Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Preparation essential when considering ‘retirement career’

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Because of the bad economy, the limitations of federal retirement benefits, the housing crisis, ever-increasing health care costs and lengthening life spans, the phrase “retirement career” is no longer an oxymoron. But beware: Retirement careers often require long-term planning.

The first step for considering your options is to identify your earliest possible federal retirement date, based on your age and years of service.

If you’re a full-time fed and want to keep working for the federal government after reaching retirement eligibility, you probably have two main options: Continue your current federal career path, provided that your job doesn’t have a mandatory retirement age; or enter phased retirement, which would enable you to work part-time after retirement. This option will be made available after the Office of Personnel Management finalizes program regulations.

Once phased retirement is available, here’s how it will work:

A phased retiree would work part-time for the federal government and receive an annuity payment that is consistent with the payment he was entitled to before entering phased retirement but is pro-rated for the non-working portion of his workweek; and he would receive payment for his part-time work.

At full retirement, the annuity would be recalculated to incorporate additional credit for time worked during phased retirement. This revised annuity would be higher than it would have been if the retiree had fully retired instead of entering phased retirement, but lower than it would have been if he had continued to work full-time. Note that an employee’s agency must approve his phased retirement.

Alternatively, if you would like to bolt from the federal government, consider laying the groundwork for your retirement career while you are still working at your current job. That way, you won’t have to overcome an employment gap as well as potential age discrimination once you return to the job market.

A career shift or an employer shift usually requires considerable time and effort to gain needed credentials, experience and contacts. As part of your preparation:

  • Attend retirement seminars at your agency long before you retire. These seminars, which are free of charge, will help you calculate your retirement budget and evaluate your postretirement career options.
  • Continually assess the job market in your field and get as much training and experience as you can to keep your skills current. Every field is constantly evolving and advancing, and so you must also evolve and advance to stay relevant.
  • Broaden your credentials to increase your appeal to potential employers by working on different types of projects and in different offices on your current job. Specialization is great, but if you overspecialize for too long, you risk painting yourself into a professional corner.
  • As your colleagues plan for their retirements and leave the federal government, talk to them about their career choices and stay in touch with them after they retire.
  • Consider switching to an alternative work schedule, if you are not already on one, and using your resulting time off to participate in activities — such as networking online and in person, doing volunteer work, conducting research, generating publications, giving seminars and getting training — that may will help you launch your postretirement career.
  • Stay current on social media tools so that you can use them to generate networking contacts in your federal afterlife, particularly among younger professionals. It is impossible to build a new career in any field without engaging with people who are younger than you.
  • Surf AARP’s website at for resources on financial planning, job hunting and starting your own business during retirement.


Take these steps before becoming a federal contractor

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My Sept. 24 column reviewed potential federal contracting opportunities to consider if you start your own business after leaving your federal job. Here are tips I collected from federal contract managers on how to win contracting bids:

  • Follow solicitation instructions to the letter, and submit all required documents.
  • Discuss solicitations that interest you with your target agency’s contracting officer (CO) before you submit proposals. Also, consult him if you anticipate missing deadlines or if you hit other obstacles while preparing proposals or fulfilling contracts. It is the CO’s job to communicate with vendors; don’t be shy out of the mistaken belief that you will earn a reputation as a pest if you contact him.
  • Tailor each proposal. Specify how you will fulfill all solicited requirements. A federal procurement manager advises bidders: “Do the research. If your proposal just yammers on about your company’s history and why it is so great, it will flop.”
  • Write your proposal so that it gets to the point quickly and hits readers with your best shot up top. “If you bury your relevant credentials and project plan in fluff, you will dig your own grave,” warns a federal procurement manager.
  • Your proposal should answer questions such as: Why should we select your company? What does your company offer that other contractors don’t? If possible, provide concrete examples of your company’s successes that parallel the demands defined in your target solicitation, and describe any previous contracts you have fulfilled.
  • Craft your written proposal to be complete and comprehensive. This document is the only record that will count — spoken conversations or handshake agreements are not contracts.
  • Don’t communicate with anyone at your target agencies about your pending bids except the appropriate COs. If you violate this rule, you may inadvertently create fatal conflicts of interest.
  • Answer appropriate “sources sought” notices — statements of potential interest in a product or service by an agency — posted at You may get your foot in the door and earn an insider advantage that could lead to a small business set-aside or a sole-source contract.
  • Work to expand business. Research opportunities with your customers during the fourth quarter of the year, when they may be particularly eager to meet small-business contracting goals before the fiscal year ends.

Resources to help you win federal contracts:

  • Most agencies have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which promotes opportunities for small business by publishing forecasts of their procurement needs and by hosting vendor outreach sessions, where businesses market their capabilities and learn about potential procurement opportunities.
  • Before attending sessions, research your target organizations and practice your sales pitch. Bring with you marketing materials. Find sessions at
  • The Small Business Administration’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program promotes opportunities for women-owned small businesses. See
  • SBA offers free mentoring programs that pair small businesses with experienced entrepreneurs. For more information, type mentoring into the search window at
  • The Procurement Technical Assistance Program provides help to businesses at little or no cost as they seek government contracts. See
  • The National Association of Government Contractors offers leads on government contracts and potential teaming partners, contract review services, proposal writing services, training and publications. See