In my post about the things I’d do differently if I had a retirement do over, one commenter mentioned something that caught my eye. Although I’ve briefly entertained this notion before, I never believed it to be true.
Here’s what he said:
This isn’t to put down Sam in any way, but it is way too late for him to take a foreign position for a few years.
He is almost certainly unhirable in his old industry. In any competitive, dynamic white collar business you have a two, maybe three-year window to go back in. After that, technology, strategy, and contacts have all mixed on.
He has nothing to offer that a younger version of him at a firm (or from a competitor) wouldn’t provide.
The moral of this post is do not leave a six-figure job expecting it to be available again at any point in the future.
Ouch! The reader’s comment caught me by surprise because I have never thought of myself as unhirable during my entire early retirement duration. I always felt that I could go back to work in finance for a similar salary if I wanted to.
I believe there’s an irrational fear that once you retire early, you’ll never be able to find full-time work again that pays well. However, no person who retirees early just twiddles their thumbs all day. Instead, they end up doing things they love and honing their skills.
Despite my confidence in being able to find work again in the financial services industry, let’s look at some reasons why I and other early retirees might be shut out for good as the commenter believes.
Reasons Why Early Retirees Might Be Unhirable
1) Potential lack of long-term dedication. The longer you’ve been voluntarily out of the workforce, potentially the harder it will be to adjust to a regimented work schedule. Thus, the candidate will have to convince the hiring manager about his or her desire to stay with the firm long-term.
Given we’re at close to full employment in America, turnover among employees is getting higher. It takes about 3-6 months for a new employee to get acclimated to the new work environment. The last thing a hiring manager wants to do is to train an employee who then leaves for greener pastures shortly after.
Further, an early retiree candidate might be less tolerant of workplace politics and other workplace unpleasantries and more easily decide to quit.
2) Age discrimination. Age discrimination is illegal, but that doesn’t stop some employers from wanting to hire younger employees with potentially more energy, enthusiasm, and agreeableness.
If you’re the hiring manager, you want someone who is highly agreeable and will do what he or she is told. Ideally, you also want your employee to go above and beyond what is expected. Rightly or wrongly, there may be a perception that older candidates are more set in their ways.
A younger hiring manager may also feel awkward managing an older employee. The hiring manager may feel the older employee might eventually undermine his authority, much like how our parents habitually tell us what to do no matter how old we get.
If age discrimination wasn’t real, there wouldn’t be ongoing diversity training in most industries to educate employees about sex, race, and age discrimination in the workplace.
3) Too wealthy for their own good. If the early retiree was able to retire early because he or she has enough investment income, then a hiring manager may be reluctant to hire someone who doesn’t really need the money. It may be especially awkward if the early retiree is wealthier than his or her colleagues or hiring manager.
A wealthy early retiree who returns to work might foment bitterness in the workplace. If the wealthy early retiree is not extremely careful, a seemingly innocuous action like taking a five minute longer lunch break could set off colleagues.
The main reason why most people work is for the money. Poll after poll shows that roughly 70% of American employees are disengaged or actively disengaged at work. If a manager is also disengaged at work, it’s hard to believe an early retiree won’t quickly become disengaged as well.
4) Too self-promotional. Some early retirees love to announce to the world they retired early. They’ll post about their fabulous lives traveling the world on social media. Some might even go to great lengths to get a lot of media publicity. Accept it as a given that all employers will search a candidate’s online profile before hiring.
Self-promotion is fine to a certain extent. However, there’s an inverse correlation with how much one self-promotes and how financially independent one really is. There’s a chance the hiring manager will be put off by excessive self-promotion because he’ll believe such a trait may carry over to the workplace. No manager wants an employee who relentlessly toots his or her own horn.
Managers want team players who err on the humble side, especially if they’ve been out of work for a long time. Managers may also feel jealous about the early retiree’s lifestyle and not want to reward them with a job.
5) Outdated skillset and client relationships. Skills get rusty if they are not constantly practiced. Thus, during the job interview, companies will routinely test a potential employee’s skills by having the candidate solve problems, create an action plan, and do a presentation.
For the early retiree who has kept his skills current, if he can solve a problem and interview well, it shouldn’t matter how long he’s been out of the workforce.
In a client services business, your clients are your most valuable asset. If the early retiree cannot produce a set of clients who will vouch for him or her, then it is logical the hiring manager would prefer someone with no employment gaps.
Maybe Finding A Job Will Be OK
Well, it looks like the commenter is right! I’m SOL when it comes time to find another job in finance once my boy begins preschool.
What kind of employer would take a chance on a stay at home dad who has been out of the workforce for over seven years? Surely not many, or at least not many smart ones.
But I guess we’ll never know for sure until I start aggressively looking for full-time work. The things I have worked on since 2012 are the following:
* Kept up relationships with some of my largest finance clients. We’re now much closer today than while I was working because we deepened our relationships where no business was involved. We hung out because we simply liked each other’s company.
* Maintained my written and oral communication skills by writing and podcasting multiple times a week for years.
* Kept up with all the nuances of the stock market, bond market, real estate market, and various alternative investments. Articulating an investment thesis is not a problem.
* Consulted for various financial companies and developed relationships with at least five of them who can act as references.
* Developed expertise in online media and a deeper understanding of certain internet companies.
I strongly encourage every retiree to at least keep their skills fresh and keep their business relationships warm. Great business relationships are really the key to gainful employment if so desired.
If I somehow can’t get a well-paying job in finance, then I’ll pivot to an online marketing or business development role at one of the many tech startups or tech giants here in the SF Bay Area. Surely there are startups who want help growing their businesses from the ground up.
Worst case I stay unemployed in one of the tightest labor markets in history. But at least I can work on the business development side of Financial Samurai and spend more time with my boy after school.
But just in case the economy rolls over, I’ll be reaching out to old colleagues and acquaintances who I’ve lost touch with. Better to reconnect well before an ask is made.
It’ll be fun to see if I truly am a deadbeat dad who cannot provide for his family!
Readers, do you think early retirees are shunned from the workforce after three years? Have any of you retired early and gone back to work with relative ease? If not, why not? Do you think I’m unhirable?