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Darden Alumni - Career Services - Careers in Retirement

Careers in Retirement

Understand the evolutionary stages of retirement and how Alumni Career Services at Darden can help support your transition.

Expectations for retirement have changed significantly in recent decades. Our average life span is now nearly 80 years. Demographics are clear — we have longer lives, better health and many more choices for work nowadays. Studies are showing that more and more retirees are reconsidering work as part of what keeps them vital in the retirement years. 

It helps to understand that retirement is not an end-point or event, but rather a set of four stages through which we evolve: preretirement, pause, re-engagement and leisure. Ideally, you want to start thinking about your retirement career goals in the preretirement phase. 

ACS provides support to Darden alumni considering a retirement transition, regardless of age or stage. Consult our recommended resources or contact ACS for one-on-one career coaching. Common retirement coaching scenarios include:

  • Anticipating an exit and possibly downshifting work in preparation
  • Considering whether and how to work in retirement
  • Choosing personal assessments that tap into your desires, needs and ideals
  • Researching the many options for an encore career or second act
  • Evaluating what type of work is most advantageous for your specific situation

ACS is not staffed to coach on the ‘structural’ issues of retirement: financial planning, health care planning, relationships and caregiving. Geographic changes are often a part of the conversation about retirement, and while we cannot advise on where to live, we do work with alumni on how to factor in a possible move decision into their transition plans. 

  • Stages of Retirement

    Most people fit into one of four distinct stages of retirement, as described below. Figuring out what to pursue and how to approach the retirement transition in any of these stages can be daunting. ACS provides resources for further exploration as well as one-on-one coaching.


    Two to five years before officially retiring, many professionals will begin to plan and take steps towards continuing work. This is a time to assess readiness for retirement as well as take stock of the structure of your retirement (financial well-being, health and care-giving concerns, geography etc.). Those who take control of planning their professional exit as well as preparing for future encore work will have an easier time with the transition. Ideally you’ll layer in “bridge” activities before your professional exit. These activities can include exploring phased retirement, shifting to a flex work arrangement with your current employer, expanding your network towards retirement interests, joining boards, gaining new skills or certifications, teaching, volunteering, etc. Planning and exploring prior to full retirement will make for a less abrupt transition.


    The end of full-time work should be a time to relax, recharge and re-tool. Even if you’ve planned for a retirement career, taking a sabbatical or intermission is a good idea. A structured break will let you step back from the stresses of a full-time career and re-gain control of things like your calendar, your health and your relationships. It can be a time to casually explore the many possibilities of retirement careers. For many, this pause lasts about 2-3 years.


    Studies show that those who return to some kind of retirement career continue working on average nine years. There are several broad themes to the type of work people pursue: a career that dove-tails from one’s main career (like consulting in an industry where you’ve built particular expertise); jobs that circle back to an early interest (a pursuit from youth or early career jobs); work that takes a hobby or personal pastime to a new level; and following a new interest in an entirely different direction. The structure of the work is as varied as the themes, from flex, to part-time, volunteering, full-time, and entrepreneurship.


    Most retirees seek a balance of leisure activities with their encore work. At some point you will determine the best time to leave work for good and focus purely on leisure and other priorities. 

    For more on this topic, see "Work In Retirement: Myths & Motivations," a 2014 report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave.

  • Resources

    ACS recommends a number of tools and resources to help you think about careers in retirement:

    ACS Assessments

    • Motivators: Our ACS Encore Elements Worksheet will help you consider and prioritize your top motivations for pursing work in retirement.
    • Framework: A planning outline to capture your priorities, passions, motivators, skills and potential paths. Use this framework to anchor your research and exploration.


    Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life
    By Marci Alboher
    This authoritative guide was written by the head of Communications for, a nonprofit devoted to "leveraging the skills and talents of experienced adults to improve communities around the world." The book is very comprehensive in scope, addressing retirement readiness issues, presenting a set of assessment exercises, tackling the topic of finances, and referencing a myriad of resources for researching career options. The context of ‘encore’ means finding work that is meaningful and impactful. This is an excellent reference for anyone who wants to work in a purpose-driven new way after retiring but isn’t sure where to begin. 

    Second Act Careers: 50+ ways to profit from your passions during semi-retirement
    By Nancy Collamer of
    This book presents a wide-ranging list of career and paid job options that are most interesting, relevant and available to retirees. As with most self-help career books, it includes a set of personal assessments (a five-step process), however it’s up to the reader to determine how to gain insight from these exercises and use them to determine a best path to research and explore. 

    Second Acts: Creating the life you really want, building the career you truly desire
    By Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine
    This book is a detailed guide to changing course or reinvention at any age or stage (not just retirement) and is sprinkled throughout with lots of reinvention stories and examples. It has a very creative and detailed set of personal exploration exercises and focuses on the most common barriers cited as obstacles to change, such as age, money, location, consent and fear of failure. This is a good book if you’re looking for an original approach to exploring your own desires, rather than suggestions for new types of employment. 

    Your Next Season: Advice for Executives on Transitioning from Intense Careers to Fulfilling Next Seasons 
    by Leslie W. Braksick and William R.K.Innes
    This book focuses on short, pithy recommendations from many of the retired business executives the authors have coached. There is clear and realistic advice about joining and serving on boards (p. 25-27). A short offering of “tools” is presented at the end of the book, but not a structured set of guidance for assessing and planning a retirement career. This book is recommended for the executive who wants to get a sense of how his peers have dealt with the challenges and rewards of retirement transitions. 

    Designing Your Life: How to build a well-lived joyful life
    By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
    This is not a book directed at retirement planning, per se, but is an excellent guide to reinvention at any age and stage. Using the tools of design thinking — curiosity, change, reframing, process orientation and collaboration — the authors lay out a structured process for career planning. A simple and clear set of exercises helps the reader uncover what leads to energy and engagement at work. Planning is approached in a two-to-five-year horizon, so this is an excellent approach for those in pre-retirement who want to lay the groundwork for a positive shift in retirement. 

    Other Resources

    AARP presents stories about retirement careers on its Great Second Careers website.

    From PBS, NextAvenue is public media's national journalism service for America's booming older population. Find daily content on a wide range of topics that matter most as we age. 

    The Wall Street Journal runs a quarterly “Encore Journal Report” devoted to retirement topics. We recommend the article: "Where Should You Live in Retirement?"