5 Great Jobs for Grandparents

Not taken with retirement? Check out these creative ways to rejoin the workforce.

By Francesca Di Meglio

You can only attend so many lunches and play so many rounds of golf before retirement becomes tiresome. “People think retirement is the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Michael Burnham, CEO and co-founder of My Next Phase, an organization that helps workers approaching retirement plan the next steps in their career. “We find the life of leisure does not replace the fulfillment of work.”

For many grandparents across the country putting their shingle back out, money is not the motivator — sometimes they don’t even get paid. Instead, men and women are coming out of retirement because they want to contribute to society, interact with people, try something new, challenge their intellects — and maybe get some discounts as well. Following are some of the ways grandparents are reentering the job market:

1. Set Up Shop

Many people are coming out of retirement to take a turn calling the shots at their own small businesses. Hundreds of retirees, including many who left careers in sales, have found success by opening home-based eBay or amazon.com shops to sell collectibles or other goods, or by opening one-person consulting firms to advise newcomers in their former fields. Grandfather Mark Reitman, 60, founded Milwaukee-based Hot Dog University, a course for those interested in becoming hot dog vendors. He says many of his students are people who find themselves with some spare time after retirement from more traditional jobs and find running a vending cart to be a way to stay active, social, and have some fun. For advice on starting your own company, visit SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Business.

2. Take on a New Role

Retired grandparents with a flair for the dramatic or a yen for undercover assignments also are finding fascinating new sidelines. At many medical schools around the country, grandparents are sought as "standardized patients" who pretend to suffer from certain sets of symptoms while groups of medical students attempt to "diagnose" them. Participants find the part has a lot of flexibility — and fulfillment. “I like helping to train a crop of new doctors,” says 60-year-old grandfather of two John Andrews of Ellenton, Fla., who also enjoys that “it's like getting free medical lectures.” To learn more, visit the American Medical Association. Another popular role is that of "secret shopper." Retailers, hotels, and even airlines hire the shoppers to go undercover as customers and report back on the quality of service they receive. The Corporate Intelligence Group can tell you more.

3. Put it in Writing

Anyone with a computer and a story to share can become a writer online these days, and if you're good enough to get paid for your words, a whole new world may open up for you. Many grandparents are attracted to the flexibility and creative challenge of freelance writing. You can work from home and keep your own schedule, so long as you meet your editors' deadlines. “It allows me the flexibility to adjust the times I work around the times I want, or need, to be with my grandson,” says grandmother of one Sharon Gillson, 53, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She writes the guide to heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease for About.com, and plans to work for the site well into the future. But getting a paid writing job isn’t easy. Gillson had to go through a grueling audition process and a probation period to land the About job. You can try to get your start by joining the Freelance Marketplace at media job site Mediabistro.

4. Walk Down the Aisle

Looking for a few hours out of the house each week, working with people, and getting your shopping done? You could join other grandparents at stores selling clothing, housewares, electronics, or hardware. Floridian Margaret Brettin, a 64-year-old grandmother of one, says her job at a local OshKosh outlet "keeps me healthy mentally and physically." Brettin says she's lost 12 pounds since she took the job 18 months ago. Not to mention, she gets a 25 percent discount on OshKosh clothes for her grandchildren. Drug store giant CVS has an innovative program for snowbird workers — you can work in the north during the summer, then claim jobs at stores in Florida and other hot spots in the winter. Such opportunities appeal to grandparents who split their year between two climates but still want to work year-round, says Gene Burnard, publisher of Workforce50, a job search site for workers over 50.

5. Pitch In

Many workers who spent their careers in the private sector are eager to give back to the community and set an example of service for their grandchildren, by volunteering or taking jobs with non-profit organizations. One of Burnham's clients works with a foundation that assists teen mothers; another rode his bike to raise money for cancer research, then found a job leading cycling tours around the country for a bike store. Other grandparents find satisfaction as docents in museums or as volunteer readers to children at public libraries. Start your search for an opportunity that fits your skills with VolunteerMatch or the government's Senior Corps program.

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