Turn Your Pastime Into Paid Work

Love to read or garden? Indulge your passion by picking up a job in the field of your dreams.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the June 2009 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Roberta White Smith likes fashion. The Boston woman is a longtime reader of fashion magazines and as a teenager sewed her own clothes. "I've always enjoyed looking good and dressing well," says Smith, 59, who worked for 22 years for Forum Corp., an international training consulting firm.

In 2003, Smith, who specialized in sales and employee training, took a retirement package and embarked on a career in the fashion industry. Her first foray: using her experience in the business world and her love for fashion to help a friend's daughter organize her new fashion-design firm.

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Then another friend recommended Smith to Nina McLemore, a designer of high-end women's clothes, who was looking for a representative in the Boston area to run trunk shows. "Here was a chance to blend my fashion interest with a paid part-time seasonal job," Smith says. She persuaded McLemore to give her the job based on her interest in fashion, her business experience and her network of friends who were potential customers.

For several weeks four times a year, Smith rents a hotel suite and displays the McLemore line to prospective buyers. She works on commission, averaging about 20 hours a week.

Perhaps, like Smith, you've had a longtime hobby or passion that you've pursued in your spare time. If you're looking for a job in these tough economic times, it's possible to turn an avocation into a paid job.

Love to decorate? Perhaps you can get a job selling furniture or tchotchkes at a home-decor store. If you like to fix things around the house, check with your local hardware store. Someone with a woodworking shop in a garage perhaps could get a part-time job at Home Depot, which is on the lookout for amateur craftsmen or gardeners.

William Roiter, an executive coach in Boston, says that many older workers who make career transitions are often free of financial constraints. "They don't do it for the money," says Roiter, author of Beyond Work: How Accomplished People Retire Successfully (Wiley, $30). "To them, it's not leaving work but moving to a new adulthood."

Roiter has one friend who loves boats and now works in a marina. Another friend, a skilled gardener, works in a nursery tending the plants and helping customers make selections.

Prove You Have the Skills

Hobbyists often have an edge in getting seasonal or part-time jobs. Although their professional résumés may not include this type of experience, these job seekers can prove that they have valuable skills, says Roiter. For instance, he says, a person who's good at knitting should bring some samples to a job interview.

Mike Thomas, a career counselor in Cary, N.C., warns that passion sometimes runs headlong into reality. Say everyone raves about your pies and cakes. If you get a job at a commercial baker, he says, you may be required to lift 50-pound bags of flour and sugar and handle large, heavy baking pans.

Not all jobs require such intensive physical skills. Susan Leipsic describes herself as a big-time reader. Leipsic, 69, who lives outside San Francisco, had worked in real estate sales for 20 years. She heard that Book Passage, an independent bookstore, was looking for salespeople to work in its Corte Madera store. Her sales experience plus her passion for books landed her the job. "As a lifetime book lover, it was right up my alley," she says.

Eventually Leipsic moved to special events. She conducts three book readings a week, introducing the author and overseeing the book signing. As host, she's handled events for Carl Bernstein, Calvin Trillin, Gail Sheehy and Jackie Collins. She's also the store's buyer of non-book merchandise, such as travel goods, scarves, hats and jewelry. She works 20 hours a week.

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Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Retirement Report