Jerry Hirsch was operating a successful market research firm when he realized he was spending more time with his clients than his family. Just shy of 60, he quit the market research game and decided to reinvent himself. Now, at age 77, he’s a successful real estate agent. He has no plans to succumb to a traditional retirement.
“This fits all my interests and hobbies,” says Hirsch, who works with Houlihan Lawrence Realty in Scarsdale, N.Y. “I am working all the time. And when I’m not working, I’m thinking about work.”
Every year more seniors like Hirsch choose to either continue working for their existing employers or engage in “second act” careers and side hustles instead of going down the more established path of retiring to a life of golf, grandchildren and globetrotting.
Indeed, where only about 12% of Americans worked past age 65 in 1996, more than 19% were working in 2016. The government projects that 22% will be working in 2026. The jump in the labor force participation rate is even more dramatic at the older end of the range. Roughly twice as many 75 to 79 year-olds are working now than in 1996.
There are a lot of explanations for the rise. Some cite practical factors, such as losing money in the Great Recession and not being able to make enough on investments to retire gracefully. However, others say the difference is really about choices. There now are attractive and flexible work options that simply weren’t widely available generations ago.
An increasing number of employers allow workers to forego the gold watch for a part-time schedule, for instance. The burgeoning freelance economy also beckons, with some companies specifically courting active seniors for temporary and part-time jobs.
Besides, some seniors are simply happy working and don’t think they should have to give it up just because they hit a predetermined age.
“Work is all about a sense of community, structure and routine. It gives us a sense of purpose and meaning,” says Nancy Collamer, retirement coach and founder of MyLifestyleCareer.com. “People are looking to replace those things because retirement is lasting a lot longer than it used to.”
Ironically, this puts many retirees in the same position as their grandkids —trying to assess both their skills and their passions to determine the best path forward.
Those who like their current jobs and have employers willing to accommodate flexible work options, don’t need to look further. On the other hand, those who don’t like where they work, work for employers that won’t consider phased retirement, think they want completely new career, or who just want a side hustle to earn a few extra bucks, may have to do some fishing to catch the right opportunity.
Consider your strengths
“You are always going to command the highest dollar in an area where you have the most expertise,” says Collamer. “Match that to a market need.”
For instance, if you are an accountant or lawyer but don’t want to work the hours the big firms require, you could provide support services to other entrepreneurs. People who are good at advertising and marketing, likewise, may be hired to write newsletters, corporate brochures or manage social media accounts. A number of online platforms, including FlexProfessionals, Onward Search, SkipTheDrive and FreeeUp, specialize in finding part-time jobs for retired professionals.
Of course, it isn’t all about white-collar work. If you are good at making things work at home, busy professionals are looking for you to fix and repair their homes; walk their dogs and take care of their children and aging relatives.
Don’t forget your “soft skills”
In addition to whatever industry-specific skills you may have developed over the course of your career, seniors often have a wide range of so-called “soft skills” that are highly valued in the workforce, says Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience programing at AARP.
“They tend to be highly responsible and calm under pressure,” she says. “They listen well and are highly empathetic. Those are great skills for any customer-facing job.”
If you want to get started with something that seems out of your area of expertise, ask yourself whether the soft skills you possess makes up for your relative lack of experience. If so, stress that in your resume and cover letter.
You may not think that you have the credentials to be an “elder care” consultant, for instance. But, if you learned to negotiate the Medicare system while taking care of your own relatives and have the empathy necessary to understand another family’s needs, you might be able to create your own position in a fast-growing field.
Shore up weaknesses
Staying current in whatever industry you target is pivotal, Weinstock adds. If you need to take a class, or brush up on the latest research in your field —or simply watch a few instructional YouTube videos—to gain a skill you’re missing, take the time, she suggests.
Community colleges and trade groups often offer low-cost training and certificate programs in everything from medical technology to building web sites.
Use your network
Another advantage that seniors have over younger applicants is that they simply have decades more business experience. That experience likely left you with far more professional contacts and potential references than younger candidates. Those contacts can help you find people looking for workers like you—and can even help you decide on the best career options.
Hirsch says he used his contacts to find out what real estate firms had the best training programs. That wealth of contacts, willing to refer potential clients, also made him a valuable addition to the realty firm.
If you don’t have any desperate need to earn money right away, volunteering your time can be a good way to learn about a new industry, adds Collamer. Much like unpaid internships, volunteer jobs can often lead to paid jobs.
After all, your months of unpaid work translates to training. If the organization you’re volunteering for needs well-trained paid workers, why not you?
This story originally appeared on © SideHusl.com