Burke&Penn

Career consultants Nancy Burke and Marg Penn help Minnesotans find meaningful work — at any age.

Nancy Burke and Marg Penn founded their consulting firm, Burke&Penn about five years ago to meet the career needs of people age 50 and older.
Photos by Tracy Walsh
Nancy Burke and Marg Penn founded their consulting firm, Burke&Penn about five years ago to meet the career needs of people age 50 and older. Photos by Tracy Walsh

EVERYONE KNOWS THAT ONCE YOU’RE OVER 50, YOU CAN PUT ALL YOUR CAREER DREAMS ASIDE.

In an era of rampant age discrimination — those darn millennials — there’s just no point in hoping for a “dream job,” right?

Wrong.

Nancy Burke, 73, and Marg Penn, 72, the career-consulting duo behind the firm Burke&Penn, are here to tell you that’s outdated thinking.

If you really want to find new work, more meaningful work or an “encore career” that starts post-retirement, then you’ll need to start by realizing just how marketable your skills and experience really are.

First things first, though: Stop all that talk about age discrimination.

“Of course it exists to some degree, but 80 percent of the problem is how people are thinking about it,” Burke said. “You need to start by believing in yourself.”

Belief is great, of course, but self-reflection and strategic packaging are also important.

Burke and Penn help people assess their skills, build networks and pull together polished support tools such as resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

They work with people who have been laid off, those looking to re-enter the workforce after an absence and those who want a sense of purpose and additional income after retirement.

Their goal, they say, is to build the confidence, courage and clarity needed for a bold second half.

They’re not a placement firm, and employers don’t approach them looking for candidates. Instead, they do a “deep dive” by working with clients until they find the positions they’re looking for — often over a period of months.

“We’re really good at helping people step back and see for themselves how much they truly have to offer,” Penn said.

Burke added: “We tell people, ‘Don’t define yourself by your past, but by the future you want to create.’”

Burke and Penn
Photo by Tracy Walsh

A new path

Burke and Penn’s business partnership, which started five years ago, began when they were both approaching retirement from their own incredibly varied and successful professional careers.

“We had known each other through various professional organizations, and — as luck would have it — we had a mutual client who asked both of us to join her book group,” Penn said.

Over a couple glasses of wine, they discussed how they might use their skills to help people over 50, who they both saw as underserved in the areas of career coaching and life planning.

Penn earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Minnesota, where she studied with Sunny Sundal Hansen, who is renowned in the field of career development.

Burke holds a master’s in adult development from the University of Minnesota. Her thesis was on career development for people transitioning mid-career following a job loss.

Nancy and Marg awards
In 2017, Marg Penn and Nancy Burke won a 50 Over 50 award from AARP Minnesota and Pollen, which highlights “50 of the most inspiring and accomplished leaders from across Minnesota.” Photo by Tracy Walsh

Never too late

Burke and Penn — who call themselves “your guides to finding your future past 50” — have worked with people in their late 40s. Their oldest client to date was 67.

A typical story for their practice goes like this, Burke said: “A 59-year-old woman had worked for a medium-sized company for many years. She was underpaid and underappreciated, and she’d been looking for a new job for 18 months, but she had been unsuccessful.”

She was sure it was because of age discrimination. But when Burke and Penn asked her how she was looking, she said it was though online applications, which isn’t the way most people find a job.

“We convinced her to begin networking, tapping into the power of what we call ‘the invisible job market,’” Burke said. “After just six weeks — the week she turned 60, by the way — she started new job with a pay increase of 25 percent.”

Think it’s too late to make a change?

Not so, say Burke and Penn, who can share many examples of major career changes among the over-50 set.

One of Burke’s favorite stories dates back to a client she had before Burke&Penn.

He lost his job at age 59: “He had been in a director-level position at a large global organization,” Burke said. “He was blown away and really grieving.”

It took several months — and following many of their recommendations on suggest-
ed reading — before he got back on his feet.

Slowly, however, he began to blossom, and discovered he was ready for a huge life change, Burke said.

He got divorced, connected with his college sweetheart, moved to Napa Valley and started taking wine classes. He recently celebrated his 18th anniversary of working in the tasting room at Silverado Vineyards.

Burke said he jokingly told her: “They love me here. I don’t need supervision, and I clean up after myself.”

Burke and Penn
Photo by Tracy Walsh

Post-retirement purpose

Tracy Anderson of Minneapolis — a 56-year-old vice president of insurance and annuities for Ameriprise Financial — is working with Burke&Penn on a multi-phase plan for his transition to retirement.

Anderson enjoys having two different perspectives, plus the added impetus to take action.

“I always leave our meetings feeling motivated and in control of my future,” he said. “I’m excited to take on a role that will give me a true sense of purpose while providing the flexibility to participate in leisure activities that I enjoy, such as travel, hiking and woodworking.”

Burke and Penn did not disclose the pricing for their service packages, but said it’s “on a par with other professional services.”

Penn added: “Our service is unique as we do all our work together with every client — and we stay with people until they achieve the goals they initially set. Timeframes can be anywhere from two months to over a year.”

Burke and Penn at OffiCenters' North Loop location.
Burke and Penn at OffiCenters’ North Loop location. Photo by Tracy Walsh

When they’re not working

As much as they excel at helping people find meaningful work, Burke and Penn — who take meetings at a variety of locations in the metro area through OffiCenters — also understand the need for balance, including in their own lives.

Penn loves escaping to her lakefront home in Lino Lakes when she isn’t enjoying the Guthrie Theater, the Minnesota Orchestra and her season tickets to see the Minnesota Twins. (Her first name — Marg — incidentally is pronounced like the Marg in margarita.)

Burke lives in southwest Minneapolis, but noted: “I grew up in St. Paul, so I’m bilingual.”

Burke serves on local boards, volunteers, tutors and spends time with her three grandchildren. She’s also a published author.

In 2016, she and career coach Richard Dodson co-authored Power Your Career: The Art of Tactful Self-Promotion at Work, which won five national awards as the best career book of 2016/2017.

Burke and her husband, Jim, will celebrate their 50th anniversary this fall.

Burke and Penn urge everyone — job seekers or not — to keep their minds open to new possibilities.

“We only have one life, so we need to make the most of it,” Penn said. “There are plenty of opportunities, so don’t get stuck.”


Julie Kendrick is a contributing writer for many local and national publications. She lives in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.