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Friday, September 20, 2013 - 3:34am

WORKING: Encore Careers Encore

Updated: 1 year ago.
A mid-50s government worker is nearing retirement and looking for a lower-paying job with less responsibility. But no one will hire her, even though she has two graduate degrees and decades of experience. Brandon Smith explains how to overcoming her work history and her age to find a second act. (Photo Courtesy of Muriel Miralles de Sawicki via stock.xchng.)

Nearly 9 million Americans aged 44 to 70 are pursuing an “encore career,” according to the nonprofit Encore.org, which promotes the idea of older workers finding a new career that’s fulfilling and meets social needs.

Often the decision to take this leap is driven by a long-held desire to try a particular vocation. However, sometimes it’s about necessity.

“As we all have seen in this economy, if you’ve got a ‘5’ in front of your age and you’re out of work, it is a tough place to be. So we’re seeing encore careers pop up because people just don’t have any other options,” said Brandon Smith on our Working segment a few weeks ago.

That prompted this email from a listener named Karen:

“I am now eligible to retire from my state job and want to start a second career.... I am 56 years old with graduate degrees and am having difficulty finding anyone who will hire me. They appear to want someone younger with less experience for these lesser-paying jobs. I want more freedom and less responsibility so I can now begin to do what I want to do in life. Do you have any ideas how I might present myself better so I can get a job?”

Smith said it goes back to her age, no matter how unfair that seems.

“She has two double-whammies against her: the ‘5’ in front of her age and then this career in government work,” said Smith, a workplace consultant, career coach and business professor at Emory and Georgia State universities.

He said a career as a state employee often carries stereotypes in the private sector, including that those workers like a slow pace and the status quo, and they don’t like to be pushed.

“[Karen] has ‘solo-preneur’ written all over her,” Smith said. “Essentially a contractor. It eliminates a lot of the issues and concerns companies might have because you’re not saying, ‘come take care of me.’”

Smith said working as a contractor gives people flexibility and the income they still need, but companies don’t have to invest in benefits or worry that their new full-time employee won’t be around for long.

“All of a sudden, that makes her a lot more interesting and competitive [as a job candidate],” Smith said. “Companies right now are very worried and fearful about hiring someone full time.

“So eliminate all those preconceived, unfair notions about [Karen] because of her work history and where she’s at in life by going in that way, and all of a sudden, she becomes a really interesting candidate.”

Brandon Smith teaches about leadership, communication, and workplace culture at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. More of his advice is on his blog and at theworkplacetherapist.com. While you’re there, ask him your workplace or career question. We might answer you in a future radio segment.