If you went into retirement unwillingly, you can come out now.
The jobless rate for workers 55 and older is just 3.1 percent, according to AARP’s calculation of government jobs data last month.
That’s even lower than the 3.9 percent for workers of all ages.
In a recent client survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, nearly 65 percent of companies said they were in a hiring mode, 25 percent were in “retention” mode and just about 7 percent were downsizing.
“It’s a great job-search climate for anyone, but it’s particularly good for older workers,” said Andrew Challenger, the firm’s vice president.
Experienced workers with industry-specific skills are in the highest demand, but the market is good across the spectrum, he said.
Layoffs are down, employers are offering incentives to keep workers from jumping ship, and those who do leave are getting healthy pay hikes.
“Our clients are finding jobs quicker than they have in a very long time and the vast majority are finding equivalent or better pay,” he said.
While older workers typically have lower jobless rates than younger workers, they are more likely to be out of work 27 weeks or longer, the benchmark to be considered long-term unemployed.
That can devastate a retirement plan, particularly for workers who were hoping to top up their retirement accounts in the last years of their career.
If you’re thinking about heading back to work, here are a few tips:
l Pay back Social Security — If you filed early for reduced Social Security benefits before reaching full retirement age, you have a year to withdraw the application and pay it all back.
This could be painful, particularly if you have been out of work — but it may mean a much higher benefit check down the road. It’s worth it to do the math and see how much higher your eventual benefit is likely to be, now that your work record is growing again.
l Negotiate going in — In a tight labor market, you probably can afford to ask for a little more in pay or benefits, or both, and the time to do that is when an employer is competing for you.
If you’ve researched a company and already are being offered at or near the top of customary pay, asking for more vacation, flexible work or other perks might be a better play, Challenger said.
l Switch industries — Still feeling burned out from the career you left? It’s also a great time to pivot your skills to a new industry, he said.
“This is the best time in two decades to transition to a new industry,” he said. “Employers are more willing to take a risk on somebody who doesn’t have direct experience in the field.”
l Stay humble — Just because the overall hiring market is good, remember that age discrimination and just plain bad workplaces are still quite common.
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Assessing work culture is a huge part of any job search, so swallow any pride that’s keeping you from asking friends and former colleagues for introductions so you can assess what the internal culture is really like, he said.
l Get fit — Often, late-career job searches seem to happen after the death of a spouse, a divorce or just a difficult ending to a long-held job.
If you’re emotionally compromised, recognize this and engage in as much self-care as possible so you come across as confident and positive to interviewers. If you don’t, even the tightest job market in years won’t help.