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Finding Your Best Second Career

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Maybe you have suddenly realized that your retirement savings won't go as far as you thought. Maybe you find yourself out of work before you're ready to stop. Or maybe you simply have a yearning to do something else for the remainder of your work life.

Whatever the reason, more and more Americans are embarking on second careers. A survey by retiredbrains.com, a website that helps with retirement planning, found that more than 86 percent of business professionals plan to keep working even after they are eligible to retireand a sizable portion of them choose to switch gears.

If that's your plan, then you are probably facing a task you haven't contended with in decades: how to figure out what you can bring to a new career and where you can find the best opportunities.

First up: Stow those old notions about the importance of job titles and your place in the corporate hierarchy.

"Your job title is not your asset," said Nancy Collamer, a career coach and the author of "Second-Act Careers: 50 Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement" (Ten Speed Press). "Your asset is that you've got 25 years of knowledge of how to bring a product to market, or you know how to negotiate major contracts."

Collamer cites the example of a longtime marketing manager at Microsoft who decided to make a change. He had always enjoyed magic and performed on the side, so he became a marketing manager for other magicians, helping them get gigs at events such as corporate parties. It's an unusual niche, but it was a neat fit with his talents and interests.

"The reality is that we are quickly evolving into a situation where many of us, regardless of age, are not going to be working in traditional jobs," Collamer said.

Once you've assessed your assets, it's important to look at the potential in the broadest way possible. It's almost axiomatic that there are opportunities in health care, for example, but within such a wide category, you may be able to identify a specific unmet need that offers you the perfect chance to apply your unique skills.

Art Koff, founder of retiredbrains.com, pointed out that the health care industry includes those who do accounting or brand management for hospitals, who handle product sales, and more. The fact that the sector is expanding isn't just relevant for doctors and nurses, he said.

More broadly, Koff sees opportunities for second careers in small business—though not the kind that require investing retirement savings to start up and operate them. Small business holds enormous promise for experienced workers.

"The firms that are making the majority of hires are the firms with 500 employees or less," he said. "When you go to work for a smaller company, they're looking for somebody with broad-based experience as opposed to narrow experience."

It's even better if you're open to part-time work, according to Koff. "One of the few advantages ... is the ability to work on a project-based job if you are a manager or executive," he said. "It's not only a question of saving on benefits, but the cost of hiring and then letting someone go is huge. If they have the option of hiring you on a temporary basis, it's very attractive to companies."

Wherever you find your next act, expect to find plenty of company, Collamer warned. The latest employment data certainly support that view, with the number of workers 65 or older rising by 27,000 just in March as the overall workforce contracted.

"It's a combination of two things," she said. "You have a generation coming out of the workforce who for the most part are not going to have pensions." At the same time, she said, "people are living longer, healthier lives, so people need to find a way to fill their time."

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