Act II: Retire to a New Career
A mid-career switch can recharge your batteries and bring balance to your life.
Editor's note: This article is adapted from Kiplinger's Retirement Planning 2007 guide. Order your copy today.
Although nearly 8,000 Americans are turning 60 every day, the specter of a soon-to-be-decimated workforce is receding. That's because many people are choosing to accelerate their retirement from their primary careers, only to return to work in the role of consultants, business owners and part-time employees. And their services are in demand. "Companies are seeking people with the skills, experience and work ethic of the baby-boom generation," says Michael Jalbert, president of MRINetwork, the world's largest professional staffing company. "It's been a candidate-driven market for the past three or four years, and it looks as if it will continue for the foreseeable future."
Employers who hire older workers say they are happy with the results. In a survey of employers by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 56% of managers said that older workers are more productive than younger workers, while 39% said they are equally productive. "Older workers are better with people and better with customers," says Steven Sass, the center's associate director.
Some mature workers are forsaking corporate life altogether to flex their entrepreneurial muscles. "Boomers don't want to stop working in their sixties, but they want to work in a different way, doing something they love," says Jeff Williams, founder of Bizstarters (www.bizstarters.com), a company that helps boomers plan, launch and develop their own businesses. Since 2000, people ages 50 to 62 have been the fastest-growing group of new entrepreneurs. And according to AARP, business owners 50 and older now constitute more than half of all small-business owners.
Alice Liberson is one of them. Putting her passion ahead of her paycheck, she changed careers in midlife and carved out an entrepreneurial niche that allows her to earn a modest living on her own terms. After spending her entire career in Boston, where she worked first as a veterinarian, later as a strategic-planning consultant and finally for a pharmaceutical company, Liberson returned to her childhood home of Ann Arbor, Mich. She opened a pet boutique that sells supplies, premium food and natural treats—an enterprise that lets her combine her training and experience and her affinity for animals. "I love being my own boss," says Liberson, 53. "There is totally less stress."
While her business got off the ground, she supported herself with income from her investments and the proceeds from her Newton, Mass., home, which she sold for $740,000 -- more than twice what she paid for it a decade earlier. She's been content to expand her business, called Dogma Catmantoo, slowly. "I don't have the energy or drive of a 25-year-old, and I wasn't going to work all night," she says.
Liberson employs college students part-time at her shop, and she pays herself a small salary. To bring in additional income, she has updated her veterinary license and plans to start practicing homeopathic veterinary medicine. "Clearly, I'm not going to be able to retire for a long time," Liberson says cheerfully. But Dogma has become part of her social life, as well as her business, and she's happy to make a "nice little living" doing something she loves.
Like Liberson, many midlife career-changers utilize their professional skills to downshift to a job that's more satisfying or less stressful. Others, like Wes Kimes, want to kick their careers into high gear with a new challenge.
For 28 years, Kimes worked in sales for a number of companies throughout the Midwest. While still in his forties, he was promoted to vice-president of sales for family-owned Charles Industries, which sells boat batteries and voice-and data-transmission devices, in suburban Chicago. By the time he was approaching 50, he had reached many of the goals he'd set for himself and felt "a real desire to create a new line of work that I could do well into my sixties and seventies."
On an airline flight back from Europe, he struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger who was an executive coach. The experience led Kimes to start working with a coach to figure out what he wanted to do in the next phase of his life -- and eventually to become a coach himself. He realized that what he enjoyed most about his job was developing talent. “My responsibility was increasing revenue, but I achieved that by getting people to perform to the next level."
Three years ago, Kimes, now 54, joined Right Management Consultants in Chicago as a vice-president and executive coach. In making the switch, he had to make "some short-term sacrifice in total compensation," which he has since made up.
He works with executives who are moving up and need to hone their leadership skills, as well as with those who are moving out of senior positions. "The work is business-oriented, competitive, fast-paced -- the drugs from the business world that are still in my system," says Kimes. The best part of his new job is the pride in knowing that he is making a difference. "It creates lasting value for an individual," he says.
Find your niche
So how do you get your foot in the door to prove your worth? What kind of job can you expect to get? And what do you want to do -- the same kind of work or something new?
The last question may be the first one that retirees and those nearing retirement must answer. "What they need to do is find out where their passion is, what really punches their buttons and gets them really excited," says David Corbett, author of Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose and Passion After Fifty (Jossey-Bass, $25).
Experienced job seekers can go to www.retirementjobs.com to search for and apply for thousands of full-time, part-time, seasonal and contract jobs, with employers representing a wide array of industries. To assure that jobs and the employers who offer them are suited to age 50-plus workers, RetirementJobs.com conducts an extensive evaluation of employers to verify that their policies and practices have proved successful in recruiting and retaining older personnel. Companies that have been certified as "age friendly" include Borders Groups, REI, H&R Block and Oakwood Healthcare System. "We make it easy for millions of older Americans to log on to discover work opportunities that fit both their income and lifestyle requirements," says Tim Driver, CEO of RetirementJobs.com.
Some senior-oriented job boards provide niche services. For example, YourEncore.com was created by Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly to recruit scientists and engineers. The client list has since expanded. Another site, Alumni In Touch (www.alumniintouch.com), helps employees of big companies stay in contact with former colleagues. That's how Ian Piesse found work when he retired at age 53, after a 28-year career in human resources with Shell Oil. Today, he works from home in a fishing village in Devon, England, interviewing candidates for other jobs at the oil company. "I contacted a few of my ex-colleagues at Shell," he says in a posting on the Web site. "It was amazing how quickly it worked. Six weeks and I was back working again."
Many of the job-board sites and other retiree-oriented Web resources also provide tips for writing a resume and presenting yourself to businesses accustomed to hiring younger employees. One excellent resource for job-search guidance is AARP (go to www.aarp.org/money/careers and click on "Finding a Job").
To search for jobs with nonprofit groups, try www.philanthropy.com. For teaching positions, go to www.teaching-jobs.org. And if you're interested in starting a business, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers a start-up guide at www.sba.gov.
Set your own hours
For many people, flexibility is a crucial element in an ideal retirement job, according to 70% of respondents in a survey by RetirementJobs.com. For example, if you spend the winter in the South and summer up North, you may want to check into employers' "snowbird" programs. A growing number of larger companies allow employees to transfer back and forth between locations. At CVS Pharmacy, the program applies to all workers, from pharmacists to clerks.
Dave Johnson, 58, sold his two pharmacies in southern Michigan nearly a decade ago and moved with his wife, Linda, to Naples, Fla. He became bored, so he took the pharmacist-licensing exam in Florida. Now he works as many hours as he wants for CVS in Naples. In the summer, he works at a CVS store in Tecumseh, Mich., and visits his grandchildren. He gets health and retirement benefits. "It's a great deal," he says. "It's like having a regular job without the worries."
For those who don't want full employment, consider working on a contract or project basis. If such work is not available with your current employer, you can approach other companies that hire people with similar experience. "You should point out to the companies that you're willing to work for less than what you were making before and that you don't need the benefits," says Art Koff, who runs RetiredBrains.com, a jobs board, and author of Invent Your Retirement: Resources for the Good Life (Oakhill Press, $17).
By remaining open to new options, you may find an interesting job when and where you least expect it. Take Rich Schmidt, for example. After 33 years as a hospital administrator, Schmidt retired in 2005 and played golf and traveled for a while. One day he saw a help-wanted sign outside the YMCA in Dunwoody, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. Schmidt, 59, learned that the Y was looking for a lifeguard. He had always loved swimming, so he decided to take a lifeguard course. He now works 12 to 15 hours a week and as an added bonus, he is entitled to free gym privileges.