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Clocking In After Retirement

Why so many retirees are pursuing second-act careers—and how to find yours.

Twenty-five years ago, the average retirement age was 57. Today, it’s 62. While some of this trend can be tied to an increase in life expectancy, the main reasons people are working longer may have more to do with desire, says Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder and senior vice president of Age Wave, a research and consulting firm.

"The No. 1 reason people work is because of the social connections gained, followed by the mental stimulation," says Dychtwald. "This doesn’t mean they don't want or need the money—it's just further down the priority list of benefits gained from work after retirement."

There are good financial reasons to keep working, too, says Kerry Hannon, a career and retirement expert who is the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy ... and Pays the Bills. "Working in some fashion in retirement helps shore up your finances, letting you delay taking money from retirement funds, pensions, or Social Security," says Hannon.

No matter what your reason, it can take a little time to find the right retirement career. Use this checklist to help you zoom in on your next act.

Tap your alma mater. Alumni networks and colleges can be a good place to start researching an encore career, since many offer programs and workshops tailored to the over-55 crowd.

Explore the nonprofit sector. More than 25 million Americans ages 50 to 70 years old are looking to use their skills in second careers that address social needs, according to Encore.org. Of this group, more than 4.5 million are already working for social impact. You can find a new path by volunteering for an organization you already support.

Go pro with a hobby. Your downtime pursuits could become a profit center. If you love knitting, for example, consider selling scarves on Etsy. Likewise, someone who loves yoga may get certified to teach.

Start your own business. A quarter of new entrepreneurs are between the ages of 55 and 64 years old, according to the Kauffman Index: Startup Activity. If you have the means and the ability (not to mention the stamina), starting your own business can give you the flexibility and income you desire in retirement.

Ask your current employer for work. If you have a good relationship with your company, ask if there are ways to apply your skills and experience to a new, scaled-down role.