7 Tips for Starting a Second Career

Things you should consider if you’re pursuing an encore career later in life.


I am 65 and nowhere near ready to retire (physically and emotionally) but I need to find more meaningful work than I’m doing now. What’s the best way to overcome the age issue when approaching potential employers? – J.F. of Annapolis, MD


I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to recently who are looking for new opportunities later in life!

Do me a favor and Google the following term today: “encore career

An “encore career,” also called “recareering,” is defined as an employment transition made during the latter part of one’s career, typically to the social sector or a public-interest field, such as education, the environment, health care, government, social services or nonprofits.

It makes sense. You’ve worked hard throughout your career, doing what needed to be done to pay the bills and put the kids through school. Now the kids are out of the house and you’re considering downsizing. You don’t want to work 60+ hours a week anymore, and you’re OK taking a pay cut to get there. And most importantly, you’re looking for a job that’s not “just a job” – you want a role that helps you give back to the community and that makes a social impact.

You’re not alone.

A 2011 research study conducted by Penn Schoen Berland concluded that nearly 9 million Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 are in encore careers, with an additional 31 million interested in pursuing one. It’s an appealing option for job seekers at retirement age who either need to continue working to maintain a paycheck and medical benefits, or want to continue working while making a lifestyle change.

Here are some things to consider before you leap into that next chapter of your career:

  1. When considering an encore career, think about the key strengths and skills that made you successful in your professional career, and explore opportunities where you think they could be applied. These skills, along with your passion for a specific cause, will be your greatest selling points during the search.
  2. Once you’ve chosen an area to pursue, it’s important to immerse yourself in industry news and terminology. The easiest way to start is online. Create Google News alerts using industry-specific terms or organizations’ names to receive relevant articles; identify major organizations associated with your cause and join them; and subscribe to industry-specific online newsletters, blogs and Twitter feeds.
  3. Join professional groups online and offline via LinkedIn Groups and Meetup.com to join in conversations and attend networking events. Identify any connections in your current network who work within your targeted industry and take them out for an informational interview – this is a great way to gain valuable insight into the market and uncover potential opportunities.
  4. Look for volunteer and internship opportunities (yes, internships !) in your chosen area so you can add industry-related experience to your work history and make new connections. When possible, pursue these opportunities while still working as a full-time professional to make the transition smoother once you’re ready for the switch.
  5. Stay current with technology. You don’t have to be a maverick on Twitter, but you should understand how it works. I recommend exploring each of the more popular social media platforms for work: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. You should be proficient with computers, navigating online and Microsoft’s main products (Word, PowerPoint and Excel). Microsoft has some great free online tutorials you can take, or you can explore courses given at your local community college.
  6. Show your energy and passion. Employers who open their arms to encore job seekers expect the candidates to be older, but that doesn’t mean you’ll completely avoid age discrimination during your transition. Do what you can to promote the active, vivacious part of your personality during networking activities and in interviews. Think about your wardrobe and appearance, energy level and the topics you bring up during casual conversations.
  7. Be prepared for a long ride. The average American in an encore career takes 18 months to make the transition, and 67 percent of those folks had reduced or zero income during that transition period. If you want to pursue an encore career, start saving now, and be mentally prepared for the journey ahead.

It’s not impossible, but it will take time and money to get there. Here are some of my favorite resources for encore job seekers:

  • Plus 50 Initiative : Innovative program organized by the American Association of Community Colleges that is currently being offered at 25 community colleges around the country. Also, Google “Encore Fellowships” for more programs.
  • AARP : Nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people ages 50 and older. A section of its website is dedicated to work, retirement planning and recareering.
  • Idealist.org : Job board dedicated to volunteer, internship and paid opportunities within the nonprofit sector.
  • JobsOver50 : This source offers career advice and job listings for part-time work and internships.