Seniors today may well enjoy rounds of golf and water aerobics when they retire. But chances are, they fit it in when they're off the clock.
Whether motivated by mental stimulation or cold, hard cash, millions of Americans age 65 and older are keeping one foot in the workforce long after they leave their full-time careers.
Among current seniors, more than 16 percent were still in the labor force in 2010, up from 12 percent in 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A poll last year by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also found 82 percent of workers age 50 and older believe it is somewhat likely they will work during retirement.
Often, that means consulting gigs, part-time jobs close to home or entrepreneurial pursuits that convert personal passions — such as carpentry, tutoring or public speaking — into income.
"Lots of older Americans are taking advantage of self-employment," said Kevin Cahill, research economist for the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. "We're in a new era of retirement, and we're not going back."
He added that "most people assume that seniors keep working due to financial necessity, and some do, but the majority do it to keep active and stay alert."
There's no one right job for all retirees, of course, but there are industries and opportunities that are far more likely to meet their needs, be it supplemental income, social outlet or mental challenge.
Those who seek to maximize their paychecks, for example, are best served by taking their education and experience on the road, said Kerry Hannon, author of "Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills."
Touch base with your ex-employer first to find out whether you can assist with a new or ongoing project on a consulting basis, said Hannon. But by no means should you limit yourself to your former field. Look to other industries that may also have a need for your skill set.
"You're not reinventing yourself," Hannon said. "You're redeploying your skills."
Retired accountants, for example, could get certified as a chartered auditor or financial advisor, while bankers and office managers can advise on process improvement and cost control. Marketing and public relations professionals, meanwhile, can assist companies with pricing, long-term growth strategies and brand image. Opportunities abound.
Networking and continuing education, Hannon said, are the keys to successful consulting.
While contract work is widely considered to be the most lucrative for seniors, Gene Burnard, president of online employment database Seniorjobbank.com, cautioned that it can also present challenges of its own.
"You spend a lot of time looking for the next job," he said, noting that the transient nature of contract work can also be hard for seasoned workers. "Those who are in their 50s, 60s and 70s are used to working in a job for many years, so it can be hard to get accustomed to going from employer to employer, hat in hand, asking for work. It's a challenge for this generation."
The semiretired should also look to industries that are ramping up, specifically health care and nonprofits.
"Health care is where all the jobs are, but you have to look around the edges," said Hannon, noting that one mechanically inclined retiree she knows works part-time fixing wheelchairs and gurneys at a hospital. "We see a big need for patient advocates who can help guide patients through the health-care system, from doctor appointments to finding specialists to dealing with health insurance claims."
Former architects and interior designers who specialize in universal design — or remodeling projects that enable seniors to "age in place" — are also in demand.
And many nursing homes, hospitals, home health-service companies, pharmaceutical firms and medical-device manufacturers — to name a few — have need of bookkeepers, office managers and part-time receptionists as they grow to accommodate the surge of aging baby boomers.
Senior-living communities, likewise, are hiring drivers to transport patients to and from medical appointments, as well as seeking relocation specialists (or "move managers") to assist new residents as they downsize from their homes, Hannon explained.
Nonprofit firms are also fertile ground for job hunters, with 45 percent indicating they plan to hire more workers in 2014, according to consulting firm Nonprofit HR.
Such groups are a good fit for seniors, said Hannon, because they often lack the resources to pay full-time salaries and benefits, which seniors covered by Medicare don't need, anyway. Plus, they fulfill a deeper need for mature workers.
"Seniors often want to give back and do good," Hannon said. "Money isn't the most important thing to them anymore, with a lot of the big-ticket expenses out of the way, so nonprofits become a good place to look."
The best way to get your foot in the door, she said, is to volunteer at upcoming events and shake hands with as many staff members as you can.
Apart from health-care and nonprofit jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that customer service representatives, retail sales clerks, carpenters and management analysts will also be among the fastest-growing occupations between now and 2022.
Recognizing the untapped potential of the aging workforce, a growing number of large employers, including Home Depot, Wal-Mart and McDonald's, are actively recruiting seniors via "50-plus" job fairs and online ads.
Many go out of their way to offer flexible hours, seminars on estate planning and Social Security, mentoring programs or tuition reimbursement for continuing education.
AARP offers a list of the 50 best employers for workers over age 50, with the National Institutes of Health topping the list.
Being your own boss appeals to workers of all ages, but particularly so to older Americans who wish to set their own hours and/or work from home, Cahill said.
A 2011 study by boomer think tank Encore.org found that roughly 25 million people — 1 in 4 Americans age 44 to 70 — are interested in starting businesses or nonprofit ventures in the next five to 10 years.
Jobs well suited to retirees include tutoring; pet-sitting; home repair; carpentry; evening shifts as a security guard at the local mall, museum, or office complex; and part-time work as a "virtual personal assistant." The latter performs various administrative tasks, such as handling travel arrangements and mailing letters remotely.
The increasingly diverse U.S. population has also created a spike in demand for translators and interpreters in the legal and health-care fields.
"There are a lot of baby boomers, in particular, who don't want to work for 'the man' anymore," Hannon said. "They want flexibility and autonomy, and they want to work out of their home."
Hannon suggested that seniors who are looking to hang a shingle today consider teaming with a recent graduate. "The 20-somethings out there are having trouble finding jobs, too, and they bring with them the technology savvy and enthusiasm of the younger generation, while seniors bring with them their network of business contacts, capital and maturity," she said. "I've found a lot of examples where these become great partnerships."
Groups such as AARP and Senior Entrepreneurship Works offer online educational materials and in-person seminars on topics such as writing a business plan, seeking financing, social media marketing and finding a mentor.
Part-time work that pays the bills is readily available for seniors entering retirement.
Hannon's advice? Throw a few darts and see where they land.
"Nothing is forever at this stage," she said. "Give it a try. You're not tied to the old model that said you need to take this job for the next 15 years. This is the time to try things out."