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An older worker's guide to getting a job

Who says 65 is the magic age to stop working?

With today's longer life expectancies, few can afford to rest on their laurels -- or savings -- for 20 or more years. Even if you can stash away enough cash, do you want to completely leave the working world? Employment has rewards beyond the financial.

"Baby boomers have found the fountain of youth," says Susan P. Ascher, president and CEO of The Ascher Group, which manages contract employees. "They have tons of energy, and they're not going to be willing to quit. If they can play golf three days a week and still be CEO, that's what they're going to want to do."

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Just ask Irving Strauss. The 82-year-old is president of Strauss Corporate Communications, a New York City-based company he founded when he was forced to retire at 62 from an investor-relations company.

"I had savings. We could have gotten along on that, but I wanted something better," says Strauss. "I wanted to go out and make another $100,000 a year, so I did."

Strauss' clients are small firms that value his experience, perspective and wealth of contacts. When he wants to vacation, he does. "I love what I do, and I can't imagine staying home and dying on the vine," Strauss says.


Easing financial and insurance worries
Of course, not every retiree rejoins the work world merely for creative fulfillment. Many stay on the job to take pressure off retirement savings.

Columbus, Ohio, financial planner John E. Sestina offers this illustration. You have a $250,000 nest egg at retirement, invest it aggressively and it earns a 10-percent return for five years. But instead of living on those earnings, you take a $25,000 job or a husband and wife each take part-time jobs paying $12,500 each. At the end of five years, your untouched nest egg will be worth $402,000. If you then decide to never work another day, your retirement will be more fiscally solid.

Then there's the benefit of employer-provided insurance.

Medicare doesn't kick in until you're 65. If you stop working earlier, you and a spouse or other dependents probably will have to find your own insurance. Bob Hurley, vice president of customer care for eHealthInsurance, says there are lots of plans out there, but even he acknowledges that employer-sponsored plans are often richer and more affordable.

And the most expensive Medicare supplemental insurance plan won't cover high drug costs; the pharmaceutical limit on the most-extensive plan is $3,000 annually. If you have a chronic condition, Sestina says a policy through an employer or one you pay directly through your own incorporated business (and deduct from your earnings as an expense), will give you much better benefits.

Hurley concurs. He says if you work for a company with more than 20 people, the company's health plan will be the primary payer of claims even if the company requires you to sign up for Medicare. "For most people, that's a much better solution than Medicare alone," Hurley says.

Delaying retirement also could boost your government pension. If you file for Social Security at 62, the earliest you can, you'll get a reduced benefit that will stay reduced for the rest of your life. Waiting until full retirement (age 65 to 67, depending on your birth year) raises the payment 20 percent to 30 percent.

Many people find it makes more sense to have a larger payment during their older years when they are physically less able to work, says Bruce Shobel, an actuary at New York Life Insurance and chair of the Social Insurance Committee of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Post-retirement employment planning
Ready to work but fear post-retirement employment will chain you to a desk for the rest of your golden years? Don't be.

Ascher, a specialist in workforce logistics, predicts more jobs soon will be available for older workers. The numbers support her: There are 77 million baby boomers and only 44 million of the trailing GenXers.

"When all the dust settles and the economy starts to grow again, we'll be facing the first-ever real labor shortage," she says. "By 2004 or 2005, companies will be desperate for skilled workers."

That, she believes, will put older workers, with their histories of being good corporate employees, in positions to set some of the rules. "Some will telecommute. Others will work only part of the year. Some will work part of the week."

"The key to working after retirement is to grab hold of what you wish you could do and just do it," says senior entrepreneur Strauss.

A recent or a soon-to-be retiree should spend time contemplating what he or she likes to do. A career coach can help, but just talking to longtime business contacts and friends might be just as effective. At this age, who you know is often more important than what you know, says Mallory Tytel, president and CEO of ETP, a behavioral health company in Connecticut.

Financial planner Sestina, author of Managing to Be Wealthy, urges his clients to consider starting a business. "We're not talking about General Motors," he says, but small ventures where people have an opportunity to make a little money doing what they like to do. It's also a way to shelter from taxes some of the expenses associated with favorite pastimes.

"If you like photography, shoot a few wedding pictures and write off that new camera. If you like to cook, give a few cooking lessons and write off the job you do remodeling the kitchen," he urges. Of course, your hobby has to eventually produce some money or you'll hear from the Internal Revenue Service.

Getting ready to go back in
But not everyone is cut out for the entrepreneurial life.

Cathy Fyock, an employment strategist and president of Innovative Management Concepts in Louisville, Ky., suggests older workers reconnect with previous employers. The company knows your work and you know the business. Your services maybe welcome part-time or on a project basis.

If you've retired far away from the old corporate stomping ground, check out AARP's annual list, usually published in a fall issue of its Modern Maturity magazine, of the best companies for workers over 50.

Whether you're heading back to your old company or looking for a job with a new employer, you'll need to be ready for today's working world. Ascher, whose company places high-level temporary workers, suggests you:

  • Polish your computer skills. Virtually every job demands at least rudimentary computer knowledge. Within areas of expertise, knowledge of proprietary software is also important. Ascher is frustrated when she tries to place retired executives who have supervised workers without mastering the programs on which businesses rely. Management skills alone might have been enough in their previous situation, but most post-retirement assignments will be more hands-on. If you're going to work in your field post-retirement, she advises you master the technology skills.
  • Build a sophisticated resume. A post-retirement resume is different than the one that landed you your first or even your most recent job. Concentrate on what you can do, not what you've done. If you're in doubt about what to include, get expert advice.
  • Be flexible. Give various opportunities a try. If something doesn't work out, so what? Take a breather and try something else. At this age, you have nothing to prove and that's a blessing.

More than money
Finally, there's the compensation question. Retired workers re-entering the workforce generally have more considerations that just a salary amount.

For instance, if your retirement plan is based on your income over the last few years of employment, and many are, don't put yourself back on a payroll. Such a move can affect how much pension money you get. Instead, negotiate an arrangement where you're a self-employed contractor. Since you'll be responsible for your tax payments, make sure you're paid enough to compensate for the employer's share of Social Security that you'll owe.

Fyock advises older workers to be upfront about their compensation needs. "If you need health benefits more than you need money, negotiate that," she says. "If you need a flexible schedule, make that clear."

Jennie L. Phipps is a contributing editor based in Michigan.

 
-- Updated: April 18, 2003
     

 

 
 
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