Feb 23, 2009

Five Keys to Working After Retirement

The most direct and efficient way for depression-battered retirees to replace the money that has somehow gone up in smoke is to work for it. And despite much doom and gloom about the economy, getting a part-time job is often an easy and pleasant experience.

First, the pleasant part: Probably the most important single factor for enjoying retirement is having a full plate of interesting things to do. For example, as the movie Frost/Nixon illustrates, Richard Nixon spent the most unhappy years of his life after he resigned the presidency because no one wanted him to do anything. While having lots of interesting things to do doesn't need to mean working, it can certainly include doing so as long as the work is enjoyable and leaves enough time for other activities. Or, as a 70-year old ski instructor told me the other day, "Working weekends and holidays teaching little tykes to ski is the most fun I've had in years -- and they pay me, too!"

To find a part-time job -- or, perhaps, during the course of the year, two or three -- it helps to think like a twenty-something. That is, to assume that in many fields the world of 9 to 5 is gone forever and to instead adopt a "gig" mentality. That is, to piece together the desired amount of pay from several easy-to-get part-time jobs. After all, someone has to be on duty at the resort parking lot at 6:00 AM Sunday morning and at the drugstore at 10:00 PM on Monday -- and if you like to get up early or stay up late, jobs like these could be yours for the asking.

Probably the biggest key to older people getting work is to overcome shyness. After 60, even the most outgoing people become socially shyer and shy people can become almost invisible. No, no, no -- resolve that this is not going to be you! Then decide how much you need to earn, what you would like to do, and hit the bricks (or at least Craigslist).

Here are the five easiest places to find work:

1) Where you have worked before. As long as you'll accept less pay and don't try to assert your former status, employers who already know your skills may find plenty of part-time work for you to do. For example, a retired partner in a law firm specializing in intellectual property may be welcomed with open arms if she proposes drafting patent claims two days per week for a reasonable hourly rate.

2) A competitor of your former employer. For the same reason your employer might want you back on a part-time basis, its competitors are likely to want to employ someone who already knows the job. And this will usually be true even if you make it clear that you'll reveal none of your former employer's trade secrets, such as customer lists or pricing formulas.

3) Someone who needs your particular skills, often on a part-time basis. And while your marketable knowledge may be something you learned during your career, it may also be a skill like cooking, sculpting, or flying a plane that you developed as a hobby. To take just one example, tens of thousands of adult education classes are taught by moonlighting retirees.

4) An employer who hires seasonally or for unusual hours. When the snowbirds descend on Arizona and Florida, pharmacies need to hire extra hands for several months, often including recently retired pharmacists. And the same thing is true of dozens of other businesses, from car rentals and spas to restaurants and ballparks. And this same need for part-time help applies to any enterprise that experiences sharp peaks and valleys in its business. Be there when extra help is needed and you'll get the gig.

5) An employer who hires consultants or independent contractors for their specialized expertise. If you have specialized and valuable knowledge (how to get more oil out of a mature field, for example), chances are you can successfully establish a home-based business as a consultant. And your chances of succeeding go way up if you understand how to present yourself in a professional manner (and not as someone the IRS may view as an employee). For more on this, see Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo). And I also recommend Retire and Start Your Own Business--Five Steps to Success, by Denis and Martha Sargent (Nolo).