The Golden Age of Unretirement
by Guest Author, Kerry Hannon
Football legend Tom Brady announced his retirement in February 2022, then announced his return to the sport in March. (Update: In January 2023, he announced that he is again retiring—for good.) Brady is far from the only retiree who returned to the workforce after retiring. As of early 2022, nearly one of every 30 people who had been retired a year earlier were back at work, a steep “unretirement” rate that is expected to continue to climb.
Why are they returning to work? Some unretirees are worried that steep inflation means their savings are no longer sufficient to finance a comfortable retirement, something Tom Brady probably doesn’t have to worry about. Others left the workforce because of pandemic risks or responsibilities but are going back now that the world is returning to normal. Still others see an opportunity—this is a tremendously auspicious time for retirees to reenter the workforce.
Why the Time Is Right
If you have any desire to unretire, 2023 is the year to do it for a few reasons…
Age and résumé gaps are less problematic. Historically, returning to the workforce has been difficult because employers generally favored younger applicants over older ones…and the résumé gap created by retirement caused concerns that the applicant’s career skills might have eroded. But today, there are two jobs open for every unemployed American, leaving employers with little choice but to overcome their ageism and consider applicants who may have been rejected in other years. In fact, some savvy employers are discovering that older workers are a great fit for their current needs—the top staffing priority for many employers in 2023 is hiring people who can step right in and do their jobs without time-consuming training or handholding, something veterans of the sector are especially likely to accomplish. Older workers also tend to be more loyal than younger ones, a key consideration in this red-hot job market—today’s young adults are happily hopping from one employer to the next as better opportunities arise.
Contract work meshes well with unretirement. Many of the jobs available now are temporary contract positions because employers are seeking to add staff but avoid long-term commitments in the uncertain economic environment. That, too, plays into unretirees’ hands—temporary positions typically do not provide health benefits, which is of little importance to someone who is 65 or older and eligible for Medicare. What’s more, employers now are far less likely to consider advanced age a significant strike against an applicant when filling a temporary position—it doesn’t matter that this older applicant might retire again relatively soon because the employer isn’t looking for someone to build a long career with the company. Temporary positions also fit many unretirees’ goals—they typically just want to work a little longer, not extend their careers indefinitely.
Remote work looks like it’s here to stay. Many companies that allowed employees to work from home during the pandemic now have extended their remote-work option indefinitely. That means retirees can land desirable jobs even if they retired to parts of the country that don’t have many employers or because of health or mobility issues. Remote work also tends to reduce age discrimination—young bosses are less likely to unconsciously consider employees’ advanced ages when those older employees are not standing right in front of them every day.
Steep inflation means that it is prudent to postpone Social Security benefits. Retirees who return to the workforce and earn a paycheck could delay the start of Social Security benefits or suspend benefits they’ve already started. Retirees who delay or suspend Social Security benefits receive a higher monthly benefit when those benefits are resumed later—in fact, they get an extra 8% for each year that benefits are not received from their full retirement age until age 70 (there is no upside to delaying Social Security benefits beyond age 70). And unlike most retirement assets, Social Security benefits are adjusted to keep pace with inflation, so increasing the size of future Social Security benefits by delaying or suspending those benefits also increases a retiree’s inflation protection.
Finding Unretirement Opportunities
The first place to look often is the last place—or last few places—that you worked before retirement. Contact former employers that you left on good terms, and ask if they’re hiring. Returning to a former employer can help overcome the “cultural fit” bias that often affects older applicants. A 2021 survey of more than 1,400 hiring managers found that only 15% considered applicants over age 45 a good cultural fit for their team—but a returning employee already has been part of the team, so fit is less likely to be a major concern.
Also reach out to former colleagues who have moved on to other employers, and ask if their current organizations are hiring—most jobs still are found through personal contacts.
Other places to look for employment opportunities…
FlexJobs is great for finding remote-work opportunities. Flexjobs.com
FlexProfessionals specializes in part-time opportunities for experienced professionals in the DC and Boston metro areas. FlexProfessionalsLLC.com
Indeed is one of the largest jobs websites, with many millions of job postings worldwide. Indeed.com
LinkedIn’s Job Board can identify job listings that might be appropriate for you based on your LinkedIn profile and/or the keywords and criteria you enter. LinkedIn.com/jobs.
RetirementJobs is a website for job hunters over 50 years old. It lists openings with employers that are expressly interested in hiring older applicants and/or that have shown themselves to be “age friendly.” RetirementJobs.com
Clear the Hurdles
Employers’ main concern about older applicants who have been out of the workforce is that their skills might be out of date. The best way to convince employers that this won’t be a problem is to obtain training on topics relevant to the positions you’re targeting, then cite this training on your résumé, in cover letters and/or in interviews. This training doesn’t have to be a formal degree or certificate program—employers are so anxious to find qualified employees these days that even viewing online lectures and courses can do the trick. And listing these courses can help fill a retirement résumé gap. Consider these…
Coursera offers more than 5,000 courses, some of them from prestigious universities such as Stanford and Duke. Prices vary, but short programs usually are inexpensive or free. Coursera.org
GetSetUp offers online classes taught by older adults and aimed at students age 55 and up. Most classes are either free or very inexpensive. GetSetUp.io
LinkedIn Learning features more than 17,000 business-oriented online courses. You can subscribe for $39.99 per month…sign up for a free one-month trial…or purchase courses individually—prices vary. LinkedIn.com/learning
Udemy offers more than 185,000 online courses, many of them priced at well under $100. Udemy.com
You also can fill a résumé gap by listing volunteer work you did during your retirement or a necessary role you served for your family. Present these volunteer or family “jobs” in professional language. Examples: You might list your volunteer work as “fundraising” or “outreach coordinator,” assuming those terms are reasonable descriptions of your role. Or if you left the workforce to care for an elderly relative during the pandemic, you might list your position as “patient advocate.” Employers understand that family obligations interrupted many people’s careers in recent years and are more accepting of such résumé listings than they might have been in the past.
More tips for unretirement cover letters and interviews…
Use the word “curiosity/curious” in a sentence that flatters the employer. Example: You might say that you’ve followed developments in the sector since your retirement and are “curious to see where [this employer] has been taking the industry” or that you’re “curious to see the positive impact [this employer] can have on this region.” Stressing your curiosity can help overcome employer concerns that you’ve mentally checked out from the working world and that you’re returning only for a paycheck. And employers love to hear that people think they’re doing interesting or important work.
Stress your experience with independent projects and/or working from home if you’re applying for a remote-work position. Describe experience you have with self-employment projects that you ran with limited oversight or with earlier remote work. The more evidence you offer that you can function productively without a boss looking over your shoulder, the more likely you are to be hired for remote work.
Reread your old performance reviews. Refresh your memory about your career successes and what prior employers considered your strengths, then raise these topics during interviews. If you don’t have your old performance reviews, ask people you used to work with what they considered your greatest strengths and achievements.
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About the author: Kerry Hannon is a a workplace futurist and strategist on career transitions, entrepreneurship, personal finance and retirement. She has dedicated her work to making a difference in people’s lives, to give them confidence and the tools to succeed personally, professionally and financially. You can reach Kerry at email@example.com.
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