If you are willing to forgo working 9 to 5, there's a smorgasbord of jobs that can be sampled during the hours when most folks have dimmed their lights.
These range from baking pastries and breads to manning the front desk at a hotel, selling movie or theater tickets, cleaning offices or working in a variety of different positions in the growing, round-the-clock casino industry.
Blackjack dealer Manny St. Mary, a 62-year-old retired restaurateur, typically works from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., three to four days a week. You can find him behind one of the 100 green felt tables scattered across the spacious gaming floor at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
St. Mary, a native of the Philippines, initially signed on as a chef in the casino's Grandview Buffet restaurant when it opened two years ago, after he and his wife, Priscilla, also an accomplished chef, were forced to close their own eatery. Priscilla was in failing health at the time. "She retired, and I spent about two years taking care of her," St. Mary recalls.
But full-blown retirement wasn't in the cards for Manny. "I was lonely. I wanted to be busy. I was a little worried about money and scared that my mind would idle and dementia would set in," he says. "I needed to keep working."
Shortly after Manny started at the casino restaurant, his people skills caught the eye of management and he was asked if he wanted to train to be a dealer.
Manny breezed through the process. He had to pass a math test and sit for an interview. Then, after graduating from an intensive 12-week course and receiving the green light from the state-required background check, he stepped into the action.
It was new territory for him. "I didn't gamble in my life. I didn't know anything about three-card poker, blackjack or splitting cards," he says matter-of-factly. But he was a quick study. The real secret? "Your hands must be nimble, fast, swift and very accurate," he rattles off rapidly. "You must be flamboyant in your language, amiable, talkative and very kind-hearted. You must evoke friendliness and smile."
In other words, have a little razzle-dazzle. Casinos riff off a vibe of youth and energy. St. Mary has that energy in spades. "I love interacting with people. It makes me feel vibrant, and I guess I'm lucky. I look 40," he boasts with a quick chortle.
St. Mary admits a card dealer's job won't suit everyone his age. It takes stamina of a sort. Aside from the oomph of showmanship, this is on-your-feet work. There is no sitting on this shift — except for scheduled breaks.
The hours allow him to spend his days with Priscilla, now 72 and living in an assisted care facility. That's a big motivator for him.
Base pay is low: $4.50 an hour, in addition to health benefits, a 401(k) plan and paid vacation. "Dealers depend on the generosity of the players," St. Mary says. "They aren't obliged to tip, so you never know what each night will bring."
It's possible to take home $15 an hour, he estimates. (Players often tip 5 percent of winnings; if they lose for the session, a $10 gratuity is not unusual). "Last night, somebody won $10,000! Ahh … it was amazing," he excitedly squeals. "They were so happy. Me, too."
Here are five great jobs for night owls to consider. Pay ranges, which vary depending on factors such as experience and geography, are primarily derived from U.S. Department of Labor data.
1. Casino Worker
The nitty-gritty: Given the 24-hour, nonstop action at venues spanning the spectrum from flashy big-name mega-casinos like Harrah's and MGM Grand to riverboats and "racinos" at racetracks, the need for workers who like the night life is unending. Typical positions include card dealer, ticket writer, pit boss, security guard and valet. The upside: An energizing workplace with nonstop action. It's not all bright lights, though. Jobs that require you to work the casino floor front and center can be high pressure and fast-paced. You've got to turn on the megawatt charm, and stay calm when the clientele get unruly. The work can be demanding physically, too, particularly if you're standing for long stretches or pacing the spread-out playing arena. The noise from clanging slot machines and keyed-up patrons can be rough on the nerves. There's also the silent stress of being watched by supervisors and security cameras to make sure you're doing the job right. Big brother really is watching.
The hours: Flexible from full time to part time to seasonal. Eight-hour shifts are the norm, but partial weeks or weekend evenings and nights are often available.
Median pay range: $7.50 to $17.54 an hour for dealers. Slot positions that require verifying and paying off jackpots and resetting slot machines after payoffs range from $8.31 to $24.73. Security positions range from $9.85 to $23.87. Many jobs, such as valet, waiter or waitress, and dealer, are low wage, and income is dependent on tips.
Qualifications: All gaming service workers must obtain a license from a regulatory agency, such as a state casino control board or commission. Applicants for a license must provide photo identification and pay a fee. Some states may require gaming service workers to be residents of that state. The licensing application process includes a background investigation and drug test. Some of the major casinos and slot machine manufacturers run their own training schools, which last anywhere from four to 12 weeks. Almost all provide some form of in-house, on-the-job training. Most casinos also require prospective dealers to audition for open positions. Prior work experience in a hospitality-related field and strong customer service skills can help. The American Gaming Association is a good resource to learn more about the industry. To start a job search, try the casino job section on aarp.org. You can narrow your search by various criteria including location. Your best approach may be to go straight to the source and log on to the career or employment pages of casino websites, including headliners like Caesar's Entertainment or a local establishment in your town, and browse the latest job postings. If you thrive on never having a dull moment, roll the dice.
The nitty-gritty: There's nothing quite like the wafting aroma of bread baking or the sweet pleasures of whipping up a batch of chewy chocolate chip cookies. If you can take the heat, get in the kitchen. Look for bakery jobs at local bakeries, schools, cafeterias, hotel restaurants, and in the bakery sections at grocery stores like Whole Foods, chains such as Dunkin' Donuts, and shopping mall restaurants like Panera Bread. Baking chores are typically done at night or in the predawn hours so the goods are fresh at the start of the business day. Tasks can be routine. You measure, mix, mold, shape and bake ingredients adhering strictly to recipes. The bigger the facility and larger the quantities needed, the more standardized the work will be. Kitchens can be hot and noisy. Plan on bending, stooping to grasp goods and climbing ladders, as well as lifting or pushing and pulling carts with 75- to 150-pound loads of ingredients. You also have to be good with the old kitchen timer: No burnt bagels, please.
The hours: Generally after midnight to early morning. Holiday shifts are usually in demand. Full shifts may run from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for a bakery with a morning clientele.
Median pay range: $8.13 to $17.94. Bakers employed by large grocery store or restaurant and hotel chains generally receive benefits, such as paid vacation days and health and dental insurance.
Qualifications: The hop from home baker to professional takes practice. Your best bet is to find an apprenticeship or trainee position at an established bakery, or even offer to moonlight, literally, for free. You'll learn how to run a range of equipment used in the production process, and be sure your basic math skills — for calculating ingredient quantities — are up to snuff. If you have time to plan your path into late-night baking, consider scoring a certification through the Retail Bakers of America. RBA offers certification for four levels of competence ranging in price from $100 to $850. The American Institute of Baking offers online seminars covering baking fundamentals from cake baking to muffin-making for $75 a pop. Community colleges offer one-year baking and pastry arts degrees that can be completed part time for under $4,000 and are great launching pads for job placement. And check out listings for overnight baker jobs at aarp.org. Betty Crockers, grab your spatulas!
3. Front Desk Clerk/Night Auditor
The nitty-gritty: Whether it's a boutique hotel or an RV park and campground, guests come and go at all hours of the night and day. The basic drill: Meet and greet with a smile. Check guests in and out, access their reservation in the computer system and run their credit card, assign rooms, hand over keys, and answer guests' questions on hotel services. You'll even dole out directions. You'll be expected to answer telephones and schedule reservations. But the underbelly is when something goes wrong: A reservation can't be found; there's a dispute over charges; the air conditioning in the room is on the fritz. That's when patience and a cool head prevail. Some employers combine these desk clerk duties with bookkeeping, so be clear about what you are ready to tackle. They may want someone on the front desk to assist night owls but realize that you'll still have billable hours to fill that can be fairly quiet. If you have a knack for numbers, you might have a bit more to offer doing double duty as a night auditor who can balance accounts and perform overnight bookkeeping chores.
The hours: Seasonal and part-time schedules of 20 to 30 hours a week, or four days a week, are common. Availability to work evenings, weekends and holidays is usually required. Overnight generally means availability from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Median pay range: $7.73 to $14.15. More is possible depending on advanced degrees.
Qualifications: Hotel or retail experience is a plus, but on-the-job training is the norm. Each hotel or motel has its own reservation and billing systems. Most important, employers are always on the lookout for someone with a customer service sweet spot. A degree in accounting is desirable for night auditors. A certified public accountant (CPA) certification is best. Relevant experience or formal training in accounting/auditing services is a plus. Check out AARP's job search tool for night auditor jobs near you. Your room is ready!
4. Office Cleaning Crew
The nitty-gritty: Because office buildings, schools and stores generally are cleaned while they're empty, evening and night shifts are standard fare. There are downsides: Noisy vacuum cleaners can be bothersome, and cleaning bathrooms and trash rooms is messy work. You'll spend most of your time on your feet, sometimes lifting or pushing heavy furniture or equipment. Many tasks, such as dusting, waxing floors, mopping or sweeping, require bending and stretching. Some employers add a glittery glow to the job. When you are hired for the Third Shift Custodial gig at the Walt Disney World resort, your cast member role is "preserving the magic." You maintain the beauty of the resort, and ensure that "the magic of Disney shines through." "Third-Shift Custodial Cast Members work throughout the night to ensure that the resort is ready to welcome guests every morning," Disney's ad reads.
The hours: Hourly, part-time and seasonal, as well as full-time slots. Typical is 15-20 hours per week from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Weekend work is often available.
Median pay range: $8.58 to $19.02.
Qualifications: No special education is required for most entry-level janitorial or cleaning jobs. Reliable transportation and a valid driver's license come in handy. Criminal background checks, drug screening and valid Social Security number are standard. And you have to be in decent shape. Some jobs require the ability to lift 50 pounds or more. If you're interested in a managerial position, a small cadre of cleaning supervisors and managers are members of the International Executive Housekeepers Association, which offers two kinds of certification programs for cleaning supervisors and managers. Contact cleaning crews in your area, or search online for possible openings at Indeed or Simplyhired. Spit-and-polish buffs, grab your feather dusters!
5. Cinema or Theater Ticket Vendor or Usher
The nitty-gritty: There's something romantic about the silver screen, a movie theater as the lights dim, the playhouse when the curtain is set to rise. There's a certain excitement and anticipation that theatergoers arrive with that is, well, joyful. Your duties are more mundane; usually taking place behind bulletproof glass with a microphone that lets you cheerfully greet the next in line. You're in charge of the till from collecting the cash and rendering change to handling credit card transactions. Theater owners count on you to make sure the receipts match the tickets sold. A thick skin can come in handy when disappointed wannabe ticket buyers arrive too late to score a seat. Be prepared to offer expert advice on alternative choices. Beware of the sly youngsters trying to sneak into R-rated movies without an adult. If you opt to usher, you'll have a little more heavy lifting since you'll be in charge of assisting patrons to find seats and searching for lost articles. Hopefully you're handy with using a flashlight in darkened theaters. This is not the time for "break a leg." Best part: First dibs on first-run matinee showings or popular performances sure to sell out.
The hours: Shifts can start as early as 4 p.m. and run well past the midnight show time. Work often includes weekends, evenings and holidays. Can be less than 20 hours a week.
Median pay range: $7.60 to $13.37. One possible perk: discounted tickets.
Qualifications: On-the-job training and basic math for sales transactions. Most of this is computerized, but you're ultimately responsible for careful accounting. The best way to get a foot in the door is to contact your local movie theater chains and arts venues to see what might be available. Lights, camera, ready for action!
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her books include What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.
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