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Why 2017 Is a Great Time to Start a Second Act

How to launch an encore career or a business this year

By Chris Farrell and Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX

Sally Galloway, 52, is an administrative assistant at the College of Nursing of the University of South Florida College in Tampa. A single parent, she moved to Tampa two years ago. Since then, Galloway has closely followed the local job market. “My sense is that there are now more jobs available across careers and across industries,” she says.

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She's right. And the strong job market is good news for her, since Galloway is looking to make a change. Her work life has been defined by seesawing between financially insecure entrepreneurial endeavors and administrative assistant jobs with stable salaries and benefits but not enough meaning. Galloway’s entrepreneurial ventures have focused on helping people, including massage therapist, nutrition coach and well-being coach. With several degrees in music, singing is her side gig.

Galloway wants to get off the seesaw and find a career path that is personally fulfilling and comes with enough pay and benefits to provide for her four-year-old daughter. She worries about running out of time due to her age and feels the time pressure to act soon. “I don’t know what my career path is yet,” Galloway says. “What can I do that works with my personality, my values and how I want to spend my time? I want to make a difference.”

Sound familiar?

What's So Great About 2017

Thinking about changing jobs, pursuing an encore career, negotiating a flexible semi-retirement schedule with your boss or launching a business with special meaning to you in 2017? If so, this looks like an excellent year to take the leap.

“There’s a lot going on that is in favor of the employee,” observes Bobbi Rebell, the New York City based author of How to be a Financial Grownup: Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom. Today’s economy is also a boon to anyone thinking about joining the ranks of self-employed. It's easier to sell your services when the demand is there. What's more, contract workers are often valued because they bring experience without adding to an employer’s benefit costs.

Some evidence that job hunters and prospective entrepreneurs are in the catbird’s seat: Last month’s U.S. employment report marked the 75th straight month of job growth, the longest monthly streak since 1939. The overall unemployment rate is now just 4.7 percent — only 3.6 percent for those 55 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Right now, the problem isn’t too many workers who can’t find jobs,” writes Peter Coy, economics editor at Bloomberg Businessweek. “It’s too many jobs that can’t find workers.”

Case in point: December’s Small Business Economic Trends survey by the National Federation of Independent Business. The survey has small business job creation plans remaining at the highest level since 2007 even as 29 percent of small business owners reporting they had jobs they can’t fill.

A sign of the times: Amazon’s January 12 announcement that it will create 100,000 full-time new jobs with benefits in the U.S. over the next 18 months, adding to its existing domestic workforce of 180,000.

Good Time to Make a Change

“These are good times to make a change,” says Marc Miller, founder of Career Pivot in Austin, Texas. Adds an executive from South Carolina who is actively seeking another position (and, therefore, prefers to remain anonymous until the job search is successfully concluded): “I do think the job market is very active. There are a lot of opportunities opening up.”

Of course, a favorable economic backdrop is only one ingredient in constructing a new chapter for yourself. Like Galloway, you may still need to figure out which gig is worth pursuing. What do you want to do that offers greater meaning as well as a paycheck?

One trick for the uncertain recommended by boomer reinvention coach John Tarnoff: Set aside half an hour a day to focus on your future. It helps to organize your thoughts by keeping a daily diary. “We can all find a half-hour a day to work on something that’s this important,” says Tarnoff, author of the forthcoming Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50. “All kinds of ideas will come up.”

Assuming you don’t plan to start a business, once you’ve figured out what your next chapter will be, you have to find an employer with an opening and a willingness to hire you. That can be tricky in your 50s or 60s.


Finding the Next Opportunity

Miller and Tarnoff agree that older workers likely won’t find their next opportunity by looking at job postings and sending around their resumé. Many jobs are never posted anyway, especially among medium-sized and small companies. Their mantra: Network, network, and network some more.

“People tell me, ‘I sent out 20 resumés and I didn’t get one call back,’” says Tarnoff. “Of course you didn’t. You have to rely on relationships.”

Miller emphasizes cultivating your “weak ties.” These are people you have worked with or known over the past two decades or so, but aren’t close friends. They know your skills, but in many cases, have gone on to do other things. Odds are they will have connections and thoughts that are broader than your close circle of friends. They could include your hairdresser, barber, chiropractor or others in similar service occupations, as wells as the parents of your kids’ friends.

The key is to be remain flexible and entrepreneurial, even if you’re aiming to be part of the W-2 economy. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, not a job description.

Not One-and-Done

Perhaps most important, realize that a job transition isn’t a one-and-done decision in most cases. A new employer means you’ll meet people and learn skills which, in turn, might open up other opportunities. Turns out many people in the second half of their work lives don’t end up with a single encore career but with multiple careers — zigs and zags that continue well into the traditional retirement years.

In other words, people like Galloway still have time on their side.

“I want the kind of retirement,” Galloway says, “where I am doing what I love and die doing it.” My bet is she’ll get there.

(You can get additional insights by listening to this hour-long conversation I recently hosted on Minnesota Public Radio with John Tarnoff (focusing on boomers) and Bobbi Rebell (an emphasis on Millennials).

Best of luck to you in 2017!


Photograph of Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media's Marketplace. An award-winning journalist, he is author of the books "Purpose and a Paycheck:  Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life" and "Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life." Read More
Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX
By Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX

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