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Late Life Career Strategies

Published November 5, 2014 by

Tips for Making a Smooth Transition

By Pam Houghton

When Bloomfield Hills resident Michael Haggerty was laid off from his job as vice-president for a commercial real estate company in 2012, he had every intention of returning to the workforce. Even though the real estate market was still in decline, “I thought I’d walk back in, but that wasn’t the case,” says Haggerty, who is over 60.

Armed with an MBA and a career that also included a stint managing nearly 70 properties for Domino’s Pizza as a general contractor, Haggerty has applied for positions through “premium job-seeking companies.” But even then, he found the competition for jobs was fierce. “I have a master’s degree. But when you read the executive summaries of the other job applicants, 18 people also have a master’s degree, and a few have doctoral degrees. I thought I was unique! You really aren’t. There’s a tremendous amount of competition. It’s hard to know what’s in the minds of employers.”

Knowing what’s in the minds of employers was one focus of business and management educator John Fruner’s research on late-career re-employment. Fruner, who retired from a 40-year automotive career in 2009, and earned a doctorate in Business Administration from Baker College in 2013, was inspired by his own experience.

“I started to think about what mattered to me and where I could bring some background and expertise. Having retired and restarted a job search, I met a lot of people who were struggling like I was. I underestimated the job market and how difficult the job search would be,” says Fruner, who also has an MBA from Michigan State University.

Making the mental shift

Fruner interviewed 10 local job seekers between the ages of 50 and 66 who left recession-era jobs and later found employment. Accepting the competitive nature of the job search was essential. “It’s part of the mental shift that happens in people when they start to separate themselves from those who are struggling. Once they learn they are in a competitive activity, they make the job search a full-time job.”

Several returned to school to retrain, hoping to “become more employable in the eyes of hiring managers.” Others took advantage of less costly learning opportunities. “You can dedicate yourself to continuous learning through reading, Internet sources and talking to experts in different areas,” says Fruner.

They also anticipated age-related questions and provided evidence; for example, that they were able to learn new skills or were in good health. They emphasized advantages only experience can bring: knowledge, connections, mentoring ability, perspective, mistakes they had learned from — “all of which make them better problem-solvers and innovators,” says Fruner.

A mentoring mindset

Mentoring has great appeal for Haggerty, who says people his age aren’t trying to start a career again. “We are trying to take our experience and pass it on to the younger generation in areas that can strengthen their careers. It’s important to be a productive member of society and supplement our income.”

Which means older job seekers have the opportunity to look at work differently.

“We can revise our past notions of what employment was. Jobs offering lower pay are on the table. Work outside our normal comfort zone is on the table. Being a consultant, owner of an LLC, working for a contractor are options,” says Fruner.

Haggerty sees “really exciting progress” going on in downtown Detroit, citing a keen interest in Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services. “I’d love to get involved,” including, he says, giving architectural tours of buildings he has been familiar with since high school.

The entrepreneurial bug

When Birmingham resident Kim Boudreau Smith, 54, left a corporate sales job in the early ‘90s, it was “a lot easier to get another job back then,” she says. Even though she stepped back into the corporate world, it was never a comfortable fit. So Smith, a longtime fitness buff, used her after-work hours to teach personal fitness skills. It wasn’t long before she bit wholeheartedly into the life of an entrepreneur, and turned that into a full-time occupation. Later, she used her business development skills to become a consultant for women entrepreneurs. Last January, she took another leap and launched Bold Radio Station on the Internet where she sells airtime to hosts, in addition to hosting two shows of her own.

“When you reach a certain age, looking to change jobs or careers, mindset is huge. When we focus on the negative, we receive the negative,” Smith says. Relationships helped her make transitions. “I’m very well-connected. It’s all about networking, how you are forming and building your relationships with other people.”

Fruner agrees. “I encourage late-career workers to strengthen their occupational networks while they’re still employed, so they’re better prepared for a possible future job search. It’s harder to build and maintain those helpful relationships after leaving the work environment.”

To learn more about Dr. Fruner’s research or opportunities to become involved, contact him at jfrune01@baker.edu. NS

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