Job-hopping millennials wear many hats throughout their career. However, what about workers who stayed in one industry, maybe even one company, and want a change of pace?
Encore careers are professional pathways taken in the second half of a person’s life – often after they have already had a career or have retired. They take up new vocations for many reasons (see below), and such a vocation may be chosen for an equally wide variety of reasons. Such individuals commonly search for fulfillment and the impact the new career will have on society rather than economic gain.
It is not uncommon that the new career will likely be less physically taxing as the worker will be older. However, they can be found in all the fields and sectors. Some of the more common areas are healthcare, education, public service, the environment and the nonprofit sector.
Understanding Encore Careers
Longer life spans have resulted in new perspectives from the traditional retirement age of 65. Many live far longer than we previously did, decades beyond 65, and hence the retirement phase has lengthened considerably.
Those who wish to retire early must now deal with the larger nest egg needed for retirement; imagine the added cost of 10 or 20 more years of retirement. Having an encore career helps to stretch that nest egg money or delay the time before they must subsist on it.
Social Security will help, but it will not save you; that much has become apparent in recent years. Encore careers help to tip the balance a bit back towards the working population.
Why Choose an Encore Career?
Financial needs usually play less of a role in what older workers seeking encore careers choose to do with their lives. Many have amassed a good deal of money already (possibly even retired) or achieved great acclaim in their first vocation. However, some may simply want to have a solid reason to get up early in the morning, have a purpose, and rest assured they are working toward a goal.
People seeking encore careers may decide to work to improve their community. Volunteering, working for a nonprofit, or mentoring help better the community. Helping others offers a new and different sense of fulfillment than their previous careers may have provided.
It is not uncommon to find a higher percentage of older volunteers at church functions. It is not unheard of to see former engineers and businessmen use their skills and/or network to aid community projects.
Finding a New Direction
Encore career seekers revisit old career options they passed up for a life of financial stability. There may be dreams that they deemed unfeasible in the past due to financial or familial constraints. However, now they are free to pursue them without concern.
Some of them choose to take up artistic jobs without concern about the financial aspect. How many authors penned books later in life when they decided to sit down and write “the great American novel?” Nonprofit work or furthering a political cause are also options now that they have more freedom.
Dialing it Down
Some choose new careers to shift into a lower gear to have more time for recreational pursuits, travel and family. It is not uncommon to leverage skills from their first career to get into a related line of work. Some decide to stay in the same industry but take a role that requires less of their time but keeps their mind and skills razor-sharp – for example, freelancing or consulting.
The key here is work-life balance. The new working conditions really allow them to have a good mix of professional pursuits and free time.
How to Decide Which Path to Take
New career paths may be obvious choices for some; some have dreamed of the day when circumstances were right. Others may have felt little more than the urge to change and thought, “I need to do something different, but what?” Here are a few ideas to help those in the latter camp.
Reflect on your career
Look back at your experiences and remove any rose-colored glasses you may be wearing to see what you genuinely enjoyed and what you did not. These are important pieces of information that will help you calibrate your sites when hunting for the perfect encore career. For example, think back to a time when you were the happiest at work and consider what you were doing back then. Why did it bring you such joy?
Consider your past volunteer work
What flamed the fire in your belly the most or left you the most content? Take inspiration from those times and research what similar work might be out there. For example, working at the pound as a volunteer may lead you to seek out the ASPCA to help improve the lives of countless animals.
Try to blend those volunteer experiences with your current skill set and see what direction a combination of those two might take you. A marketing mastermind might lend their expertise to the ASPCA and help them launch campaigns of unprecedented success. Some encore career seekers may have hated the job that brought them financial stability but thoroughly enjoyed repurposing all their years of know-how to help a cause.
Visit a career counselor
Do not rule out one of the most obvious answers – asking a professional for help. Seek one out online or visit a local career counselor. Many major universities have a whole staff designated to help alumni choose and begin new careers. One other less-obvious place is a headhunter office; think of all the talent assessment they do and the connections they have.
Be prepared to spend a little bit of money and take some assessment tests so they can assess you better and present options that suit the results. You may learn a fair bit about yourself if you do take a test or two. Remember that they are counselors, and it is your prerogative to completely ignore their advice and pursue your own choices.
Advice for Encore Careers
1) Start planning ahead
The farther ahead you can plan your switch to an encore career, the better off you will be. Put some money aside to finance your transition while you are in the fledgling stage of your new career.
2) Delay Social Security acceptance
Delaying Social Security acceptance can lead to a higher monthly sum later on by waiting until full retirement age, 70. You risk a 25-30% permanent reduction otherwise.
3) Find a career that is in high demand
Seek out jobs in emerging fields where the demand for skilled workers is high. Remember that you are a highly skilled and experienced worker with transferable skills (or skills directly relating to the job if you stay in the field) and thus a good candidate. Highlight all that you can offer a company.
4) Take courses
The career you have chosen may have several prerequisite skills, or you may need to update your own skills if they do not employ contemporary methods. Night classes and online classes are excellent options for those who plan to start their encore career some years down the line. Don’t fear any age disparity between you and your classmates; view it as an opportunity to learn from one another.
5) Give your resume a makeover
Update your resume to highlight all of the traits you have that match the job description for the position you are applying to. Gear it towards showing what positive impact you can have on their company in that position. Use your previous experiences to demonstrate how skilled you are.
Get help proofreading your resume so that it is absolutely free of errors. Have others read it to help remove awkward phrasing or irrelevant jargon. Fresh eyes are far better at catching mistakes and bits that need tweaking.
Whether it is for purely practical reasons or to take the road you wish you could have traveled, preparation is the key to success in encore careers. Make a plan, take the necessary actions along the way and course-correct as needed. Don’t be afraid to speak to others about finances, the field you want to enter, or what to expect because the more you know, the better it will be for you.
Starting a new career later in life lets you leverage your assets, your network and your experience in new endeavors. For some, the leap is a joyous step towards crossing off a big item on the bucket list. For others, it will take courage and a good deal of effort but remember that some of the best things in life lie on the other side of fear.