Beyond the Boom: Practical Tips for Helping Baby Boomers Thrive in Their Third Act
By Libby Scanlan
At 12:00:01 on January 1, 1946 the first official baby boomer arrived on the scene. Kathleen Casey-Kirschling was the first in what would become the largest birth cohort in American history until Millennials overtook them in 2019 (Fry, 2020). Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers are currently between 56 and 74 years old. Every day, ten-thousand baby boomers are turning age 65, and a record number of Boomers are working past traditional retirement ages. The number of employed older Americans rose by nearly 35 percent between 2011 and 2016, and baby boomers are expected to be the fasted growing segment of the workforce into 2024 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
Boomers have experienced three major financial crises in their adult life: the dot-com bust of 2001, the great recession of 2008, and the pandemic-fueled recession of 2019. These events have wreaked havoc on many baby boomers’ retirement plans, making it financially unfeasible to leave the workforce when they had been expecting to. Additionally, average life expectancy is much longer than it was in the 1930’s (Social Security, n.d.) when 65 was set as the standard retirement age, resulting in some boomers having twenty or more vital years to find fulfillment through work.
This generation presents unique issues and challenges for career development practitioners. Retooling work identity, enhancing employability skills, and promoting age as a strength are three strategies practitioners can use to help Boomers continue to grow and develop in their careers.
Retooling Working Identity
Raised by their “Greatest Generation” parents to work hard, follow rules, and respect authority, boomers could easily have assumed that, after entering the workforce in their late teens or twenties, they would stay in the same industry for forty years and retire with a healthy pension. Super’s (1980) life-stage theory of career development reflected this progression, with individuals moving into a Disengagement stage around age 65. Arthur and McMahon (2019) point out that the rapid pace of change in the world of work compounds people’s need to be prepared, skilled, and adaptable. There is a new developmental phase of life unveiling itself, which is changing how we look at life in its Third Act, and career practitioners need to be prepared when serving boomer clients at this stage.
Boomers might find it difficult to retool the working identities they have developed over the stages of their long careers. Career practitioners can use these questions to help expand clients’ horizons as they craft their Third Acts:
- When were you happiest in your career? Which aspects of that experience might you incorporate into your next career move?
- What do you want to add or subtract from your life?
- When you retire, what will you regret not having done professionally?
- What are your top three strengths and how do you want to use them?
- How do you want to be remembered?
A stereotype of workers over age 50 is that they are out of sync with technology, use old-fashioned resumes, and have outmoded skills. Whether this is true for any individual boomer or just an assumption others make, boomers must show their relevance in today’s job market by being aware of a few non-negotiable essentials:
Linkedin. The professional networking site has become a must. Profiles need to be up to date, with meaningful headlines, skills and accomplishments clearly articulated, and an “About” section that tells a compelling story. Some useful resources clients might benefit from include:
Forbes: Is Your LinkedIn Profile Impressive? Take This Test to Find Out
Peak Careers: LinkedIn – Start from the Beginning
Resume. Help clients create a results-oriented resume that goes beyond cutting and pasting keywords from a job description or laundry lists of past job responsibilities. Tailor resumes to specific jobs and focus on relevant accomplishments. Caution clients against going too far back in their work history and to reveal education and older work experience dates only after careful consideration of how their age is likely to be perceived in their targeted roles and industries. Ensure that resumes have a contemporary look and feel with sans serif fonts, “headlines” that open a profile section, and skills prominently placed.
Skills updates. Encourage clients to identify gaps in their skills or outdated skills that need to be replaced with more currently in-demand ones. LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera, EdX, and many other online learning platforms provide relatively quick and cost-effective ways to acquire new skills or expand older ones.
Promoting Age as a Strength
Help clients own and embrace their experience and wisdom, while never apologizing for being older in our youth-centric culture. One way to do this is to ask clients to think of their top five selling points and then weave those into a couple of sentences. Have them practice reciting this statement until they have internalized the truth of their value and worth. Believing in themselves will go a long way in convincing others to believe in them.
If clients find that no amount of confidence about their value can help them break an ageist glass ceiling, an effective strategy is to seek opportunity in age-friendly businesses and industries. These resources may help:
Making the Third Act the Best Act
Career professionals are tasked with helping baby boomer career changers, job seekers, and career explorers reflect on who they have been and craft who they want to become. Equipped with self-awareness to shape a satisfying work identity, up-to-date skills, and belief in their value, boomers may find meaning and purpose in their final years of working life.
Arthur, N., & McMahon, M., (2019). Contemporary career development theories. In N. Arthur & M. McMahon (Eds.), Contemporary Theories of Career Development: International perspectives. Routledge.
Fry, R., (2020). Millennials overtake baby boomers as America’s largest generation.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Labor force projections to 2024: The labor force is growing, but slowly https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/labor-force-projections-to-2024.htm
Social Security. (n.d.). Life expectancy for social security. https://www.ssa.gov/history/lifeexpect.html
Super, D. E., (1980). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior (16), 282-298.
Libby Scanlan, M.S. Ed., is a recently credentialed NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC) currently working as a career coach in the workforce development arena in Illinois. She earned her master's degree in counseling and higher education at Northern Illinois University. Libby finds helping others create lives of meaning and purpose to be the best sort of work there is. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and https://www.linkedin.com/in/libbyscanlan.