Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/17/2009 5:31:53 PM ET 2009-05-17T21:31:53

The questions I’ve been getting from readers lately have a lot to do with workers’ perceptions of themselves, and how the job market is supposed to work.

Well, many of those perceptions are often wrong.

Some of you think you’re too old to change careers. Others are worried that getting a job is all about having the perfect look. And still others think companies should have some set structure when hiring.

Well, time for a little “Your Career” reality check.

Here are some of your questions:

I began my job search last summer. As a recent graduate, I went to a college fair in February figuring it was my greatest hope. I talked to about 20 different companies and submitted my resume. Many of the companies that had indicated open positions didn't have any. There were about five still with hope. Of these, I have only had contact with two. One of them I spoke to verbally. The person I spoke to asked me to call back in two weeks if I hadn't heard anything from them. I did, and I haven't heard back.

What I am most frustrated with is the fact that they promised a certain time and failed to meet it. Why do companies make timeline promises and then fail to even keep the candidates in the loop? Is there a guideline as to when and how often candidates can follow up?
— L.B., St. Louis, Mo.

If only there were some hiring playbook that all job seekers could get a copy of. IT DOES NOT EXIST, especially in this economic environment.

The hiring managers I talk to don’t know what they are doing from one day to the next, and many are even wondering if their own jobs are secure. They are inundated with resumes and are walking a tightrope of needing to hire more workers but not having the money to do so.

You should follow up with e-mails and phone calls, but try to think logically about what’s acceptable. Try not to become a pest.

Stop worrying about how they do what they do and concentrate on your job search. Are you choosing the right companies to apply to? Do you need more experience or extra training to make you stand out?

I was recently laid off from a job as an engineer due to a downturn in the electronics industry. I am around 50 with excellent career credentials and a passion for my work. My problem is that I broke two front teeth, which will need dentures to correct. I do need to be careful about speaking, as the missing teeth affect my speech mildly when I don’t concentrate. I had the dental work scheduled, but the layoff came just before I was to get the work done. Now, I don’t feel that I have the financial resources to pay for the dental work until I am working again. What can I do to minimize this fault?
— C.T., Binghamton, N.Y.

Trying to hide the broken teeth and not treating them could end up doing more harm than good. If the teeth are broken on the gum line, you could end up with an infection, warns Carol A. Wooden, an Atlanta-based dentist and spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.

Many dentists realize the economic hardships today, says Wooden, so you should contact your dentist and discuss working out a payment plan or trying some less expensive, temporary alternative.

Also, dental schools often offer low-cost treatment since dental students are providing the care, she adds. But it can take a while to get an appointment.

Another option is a dental clinic in your area, she says. The best way to find those is by contacting your state dental association or society.

If a quick solution doesn’t materialize, you need to be confident when you go into an interview despite the broken teeth because hiring managers will pick up on your self-consciousness.

“The first sale is to sell yourself, if you really believe in yourself,” says Ann Latham, president of consulting firm Uncommon Clarity Inc. “A lot of people have permanent defects worse than that. Don’t be preoccupied with it.”

You can bring up the teeth issue during the interview, she adds, but only if an opportunity arises. Don’t force it.

My daughter graduated last spring with a B.S. in anthropology/archaeology from the University of New Mexico. She has recently moved back in with me and has not been able to find any job in her field, even though she applies online almost every day on archaeology job sites or USAJobs.
— Susan Lachica, Phoenix, Ariz.

When your daughter applies for a job online it’s like sending your resume into a big black hole. She needs to start networking, networking, networking.

She should connect with alumni at her school, talk to classmates and join groups in the industry online. In this economy, having an “in” is key with any job.

“Just having a BS in anthropology/archaeology isn't enough,” says Joel Irish, a professor of anthropology at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

He offers some more targeted advice:

If she was trained in archaeological field methods while at school, “then it’s harder to understand why she can't get hired. There are numerous Cultural Resource Management companies all over New Mexico, Arizona, and other southwest locations that are always hiring people to do fieldwork. However, she should also be aware that she may not get a year-round job, but rather be hired on a job-to-job basis.”

She may also want to pursue a master’s degree in archaeology if she’s looking for a full-time supervisory job and does not want to be just a field worker, he adds.

I just turned 46, and for the past 17 years I've been a flight attendant for one of the United States legacy carriers. As you know, my job has changed very dramatically in the past 5 years, especially when it comes to job security and my paychecks.

I've been interested in the fields of network administration, network security and computer forensics. However, due to the years wasted as a flight attendant, I now see that my age might be an issue if I decide to pursue a change of careers. Of course, training will take two to four years, although I would easily be able to afford the financial commitment for the formal IT education.

I am very unsure as to the possibility of finding a job opportunity so close to the age of 50. Do you think it would be impossible to find another job at that point?
— Lucia Bruce, Port Saint Lucie, Fla.

OK, maybe I’m getting older, but 50 doesn’t seem that old to me.

The fields you are interested in are considered growth areas, so you’d been making a great choice by pursuing education in these areas.

A good option for job changers, says Uncommon Clarity’s Latham, is to take what you know and build on it. That means a networking job in the aviation sector would be a natural for you when you finish school.

If you can go to school at night or take online classes to expedite the process, that’s an option, but the key is looking at what you can do starting today to change your career.

“There are more questions to ask about your career than just ‘Do I keep working here, or do I quit?’” Latham says.

I’m not naïve here. I know there can definitely be age discrimination in the workplace, but most hiring managers are looking for the most competent candidates, bottom line.

Seriously folks, when are we going to stop letting our advancing years paralyze us?

Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.

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