How to turn your passion into a paycheck

‘Re-career’ in a growth field catering to your peers

Published: March 2014

Many seniors are working instead of jumping into retirement.

If Consumer Reports readers are a bellwether, baby boomers—and those around their age—aren’t parking themselves in rocking chairs any time soon, if ever. In a survey of subscribers age 55 to 75 published last spring, only 41 percent told us they were fully retired and not working.

The need for cash is, of course, a motivator to work. Twenty percent of pre-retirees told us they expected never to retire, more than half of them because they hadn’t saved enough. But another factor is passion: More than a third said they enjoyed their work too much to retire voluntarily. Combine our findings with boomers’ expected increased longevity, and you’ve got a large, motivated older workforce.

And the work they find could very well be in a new field, one they train for in middle-age or later. In human-resource speak, it’s called “re-careering.” AARP’s “Life Reimagined for Work” Web pages, for example, offer lots of profiles of folks who’ve found encore careers in fields they have a passion for. There’s especially rich opportunity in professions that serve seniors themselves. Here’s a sampling:

Financial adviser. The population of financial advisers is expected to grow by 32 percent in the next decade, and there’s plenty of opportunity for baby boomers to enter the field, says the CFP Board, the accrediting organization that grants the respected certified financial planner designation. Given that an estimated 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day, there will be no dearth of prospective clients seeking help to plan for their later years. Median compensation is about $65,000, though top-earning advisers make upward of $150,000. Lots of brokers and other financial types are becoming CFPs, but so are folks from other fields, including the military, law enforcement, and teaching, says Dan Drummond, a CFP board spokesman. “Teachers are great candidates because part of being a CFP is educating clients,” he says. Ideally, earn a professional designation with real clout, such as the one for certified financial planners or the one for chartered financial consultants (ChFC). Courses that satisfy the CFP education requirement start at around $3,000, excluding books, materials, and test prep. You’ll also need a bachelor’s degree (in any subject) and several years’ experience in the field, among other requirements.

Patient advocate. Individuals with health care and social work backgrounds are well-suited to this brand-new field. Advocates help people with an illness or condition navigate the billing and insurance paperwork minefield, find specialists and caregivers, and even ask the right questions during doctor appointments. Lay people who have helped a relative through such an experience also make good professional advocates because they know what’s involved, says Trisha Torrey, founder of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, a trade group. Patient advocates—also called patient navigators—earn $30 to more than $450 an hour depending on their expertise. There is no universally recognized certification for this work, but a number of institutions now offer training, and some even grant college degrees. Advocates often work for themselves, either full-time or part-time. Torrey says the field is still quite small but booming; her organization has about 450 members worldwide, from just 30 members four years ago. For resources, check

Personal trainer. A burgeoning population of Americans middle-aged and older determined to keep active is behind a trend in the fitness industry to introduce more senior-friendly training, and potentially more jobs for older trainers. For example, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a not-for-profit trade organization and certifying body, recently introduced several specialty certifications in senior fitness, therapeutic exercise, and orthopedic exercise. More than 37 percent of the group’s certified members are over 40, and many of them specialize in working with older adults. According to Idea Health Fitness Association, a trade organization, self-employed personal trainers make about $42 an hour, on average; health-club employees make an average of $25 an hour. More than a dozen organizations offer certification exams; ACE offers three courses to prepare for its certification. Its courses range from $499 to $799, and the exam costs $399.

You also could go in the opposite direction in terms of age. Jake Raab began working as a $90-a-day roving substitute teacher in the Summit, N.J., public schools nine years ago. The retired computer programmer/college teacher says the job prerequisites were 60 credit hours of college, a clean tuberculosis test, and no criminal record. Raab has taught almost every grade and subject, though his favorite is sixth-grade science. His latest calling bucks a current trend; MenTeach, an advocacy organization, says only 18 percent of those teaching in elementary and middle schools are male.

But that doesn’t bother him. “Being around kids rejuvenates me,” Raab says. “I leave work some days on a high.”

—Tobie Stanger

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the November 2013 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

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