Over 50 & Unemployed

Finding part-time work

Photograph by Getty Images/Ikon Images

The prolonged recession and slow recovery as well as belt-tightening in a variety of industries has caused many of those now unemployed to consider part-time work. In fact, the percentage of employed people working part-time rose from about 17 percent in 2007 to nearly 20 percent in 2009, and stayed near that level through mid-2013, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. About 8 million people are working part-time for economic reasons—there isn't enough work, business conditions are poor or that was all they could find—and 19.3 million are working part-time for non-economic reasons, according to theBureau of Labor Statistics.

When most of us think of part-time work, we think fast food, department stores or call centers. That makes it especially tough for those over 50 and unemployed, who are often highly skilled, with decades of experience in their industry. But mid-to-late career professionals can work part-time too, not slinging burgers but in jobs where their experience and expertise are put to use, only at less than 40 hours per week. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, an agency that aggregates professional jobs with flexible schedules, says FlexJobs has many part-time positions suited for experienced workers, because in this post-recession world, employers aren't necessarily hiring only full-timers. "It's been stunning really, since the recession, the depth and variety of employers considering offing alternative job arrangements," says Fell. "And most of the jobs are on-site and have employee status."

"Working in one or more part-time, professional positions is often called a portfolio career," says Lynn Berger, a career counselor and coach in New York City and author of The Savvy Part-Time Professional: How to Land, Create or Negotiate the Part-Time Job of Your Dreams. Portfolio careers can include work that's financially secure, or work that is tied to a creative endeavor or hobby. But no matter what combination you're looking for, start with a self-assessment, says Berger.

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"Think about what you're going to do in the same way you would for a full-time job search. Make a list of your interests and skills, including 'motivated skills,' which are those things you do well and you like," says Berger. "It's a way to see in one place what you like to do and what you don't and there's usually a thread that runs through it, to give you ideas about part-time work.

Surfing for Work

Then start searching. Berger suggests putting an alert on Indeed, a job aggregation site. Use the phrase "part-time" in combination with key words like communications, accounting, human resources, counseling, etc. Especially as you start your search, it will give you a sense of the market or markets you want to enter.

FlexJobs is another resource. The professional positions this site aggregates are often difficult to find on bigger, one-size-fits-all job boards, says Fell, adding that 30% of FlexJobs' users are over 50. As with Indeed, the database is searched using key words and plugging in the phrase "part-time" (it can be written with a dash, a space or as one word, notes Fell, so try all three). She also suggests searching by both your work skills and general interests, because you never know what opportunities may exist.

"For instance, I love gardening," says Fell. "If I plug that in to search for part-time jobs, right now I can see a program assistant at the New York Botanical Garden. There's also an adult education program assistant at Desert Botanical Garden [in Phoenix]." She also recommends checking out trusted niche job sites within your industry, like SalesGravy for sales jobs or eFinancialCareers for finance jobs, to search for part-time positions.

Roll Your Own

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Sometimes the best part-time position is the one you create yourself. When Marie Langworthy retired four years ago after a career in education, she needed to supplement her retirement income. Receiving an adult and continuing education booklet in the mail, Langworthy says, "I thought there is so much I can do here." She designed 8-12 week technology workshops she teaches in the evening through the local adult education program in Columbia, Connecticut. "I just made a phone call and they happened to be looking for someone to teach a group of nurses basic computer skills, which I had. I used to be in charge of instructional technology for my school district." Langworthy also contacted a local university and applied to supervise education students working as interns and student teachers in local school districts. She now spends about 12 hours a week doing that. She co-authored a book about her experience, Shifting Gears To Your Life & Work After Retirement, and is in the process of converting the book's content into a continuing education course that she will market and sell to community colleges nationwide.

Another option for professional part-time work is real estate, especially as the market continues to recover. Patricia Cliff, who is affiliated with the Corcoran Group in Manhattan and has been selling real estate for 40 years, says it's perfect work for those in midlife and beyond. "It's a career you can come into in middle age and build on for a long time," she says. "People over 50—who are buying and selling houses–like to deal with a realtor who's also over 50." Licensing requirements differ from state to state. Once you're credentialed, you can join a company to get some experience or work on your own. What you can earn as an agent is "all over the place," says Cliff, who is the author of The Art of Selling Real Estate, but a diligent part-timer could bring in anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on the average sales price of area homes, as well as the time and effort invested.

Sometimes the part-time opportunity finds you. When Cindy Rakowtiz, co-owner of BR Public Relations, was in her late 40s, she became an empty nester and started making time for exercise again. She got hooked on kickboxing and became a certified group fitness instructor. "I wasn't going to change careers and leave public relations, but if I ever do, I could ramp this up and transition to that. There are a lot of ways to monetize small group circuit training and I'm certified to do that now," she says.

Knowing she has a plan B makes Rakowitz feel much more secure about the future. "This is something I can do part-time or full-time for the next 20 years. As Baby Boomers age we need to exercise and learn more about taking care of ourselves," she says. "I think the fitness industry is a good place to be."

Eilene Zimmerman writes extensively about the workplace, entrepreneurship, technology and small businesses, for the New York Times, CNNMoney, Crain's New York Business, and Fortune Small Business.