According to a recent Harris Interactive/CareerBuilder poll, only 28% of workers age 55+ who have lost their job since the start of the recession have found work within 12 months. This is in comparison to the younger counterparts, where 71% of 25 - 34 year olds have found work within a year of being laid off.

If you're an older worker looking for a job you'll face a few challenges - namely that your salary expectations are higher than younger workers and there are fewer jobs openings at your current level. However, there are positives to your position and tools available to help you in your job search. (If you think job loss is coming, learn how to prepare, read Planning For Unemployment.)

Use Your Network
Because of your age and the time you've already spent in the workforce you have several things going for you that your younger job competitors don't. Perhaps the most important is your network. More than likely, you've accumulated a large number of professional colleagues over the past several decades. Now is the time to use that to your advantage. Let those people know that you're looking for a new work opportunity (not necessarily asking them for a job) and solicit their input on potential employers, new fields or positions.

Have you ever helped someone get an interview or a job? Start with those folks first – they're sure to remember that you helped them when they were in a similar position. If you've lost touch with former colleagues use free social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Ziggs to reconnect; they can also help you make new connections with people within your field. JigSaw and ZoomInfo can also provide contact information.

Don't overlook your connections through professional or school "alumni" groups. LinkedIn has a list of corporate and academic groups, and if you don't see one that's a good fit create your own to get the ball rolling. Seek out local employment support groups as well for tips and encouragement, particularly groups that focus on helping older workers.

Retool Your Resume
Gone are the days when you could shoot out one standard resume to a long list of hiring companies. For the best results you'll want to focus your resume on the position you're hoping to land by highlighting your related skills, experience and success. Don't assume younger interviewers will understand the value of your past work - use concrete examples of how your work produced quantifiable results; i.e. "boosted sales by 40%," "improved clients' volume by 25%," "cut department expenses by 15%," etc.

Consider dropping references to your age in your resume by deleting dates. For example you don't need to share the date of your college graduation; instead focus attention on your degree earned, the school you attended and any honors awarded. (For more other ideas on writing a resume, check out Resume Scribes Seal The Deal.)

You'll also need to get your resume online. Many companies have shifted their hiring practices to receive applications and review resumes via the internet. Use online resume and job-hunting services such as Careerbuilder.com, Monster.com and Theladders.com to connect with potential employers, as well as sites created specifically for older workers such as Workforce50, Seniors4Hire and AARP's National Employer Team. Make sure you include as much detail as possible in your online resume in order to make it through hiring companies' screening systems.

While you're at it, demonstrate your willingness to stay current with modern technologies by creating your own personal website or blog and include a link in your resume. It can be an easy way to help an interviewer "get to know you," in addition to your resume.

Think Beyond Your current Arena
Virtually every worker has skills that can easily transfer to another industry. For example, if you've been a corporate trainer you have teaching experience that can be used by a firm operating in another field. All companies, regardless of industry, need accountants, bookkeepers, secretaries, maintenance workers, salespeople, etc. Let your skills – not your previous experience – help you expand the scope of your search.

Use a Recruiter
By virtue of your age and experience, you are most likely looking for a senior level position. Many companies use head-hunting firms, executive placement services and recruiters to find people for those jobs. Interview several recruiters to find one that has proven experience placing people in positions within your field of interest/background. And don't make the mistake of thinking that the recruiter will do all the work for you. You'll still need to stay actively engaged in your job search and keep in constant contact with your recruiter.

Practice and prep
Practice – even if it's just before a mirror - before you sit down for a formal interview. Think through how you'll respond to the most common interview questions. Take a tip from media training experts and videotape yourself. You'll pick up on important things such as body language (slumped shoulders, nervous hand movements, avoiding direct eye contact, etc.) that you can correct to convey confidence. (Learn more in Tips To Beat Tough Interviews.)

While you're working on your interview preparations, develop an "elevator speech" – a short, 60-second introduction that highlights your value to a potential employer. It can help you feel more confident and will quickly make a good first impression on your interviewer.

Nail the interview
While it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of age you may have to overcome an interviewer's potential misperceptions about your potential value (and cost). When you're in front of an interviewer there are a few dos and don'ts:

Do:

  • Emphasize the fact that you bring experience to the position.
  • Point out that you won't require training time to get up to speed
  • Highlight the industry knowledge and relationships you have (but don't brag).
  • Ask questions that demonstrate you've done homework on the company and the position.

Don't:

  • Criticize younger workers (which may include the person interviewing you).
  • Raise issues that could "age" you, such as your grandchildren or looking forward to retirement
  • Ask about the salary or benefits early on in the interview – the hiring manager will discuss those when s/he feels it's appropriate. (Learn more in Taking The Lead In The Interview Dance.)

Consider entrepreneurship
Since you're at a career crossroads, would you consider self-employment as an option? Consulting can be an ideal job for older unemployed workers – either for the short or long-term. Of, if you have the experience and the necessary financial resources, you may want to look into buying an existing company. Contact a local business broker to learn what opportunities are available. A franchise may be an attractive option, but be sure to do your due diligence before making a commitment. (Learn more in Are You An Entrepreneur? and Can You Handle A Home-Business?)

Conclusion
Just because you've lost a job later in your career doesn't mean you can't find another position. With some legwork and homework you may just land a job that takes you in an exciting new direction, while helping you reap the benefits of the years you've put into building your career.

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