Would you consider an hourly-wage job in retirement?

August 20, 2015, 4:58 PM UTC
older worker age
older worker age
Photograph by Biggie Productions—Getty Images

Dear Annie: I read with interest your piece on whether Baby Boomers are too optimistic about when and how they’ll retire, because I certainly was. I took “early retirement,” really a layoff in disguise, back in early 2009 and moved to a community where my wife and I (we’re both 61) now play a lot of golf. The trouble is, it’s turning out that we didn’t save as much as we should have and we’re now finding it tougher than anticipated to make ends meet.

On top of that, we’re seriously bored with all this nonstop leisure, and we really miss working. We already do some volunteer work locally, but to get back into anything like our former careers as financial managers at two different large companies, we’d have to move again. I’m sure we’re not the only Boomers in this situation, so do you and your readers have any suggestions? — Greetings from Boca Raton

Dear Boca: You’re right to surmise that you have plenty of company. Between 2011 and 2013, about 6.1 million people—many of them in their 50s or older—were “displaced” from jobs they had held for at least three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of early 2014 (the most recent figures available), only about 60% of them were working again.

The BLS statistics don’t show how many of those people returned to their old careers, how many took early-retirement packages, and how many found other kinds of jobs. It’s noteworthy that the unemployment rate in July among Americans age 55 and above was just 3.6%, well below the 5.3% rate for the workforce as a whole. On the other hand, you probably noted that, while 80% of retirees in the article you mention said it was “easy” to find work, most also reported earning “much less” than they did before retiring.


Many people who have retired (willingly or not) in the past decade seem to have migrated to hourly-wage jobs, an option that would get you off the golf course at least part-time and bring in a paycheck as well. “In a small town, and especially one that’s mainly a retirement community, you clearly don’t have the range of options you would have elsewhere,” notes Blake Nations, CEO of job site Over50Job Board.com. So, if you want to stay put, “you’ll have to manage your expectations and be flexible.”

The latest entry in a field that also includes sites like RetirementJobs.com and RetiredBrains.com, Over50JobBoard.com currently lists about 80,000 openings with companies that are specifically searching for Baby Boomers. These include big names like Macy’s, Comcast, Kelly Services, Home Depot, Scripps, Staples, and Comcast, along with many smaller outfits.

Many of those listings are for retail sales associate and customer service jobs, Nations notes, and that’s no coincidence. “Employers have told me that people over 50 more often sincerely want to help customers, and they tend to be more patient and resourceful problem-solvers,” he says. “They also have a great work ethic.”

The biggest drawback of going after an hourly gig, at this point in your life, may be psychological. “For someone who used to be a manager earning $75,000 or $100,000 a year, having to ‘settle’ for $15 an hour can be really tough on the ego,” Nations observes.

He knows that from experience. After a long career as a health-care recruiting executive, Nations got bounced out of a major firm in 2009, when the recession rocked the headhunting business. He struggled through a long search and finally landed an entry-level spot at another recruiting firm, where he worked alongside colleagues who were less than half his age. Nations also took a second job as a supermarket checker just to cover his bills. “At that time, all kinds of people were working at the grocery store,” he recalls, “including a ‘retired’ dentist and a former medical researcher from Mass General.”

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If you do decide to go the hourly route, Nations has three suggestions for you. First, research the industry and the company thoroughly before each interview. “Everyone should be doing this, but you’d be surprised at how many candidates—of any age—just don’t bother,” he says. Don’t be one of them. “It’s especially important for job hunters over 50 to come across as knowledgeable and up-to-date. Do enough homework to be able to talk about the business and ask informed questions.”

Second, with your background as a financial manager, you may run up against the dreaded O-word, for “overqualified.” If so, be ready to explain why you’re now ready to do something entirely different. “Lots of people, once they’ve retired, find they miss working. But they definitely don’t miss the stress and the long, uncertain hours that often come with a management position,” Nations notes. If that’s true of you too, be sure to say so.

And third, “genuine enthusiasm counts,” Nations says. “Some older applicants make the mistake of going in to an interview all cocky because they have 30-plus years [of] experience in management. But you have to let interviewers know you’re interested in doing your best at the job that’s available, and you have to mean it. Don’t apply for any opening you feel is beneath you if you aren’t willing to be great at it.” Good luck.

Talkback: If you retired and then decided to go back to work, how is it going? Leave a comment below.

Have a career question for Anne Fisher? Email askannie@fortune.com.

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