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9 Ways to enhance your value on the job

If you want to work into your retirement years, start making your plans now.

Older employee discusses work with his boss.

How long do you plan to work? If you're like many Americans, you see yourself working well into your 60s. A 2012 Gallup poll found that the average planned retirement age currently cited by nonretired people is 67 — and plenty of employees would prefer to stay on the job beyond that.

"We need to retire the word 'retire,'" says Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ (Wiley, 2012) and an AARP jobs expert. "Workers as a whole want to keep working, whether for the salary, to preserve savings or to stay active and involved."

But despite a desire to continue working, staying employed as you age isn't always that easy. You'll need to be proactive and find ways to enhance your value in the workplace as you enter the traditional retirement years. Start with these tips:

Plan ahead. Once you reach your 50s, the time to plan for continued employment is now. "If you have three to five years to plan — ten years would be great — you have the opportunity to lay the groundwork," says Hannon. "The longer the time horizon you can put into place to segue into an 'encore career,' the better off you'll likely be." If you'd like to stay with your current organization, talk with your employer about your expectations for continuing to work.

Get financially fit. While you're still employed, stash away emergency savings and pay down debt. Whether you're thinking of starting a business or anticipating that your income will be lower in your "encore career," building this cushion will help keep your options open. "Debt is a huge dream killer in retirement," says Hannon. To stay on track, sit down with your financial professional at least once a year to review your plans and progress.

Get physically fit. No, you don't need to run a 6-minute mile, but you do need to stay in shape to be marketable in the workplace. "This is nonnegotiable," says Hannon. "Employers may worry that older employees may cost the company more for insurance." Staying fit and healthy also can help you feel more energetic and keep a positive attitude.

Expand your presence. Look for ways to enhance your value to your company. "Older workers might be viewed as less flexible," says Hannon. So prove your value by volunteering for additional projects or by working alongside younger employees to share your expertise. Ask yourself what younger employees' qualifications are, and see if you can add them to your résumé.

» Learn more about skills that today's employers value.

Keep learning. It's never too late to take classes and attend seminars. Employers view this as being proactive and staying open to new things — and you'll be able to capitalize on new skills in any of your retirement-age endeavors. "Lifelong learning is huge," says Hannon.

Tell your story. Staying out of the limelight is an approach that can backfire. "Baby boomers aren't good about bragging about themselves," Hannon says. "They think, 'the company recognizes what I do.'" But your organization needs to be reminded what you're bringing to the table, ways you're improving operations and how you're continuing to solve problems. If you're seeking a new position as a 60-something, your ability to describe your talents and accomplishments will become even more important.

Get technical. However you feel about technology, you must stay current, says Hannon. "Employers want to know you're comfortable with technology and that you're open to it," she says. "Put your profile on LinkedIn, make sure your e-mail address is professional or create your own website." Using technology to network with colleagues also may lead to new job opportunities in retirement. If you need to familiarize yourself with new technology, take a class.

Seek out opportunities. If you worry that your position won't be available long-term, identify organizations that can use your expertise in retirement. "Nonprofits are great for long-term jobs," says Hannon. "And small businesses that need your experience may hire you on contract."

Spiff up. Regardless of where you work in retirement, make sure your clothes are current and appropriate. While this doesn't mean dressing like a 25-year-old, "if you've been wearing the same suit for 15 years, it's time to update your wardrobe," says Hannon.

Will you work in retirement?

Education information about working in retirement. Thinking of working in retirement – but not sure how to make the decision? Learn some of your options in "What Will Your Retirement Age Be?"


Kerry Hannon is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group.

Insurance products and plan administrative services are provided by Principal Life Insurance Company. Securities are offered through Princor Financial Services Corporation, 1-800-547-7754, Member SIPC and/or independent broker dealers. Securities sold by a Princor® Registered Representative are offered through Princor. Princor and Principal Life are members of the Principal Financial Group® (The Principal®), Des Moines, IA 50392. Certain investment options may not be available in all states or U.S. commonwealths.

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