biographies.Melzer gets particular satisfaction working on personal videos, such as a memorial for the first anniversary of the death of a client's husband. "People are so appreciative," she says. "It's just so fulfilling."
Take a course. You don't have to pursue a higher degree to train for a new career. Online and in-person classes and workshops can fill the knowledge gaps or provide the necessary certification or credential.
Look at your community college's continuing-education offerings. For fledgling entrepreneurs, for example, Baltimore County's community college offers "How to Start and Manage Your Own Small Business." It also offers courses on how to market your business on YouTube, Facebook and mobile apps. Need some training in specific fields? At Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y., you can take a class on becoming an event planner, home inspector or medical-records technician.
Encore.org has created partnerships with 40 community colleges to create training for positions in health, social services, education and the environment. Some colleges are training former nurses to become instructors, while others are offering fast-track teacher certification. (Go to www.encore.org/colleges.)
If you are interested in a particular field or business, check out its trade group. If you can't travel to its annual conference, you're likely able to enroll in local workshops or Webinars. Some industry associations offer coursework that could lead to certification.
Diana Meinhold found that specialized training—plus a lot of networking—were the keys to becoming a successful fiduciary case manager for seniors who can no longer take care of financial and other matters. She began to lay the groundwork even before she retired in 2008 as a top executive with the Automobile Club of Southern California.For a number of years, Meinhold, now 63, who lives in Costa Mesa, Cal., was the conservator for a close friend who had Alzheimer's disease. Meinhold began to realize that "a lot of families are not equipped to manage the care needs and finances" of older relatives. She decided to pursue a new career in the field of aging.
Meinhold left her job, and after a few detours, she enrolled in a seven-month online extension program at California State University in Fullerton. She learned about trust administration and financial management. She also attended aging-related education programs and meetings of the county bar association's elder law and estate sections. Meinhold met lawyers, home-health agency owners and financial planners—all possible sources of future referrals. Two weeks after she received her license, she got her first case. "It's been a tsunami ever since," she says.
Her work runs the gamut, from selling a senior's business to taking an elderly client to the dentist. "The joy comes from the interaction" with clients, she says. "The stories they tell, the lives they live. I am blessed to be exposed to that."
Test the waters. Before you plunge head first into a new career, it may be wise to try it out. Seek advice from people in the field. Ask a trade association to put you in touch with a member or two. Or contact PivotPlanet (www.pivotplanet.com), where, for a fee, you can speak with an adviser working in one of more than 200 fields, from home stager to college prep counselor.
Try applying for an internship, paid or unpaid. Some employers limit their programs to students, but others may be willing to take on a person with experience. A growing number of programs are catering to the second-act group.
The Encore Fellowships Network, which helped Jeff Landre move to his second act, provides paid internships that last for six months to a year. National director Leslye Louie says the fellows are given high-level assignments. "We do look for a skill match," says Louie, a former fellow. "If you have expertise in marketing, you'll probably spend a good amount of time leveraging those skills." (For more information, go to www.encore.org/fellowships.)
ReServe (www.reserveinc.org) also recruits professionals who are 55 and older for part-time jobs in nonprofits. It operates in seven locations, including Miami, New York City and Milwaukee. Participants receive stipends of $10 an hour. The average placement lasts 13 months. Jobs can include marketing strategist and fund-raising program designer. "This is an easy way for people to get their feet wet and help them figure out what resonates with them," says Carol Greenfield, director of ReServe Greater Boston.
High-tech entrepreneur Alan Greenfield (no relation to Carol), 65, just completed a three-month ReServe job in Boston running a center that helps low-income people prepare their tax returns. Greenfield, who lives in Needham, Mass., supervised 19 volunteers who were mostly college students.
The services included helping clients qualify for the earned-income tax credit. By using his management and tech skills to upgrade the scheduling system and improve efficiency, Greenfield says he was able to boost the number of prepared returns to 350 this tax season, up from 200 a year ago. With the average client receiving a $1,000 credit, Greenfield figures he was able to leverage his $3,000 salary to generate $350,000 in extra income for his clients.
Greenfield liked the idea that there was "something new that I had to learn." Now that his gig is over, Greenfield wants to stay busy, but he won't return to the high-tech world. With a new skill on his resume, he says, "it's very likely I will stay with nonprofits."
Volunteering will give you a sense of what nonprofits are like. Moreover, it will help you make contacts in a field and perhaps lead to a job at the organization. Perhaps you can suggest a short-term project based on your professional skills. "One great way to build up your resume and to learn about a sector is to offer to become a pro bono consultant," says Alboher.
Check out the Taproot Foundation (www.taprootfoundation.org), which recruits skilled volunteers in five cities for special projects, such as building a Web site or creating a human resources strategy for nonprofit clients. Or check out other volunteer Web sites, such as VolunteerMatch.org, Idealist.org and Catchafire.org, which matches professionals with short-term projects.