Looking for a job is certainly no bed of roses for anyone, but it can be more difficult for older Americans. Perhaps they have given decades of dedicated service to one company, only to find themselves in the job market at a time when they expected to be planning a comfortable retirement.

The feelings of anger, betrayal, and depression that all workers experience when they lose a job often are debilitating to those over 50. Not only do they not know where to begin, but they might face age discrimination when they do make inquiries about employment.

And yet there are job opportunities for older workers, and many companies are finding those employees are more stable and committed to the workplace than younger workers, who are often hunting for the next job.

Catherine Dorton Fyock, who specializes in the aging and changing workforce, says that our culture values youth, and that makes it tough for older employees to find new positions. "But a lot of managers are frustrated by the work ethic of younger workers, and older workers offer them a chance to hire people with an old-fashioned work ethic," she adds.

One of the biggest problems for older Americans looking for work is that they simply do not know where to begin. Job hunting is much different than it was a decade ago, and older workers just need to refine their job search skills to meet market demand.

Fyock advises workers to take the initiative and position themselves for opportunities. If they are still employed, they should take advantage of any and all training offered at the company. If they are unemployed, she says, they should use their time to assess their skills and draw on those strengths.

"Ask friends and family about your strengths," Fyock says. "Sometimes seeing yourself from another person's point of view can be helpful."

In addition, Fyock, in UnRetirement (Amacom, 1994), co-authored with Anne Marrs Dorton, recommends older Americans looking for work do the following:
  • Network. Think of all the contacts made with suppliers, customers, co-workers and community leaders over the years. Call each of them and let them know you're looking for work.

  • Research companies in your area. Visit the local library so that you are well-informed about the industry, who is in charge of hiring and what the employment needs are.

  • Attend a career fair.

  • Look everywhere. Check out employment opportunities on the Internet, through newspapers and professional publications, newsletters and employment agencies.

  • Go back to school. No one is too old to learn. Check with a university or community agency to find out what learning opportunities are available. Now is the chance to hone your computer skills.

  • Consider an informational interview. Not all employers are willing to offer one, but you can request an interview where you ask the questions. Inquire about opportunities in the career you are considering, and prepare your questions carefully. Don't take more than 20 minutes of the company representative's time, and take careful notes.

  • Temporary, part-time and volunteer work all offer employers a chance to see what you're made of - and that you're perfect for a full-time position.

  • Don't be desperate. Nothing scares off a job offer faster. By doing your homework, you approach job openings with confidence, and that makes a good impression on an interviewer.

Notes Fyock: "Looking for a job is the most difficult job many of us will ever have. There are so many techniques being used that we have to personally take more responsibility for our own future, and our own skills update. We have to pursue every opportunity."

SOURCE: Adapted from Anita Bruzzese, Take This Job and Thrive (Manassas Park: Impact Publications), pp. 104-105. Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.