For many, a retirement spent lounging on Florida’s beaches isn’t realistic. Even if it is realistic, some wonder how long it’ll take before those lovely lazy days become tedious. Whether it’s out of financial necessity or tiring of the same old 9-hole course, many baby boomers who are at, or nearing, retirement are gearing up to head straight back to work.
We talked to a handful of career coaches and employment specialists to get a read on the current trend, gather a few tips on job market re-entry and find out how old too old really is.
Members of the boomer generation considering a workforce re-entry aren’t alone. The trend hasn’t escaped the notice of career professionals. However, the question remains: why?
Jody Michael, CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates, a Chicago-based company that specializes in career coaching, executive coaching and organizational consulting, says there are several reasons.
Boomers seem to be staying in the workforce longer than previous generations because of two dominant factors. First, to older generations, retirement meant an opportunity to relax and finally spend their time doing what they like. However, boomers are so defined by and engaged in their work, and they find it so meaningful, that many aren’t in a rush to retire.
Second, unlike their predecessors, boomers have been hit by two economic downturns that had a significant impact, even on the upper middle class. As a result, many lost a large portion of their retirement funds, forcing them to remain in the workforce longer than they anticipated.
Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach and founder of an eponymous boutique career coaching firm, agrees. Crawford notes that in addition to being engaged in their work, many boomers would hate to see their knowledge and education, gained during a lifelong career, languish.
For instance, there are lawyers who don’t want to throw away their degree at retirement. Many will stay within law but maybe they’ll choose a different focus, or move to in-house counsel instead of being at a law firm. Consultants who work at consulting firms may decide to move in-house instead so they don’t have to travel as much.
Even boomers for whom money isn’t a primary concern often opt to keep working, albeit in a philanthropic role. Mark McCurdy, author of the book Strategic Volunteering: 50 Ingredients to transform your life and career and founder of Careers for Purpose and The Nonprofit Career Coach, is seeing a substantial surge in nonprofit work among boomers.
I see many boomers who are very interested in being connected to a cause or mission with purpose after spending decades in the for-profit space. In my line of career coaching I have seen an increase of more than 200% in the last year alone of boomers looking to transition from for-profit work to nonprofit or social enterprise work.
After a lifetime spent climbing a given career ladder, a boomer finding themselves on the job hunt for the first time in years may feel bewildered. The challenges boomers faced at the start of their careers may not be the same as those they’ll face now.
McCurdy says that boomers who may have been slow on the uptake in our highly tech savvy and mobile society may find themselves at odds with what employers are looking for.
Some of the major challenges boomers will face if they’re trying to move into positions or careers later in life may be lack of technology skills and being without strong networking contacts.
Judy Winslow, brandologist and creator of Unforgettable Brands, says that taking an unvarnished inventory of strengths, values and weaknesses can help a boomer decide on the best move to make.
Often we don’t see our value (no matter our age) and that’s a critical place to look. With an awareness of your strengths, values and weaknesses you’ll be able to evaluate your next step without the stress you may have experienced earlier in your business life. When develop such an awareness, we can choose to design our lives, which at any stage of life leads to a more satisfying and rich existence.
Debra Wheatman, a certified professional resume writer and certified professional career coach who’s been featured on Fox Business News, says boomers will need to remember that their competition will likely be younger and employers will likely have different yardsticks for relevance.
Older workers will have to compete for positions with a younger demographic. Also, with the constantly evolving and changing technology landscape, boomers need to gain a comprehensive grasp of various tools, including those of social media to compete and remain relevant with the younger workforce.
Crawford says that in-demand skills may have changed since boomers found themselves job hunting, but luckily, some attributes have timeless appeal to employers — like focus, and passion.
Be clear about your direction first, know what you want so you can be laser focused and show prospective employers you are excited about your new direction — passion is infectious. Employers want to hire people who are engaged in their jobs. Also find ways to beef up your skills for the new direction so you are as qualified as you can be when you’re applying. Take classes, find out if certifications exist for the new industry you’re targeting and learn on your own.
No Such Thing as Too Old
Some boomers may shirk the idea of a return to the workforce for fear of being too old. While it’s certainly true that our capabilities change over time and certain limitations may apply, the old adage: you’re only as old as you feel, has merit.
Michael says that if the will is there, then you’re never too old.
The challenges boomers face in moving to positions or careers later in life really isn’t different than those of past generations. It really comes down their beliefs and perceptions. Just as Henry Ford said, ‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.’
You are never too old for a career change. Just look at Colonel Sanders. At the age of 65, he started Kentucky Fried Chicken, which has grown into one of the largest fast food chains in the world. Or look at my oldest client who was 82 years old when I started working with him; he transitioned from owning a construction company to a philanthropic career, working for a company to determine how to allocate their philanthropic funds.
Winslow says seeing age as a weakness can hold boomers back. Striving to work in what she calls a “zone of genius”, can supply the strength and satisfaction seniors are after.
Often, in our culture, we are pushing against our weaknesses, and that depletes us. When in transition from one career to another (or any level of growth) this leads to much more joy, energy and an overall feeling that we’re doing what we are here to do. We can offer a lot by doing what we love, and what we’re good at—working in our ‘zone of genius’.
From Gray to Gold
Traditionally, the twilight years are seen as a time to enjoy some hard-earned relaxation. These days though that might not translate to a hammock and a margarita in the back yard. Making some extra money or finding some higher purpose is becoming increasing popular, and will likely continue to be so as long as seniors acknowledge their valuable life experience and remember that there is no such thing as too old.
Have you delayed your retirement or have you recently gone back to work? Share your story below.