How (and When) To Unretire

Learn how to reverse course from retirement

Older woman on phone writes on notepad in kitchen

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Have you retired from your job but are now thinking about going back to work? If you’re considering reversing course, you’re not alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the labor force among people age 75 and over is expected to increase by 96.5% during the next decade, while workers over age 65 are expected to make up 9.5% of the labor force by 2030.

One reason for the increase in the number of older workers is the aging population of baby boomers. Secondly, there was a rise in the number of people who retired recently because of health concerns or because rising asset values made retirement an option earlier than expected, leading them to decide to return to the labor force.

Another factor is that it’s challenging for employers to recruit applicants when there's a labor shortage. Employers are looking for ways to fill open positions, and many value the experience retirees can bring to an organization.

Key Takeaways

  • Reversing a retirement and re-entering the workplace is a viable option when you’ve decided you want to go back to work.
  • Exploring the type of role you're interested in working can make the next phase of your career financially and personally rewarding.
  • Taking the time to prepare for a job search will ensure that you’re well positioned to get back into the workforce.

Reasons Retirees Go Back to Work

Retirees opt to re-enter the workforce for many reasons. Some need income to pay their bills, while others are looking for extra spending money. Some retirees also want to work because it’s fulfilling and a productive use of their time.

From a financial perspective, the Federal Reserve (Fed) reports that a higher percentage of retirees at both ends of the economic spectrum (about 35%) return to work than middle-income retirees. According to the Fed, this can be due to either the need for more money or a general interest in reversing retirement even if the income isn’t necessary.

Some retirees return to the workforce because their previous employer asked them to. Others see new opportunities in a strong job market. A ResumeBuilder survey reports that:

  • 20% of retirees say past employers have asked them to return because of a labor shortage
  • 34% of retirees have considered going back to work because of job opportunities available in a labor shortage
  • 41% of retired workers would go back to their former position, while 59% would seek other employment
  • 58% percent of retirees would prefer to switch industries, with a majority of these respondents preferring to switch specifically for a less stressful job

When To Consider Unretiring

The RAND Corporation’s American Working Conditions Survey reports that 40% of respondents aged 65 and older who were currently employed had previously retired and returned to the workforce. Almost half of surveyed workers would go back to work under the right conditions.

If you’re thinking about unretiring, there are several factors to consider. Most importantly, do you need a paycheck? If you do, an excellent time to consider re-entering the workforce is when there’s a strong labor market. When employers are actively recruiting, you’ll have more job options to consider and more flexibility with your schedule.

Sometimes, retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you’re bored, have extra time on your hands, would appreciate some extra cash, or want to put the skills you’ve gained in the workplace to good use, it might be time to consider unretirement options.

You can try unretiring and see how it works out. If it doesn’t, you can always return to retirement.

Benefits of Returning to the Workforce

There are many benefits to reversing your retirement, some of which aren’t financial. Here are some examples.

Job Satisfaction

The American Working Conditions Survey reports that more than two-thirds of older workers felt satisfaction over work well done and felt that they were doing useful work. Respondents also reported more workplace flexibility and opportunities to set their own schedules.

Social Security

If you’re under full retirement age and collecting social security, there’s a deduction from your benefits if you earn over the annual earnings limit. However, your social security benefits may increase in the long term based on your current earnings. If your latest year of earnings is one of your highest years, your benefit is recalculated, and you are paid any increase you are due retroactively.

Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, there is no limit to what you can earn while still receiving all your benefits.

Financial Benefits

Of course, there are financial benefits, as well. Returning retirees may be eligible for employee benefits and perks, including paid time off, flexible schedules, holiday pay, and bonuses, in addition to a paycheck.

Work Schedule Options To Consider

When you’re starting over in the workforce, you’ll have many different types of jobs to consider. For one thing, you won’t be locked into a full-time job. You’ll have the flexibility to consider a part-time role—or a couple of them if you need to raise your earnings.

Remote work is an excellent option to consider if you have health concerns or other reasons that you’d prefer to work from home. Other options to consider are consultant work, self-employment, or gig jobs that allow you to work your own schedule as a freelancer. Seasonal jobs might be ideal if you only want to work during only part of the year (during the summer or tax season, for example).

Explore Unretirement Job Options

Some retirees go back to working in the same line of work they were in the first time around. Others are interested in exploring new options and making a change. If you’re not sure what you’d like to do during this phase of your career, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) CareerOneStop portal has resources to help you decide.

  • Use mySkills myFuture to see careers that use skills similar to yours.
  • Take the Skills Matcher to rate your skills and find occupations that are a good match for you.
  • Take the Interest Assessment to learn how the topics you’re interested in can relate to career options.
  • Use the Occupation Profile to explore details about nearly 900 careers.

If you need help with your job search and aren’t sure how to get started, check your eligibility for free job search assistance from the DOL.

Tips for Preparing To Job Search

Before you get started on your job hunt, take some time to be sure you’re positioned to get hired. In an email interview with The Balance, Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs and Remote.co, suggested that retirees who are looking to break out of retirement with some paid work should consider the following:

  • Your previous work experiences can be very valuable, even if you want to do something new. Many of the skills you used in those jobs can be applied to new roles. Those are called transferable skills—the ones you can carry with you and use from one job to the next.
  • If it's been a while since you used a computer and related programs for work-related tasks, be sure to test out the latest versions of any programs you're familiar with. 
  • Learn how to use popular remote work tools that you haven't yet used. Programs such as Google Workspace, Slack, and Zoom are standard in many remote teams, and having those on your resume will help make you stand out and immediately seem up-to-date.

How To Reverse Your Retirement

Once you’ve taken the time to catch up on the skills you need for today’s workplace, get ready to start your job search.

Update your resume: Give your resume a makeover or start from scratch and write a new one. Be sure to include the new skills you’ve learned.

Target your cover letter: Remember to keep your cover letter short and focused, share your most relevant skills and qualifications, and show why you’re qualified for the position.

Start networking: Your network is more than your professional colleagues, especially when you’ve got almost a lifetime of connections. Advise everyone you know that you’re unretiring. Someone you know may have an opportunity for you or may be able to refer you to someone who does.

If you’re interested in returning to a job you’ve previously held, check with past employers to learn about available positions that might be a fit.

Where To Look for Jobs

The best sites to use when job hunting will depend on the type of job you’re looking for. For example, AARP’s job board has positions focused on experienced workers. There are general job sites as well as sites that focus on freelance or gig jobs and part-time positions. You’ll save time if you use a site that’s a match. Here are some resources to help you get started:

  • AARP Job Board
  • Side Gigs You Can Do From Home
  • Best Sites To Find a Part-Time Job
  • Best Job Search Websites
  • Best Places To Find Freelance Work Online 

When you’re looking to earn extra cash but aren’t interested in a high-level position, search using terms such as “experience not required,” “no experience,” or “no experience necessary” to find jobs that are easy to get hired for. Many of these types of positions have immediate openings.

Get Ready To Interview

Sometimes the turnaround time from applying to interviewing can be fast. As you’re beginning to apply for jobs, also prepare for interviews.

  • Plan an interview outfit or two, and remember you’ll need to dress appropriately for video interviews as well as in-person ones.
  • Practice for video interviews even if you’re applying for jobs that require you to work on-site. It’s especially important to make sure all your technology is in working order.
  • Practice answering interview questions. If you haven’t interviewed in a while, ask a friend or family member to do a trial run with you. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be.
  • Be prepared to answer interview questions about why you’re returning to work and show the interviewer you’ve still got what it takes to succeed in the workplace.