What Retirement?

Some older adults continue to work well past retirement age — whether they have to or not

Kevin O’Neil, 67, worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. The McKinley Park resident later obtained his master’s degree in business administration and even became chief of staff for a Rogers Park alderman. 

But when the alderman lost reelection in 2019, O’Neil, at 64, remembers thinking, “Yeah, I’ll retire.”

O’Neil volunteered and continued mentoring, but he wanted to keep busier and keep his reporting and writing skills sharp. After some research, he came across a local online news outlet called McKinley Park News and was eager to contribute. So, he contacted the publisher, Justin Kerr. 

Kerr, 52, says it was obvious from this first encounter that O’Neil had “an incredible amount of experience and expertise,” along with a thirst for news. O’Neil now writes one article a month, and while he says he makes little money doing it, he enjoys the work. 

“I would rather be busy than not,” O’Neil says. 

An estimated 10.6 million people work after retirement, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the Bureau projects that the labor force will grow by 96.5% over the next decade for people age 75 and older.

“There’s a difference between needing to work for financial reasons past retirement and continuing one’s passions in the professional direction,” Kerr says. Either way, there are lots of positive reasons for doing so.

Benefits of returning to work

Michelle Reisdorf, district director at Robert Half, a recruiting and employment firm, oversees eight offices in Illinois and Indiana. She says the benefits of returning to work after retiring are especially evident in the present moment. 

“There is a major labor shortage right now, right? So top talent is very thin and not very available. They’re in high demand,” Reisdorf says. “I do think employees returning today post-retirement are finding that they’re probably a lot more appreciated — even more than they were before.”

If money is your driving force, Reisdorf says that salaries have risen, and there’s more flexibility in working hours and location. Prior to the pandemic, more people found themselves in an eight-to-five job. Today, many companies offer hybrid or even fully remote schedules, Reisdorf says. “This makes returning to work a little bit more enjoyable.”

While many people look forward to retirement, work does offer a way to keep mentally active. Prioritizing cognitive activities — through puzzles, reading, or games, for example — is important in retirement. One 2020 study looked at the association between retirement and cognitive decline, finding a potential increase in cognitive decline for people prone to disengaging from challenging activities and pursuits.

For employers, hiring someone who has retired or is approaching retirement age can be a valuable addition. Kerr, for example, calls on O’Neil as a sounding board. He asks O’Neil questions and appreciates his perspective on sensitive or controversial topics. “That’s been really valuable,” Kerr says. “We’re really lucky to have access to a resource like Kevin.”

Seeking post-retirement employment?

Try these tips.

Update your resume. 

Make sure your skills and experience reflect the job’s demands. 

“Experience from 20 years ago might not be relevant, but the last 10 or 15 years is definitely relevant,” Reisdorf says. 

List what you’ve done during your time away from work. Whether you volunteer, do contract work, or consult for a friend, include those details.

Ditch the cover letter — unless an employer requests it. Your resume usually shows what the employer needs to know. If you do add a cover letter, make sure it’s relevant to the position.  

Show confidence in your abilities.

O’Neil reached out directly to Kerr, which showed confidence. He was also able to showcase his experience and abilities, landing him the job. 

Reisdorf says she had a similar encounter when someone reached out to her on LinkedIn. “Three bullets was enough for me to say she is confident in her abilities. She knows what she’s looking for,” Residorf says. 

Do your salary research. It’s important to research the role and the company and to understand what they’re looking for, as well as what companies are paying competitively today.

Get comfortable with LinkedIn. 

  • The professional networking platform can be a great resource and a way to make connections.
  • Post often about work-related topics that interest you, and connect with others you’ve worked with in the past or who you’d like to work with.
  • Share your work history and links to any projects you’ve been a part of.
  • Be yourself. Whether emailing with a potential employer or meeting in person, avoid putting on airs. You’ll be calmer and more focused — and the other person will appreciate your candor.
Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2023 print issue.