Seniors can still contribute, argues author of handbook on 'encore careers'

Don't let your age stop you from getting back in the workplace.

photo illustration by sarah mackinnon

Who wants to play 30 years of golf anyway?

For people who have retired or been laid off, their later years can be some of the most fulfilling, especially since it’s a time when the urge to make a contribution to the world is strong, and research shows older is better in many ways.

“We become more empathetic, we get better at synthesizing ideas, making connections, solving complex problems,” writes Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life. In other words, older people can be less angry and better able to deal with disappointment than their younger peers.

Alboher, 46, who was a lawyer before she switched to writing, believes that retirees are capable of making their mark well past their physical prime. As one expert in later-life achievement told her: “You may forget where you put the keys, but you may be able to settle a major labour dispute.”

Unfortunately, the older set is often intimidated by the prospect of changing careers or working in an office populated by young colleagues. “I’ve talked to people who haven’t written a resumé in 30 years, and for whom the thought of posting a profile, let alone a photo on [social media site] LinkedIn, is daunting, self-promotional, and just plain weird,” she writes.

When choosing a second career, check in with yourself, she advises. What interested you 30 years ago may not interest you now. “We all evolve over time. You may have fallen into your work for reasons of happenstance or due to pressures from your parents or partners.”

One warning: if you’ve worked for someone else your whole life, you may be tempted to choose a new path where you are your own boss. But think carefully about how much responsibility it will entail. “What you are about to take on will be hard and demanding, and unless you are physically fit, you won’t be able to perform at your best,” 73-year-old career adviser Randal Charlton says in the book. “Now I’ll have a drink on Friday night and maybe on Saturday, but never on Sunday,” says Charlton. “You have to be as fit as you can be. During the week I’m in bed by 10.”

The fields of education, counselling, coaching and health care are all excellent choices for older people. “Many counselling roles may be emotionally difficult from time to time, but they don’t usually require physical strength,” Alboher writes.

Age discrimination is real, however, so be prepared. “Many employers are concerned that older employees won’t want to learn new things or will have outdated technology skills.” Emphasize your experience and ensure your computer skills are up to snuff, she suggests. Take a proper course; don’t rely on a relative to show you how PowerPoint works.

One way to demonstrate you are technologically savvy and comfortable with social media is to have a great LinkedIn profile. Don’t be afraid to post your picture, grey hair and all, Alboher says. “When an interviewer finds a profile with no photo, it can suggest that the person isn’t really plugged in.” A photo makes it easier for people to remember you, too.

Don’t fret about the dates on your resumé, but don’t omit your age, either. One expert in the book says it’s a red flag. “I end up assuming more years are missing than not, which just makes you appear older.”

In a job interview, expect to be asked the are-you-too-old-for-us question. An employer may say, “Most of the people here are under 30 and communicate largely by text and instant messaging.” Prepare your answer, Alboher writes in the book. Say, “There’s so much to learn from young people and I hope they’ll see they can learn from me.”

An interviewer may also ask what you see yourself doing in five years, as a way of expressing concern that you might retire any minute. Say: “I’ve learned how hard it is to predict where one will be in the future, but I understand myself and my priorities. I want to have a purpose. I want to learn from my friends and colleagues. I want to give back.”