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Two experts on encore careers offer useful advice for finding purposeful work after 50

posted by Richard Eisenberg, May 14, 2012 More by this author

cover of the Big Shift book

Richard Eisenberg is the senior Web editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Assistant Managing Editor for the site. Follow him on Twitter @richeis315.


cover of the Big Shift book
courtesy of Marc Freedman
A few nights ago, I heard two of the smartest thinkers on working after 50 — Marc Freedman and Marci Alboher — share their views with an eager audience at New York City’s Mid-Manhattan Public Library. Now I'd like to pass along their advice. I bet you’ll find their ideas valuable; they might even help you forge a new path in life that is rewarding both personally and financially.
 
Freedman is the founder and chief executive of the nonprofit Civic Ventures and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, just out in paperback. He coined the term “encore career” to describe the type of work people in their 50s and beyond do for “personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income.” Alboher is a vice president at Civic Ventures and the author of One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success. Their website is encore.org.
 
“With an encore career,” Freedman told the group, “you can’t just leave a legacy — you can live one.” (Next Avenue has many articles and videos about encore careers in our Work & Purpose channel, including advice on how to choose one.)
 
Here are highlights from Freedman’s and Alboher’s talk:
 
You may be your best “investable asset.” Alboher said that instead of grousing about earning “1 percent or 2 percent if you’re lucky” on savings and investments today, you should invest in what could offer a much higher return: yourself. Take courses or develop skills to make yourself more employable. “There’s a big learning curve to stay in the game today,” Alboher said. “If you want to remain in the workplace for another five or 10 years or longer, you need retraining.”
 
Ask community college admission officers what types of people local employers are looking for. These school officials talk with area business owners and organizations regularly, so they know which skills are in demand. Once you find out, take classes at the school to get the training to match. 
 
Skip the hair dye and plastic surgery. Alboher said people over 50 often ask her whether they should dye their hair or have plastic surgery so they can look younger to get hired. She turns that question on its head, asking: “If someone says they want to have a meeting with you on Skype, and your answer is ‘What’s Skype?’ don’t worry about your hair color. It may be time for you to have a tech tuneup.” (In case you don’t know, Skype is a free service for online video meetings and conference calls.)
 
Find your “slash” and make money from it. “Slash” is Alboher’s shorthand for the skill you have — apart from your “real” career — that can bring in part-time income. Alboher cited a woman she met in the ReServe program (a group that matches professionals 55 and older with nonprofits and government agencies) whose "slash" is baking pies. She sells enough of them that she can afford to volunteer helping high school students fill out college financial aid forms.
 
Be patient if you want to launch an encore career. Freedman said his group’s recent survey found that people who successfully shifted to encore careers spent 18 months or longer making the transition. Start by offering your expertise for free, to build up a customer base. “After you have success stories, you’ll be able to get testimonials from those people, and they’ll become evangelists for you when you’re ready to start charging,” Alobher said. 
 
Consider an encore career as a wellness coach. This is a “high-need, high-growth,” field, according to Alboher, who is writing a book about promising encore careers. Some of these coaches assist people with chronic illnesses by monitoring their medications, attending doctor’s appointments and helping them understand their health insurance. “This kind of job doesn’t require medical experience,” Alboher says. “It requires compassion and life experience.” 
 
It’s time for a new type of GI Bill. Freedman thinks Congress should pass “a kind of Third Age” bill to help Americans afford encore careers. “Why not let people take a year’s worth of their Social Security checks in their 50s, so they can use the money to go back to school if they agree to work a year later before getting the rest of their Social Security?” he asks.