By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/2/2009 6:14:49 PM ET 2009-08-02T22:14:49

For the last few months, Christine Duncan, 53, has been looking for a full-time job that offers benefits because her husband’s structural steel drafting business has been struggling in this economy.

Duncan, who was the bookkeeper at his company, was recently able to land some temporary work during tax season, but permanent jobs are hard to come by in Denver. She often scours job listings on Craigslist and Monster, is on Twitter and LinkedIn, and has signed up with several temp agencies to no avail.

She doesn’t think her age is keeping her from landing a gig, but the one interview she went on last month was with a woman in her 30s who was wearing expensive designer jeans. “I knew I was not going to get the job because I didn’t fit in,” Duncan said.

Myles Falvella, 57, lost his job last year doing marketing and market analysis for Level 3 Communications in Pittsburgh and has been looking ever since.

He’s been doing a lot of networking and has hit the job boards heavily, but despite getting one or two interviews a month, no positions have materialized.

“Being older, while there isn’t stated discrimination in terms of age, doesn’t play well,” he surmised. “I would think it would be a factor.”

Neither Duncan nor Falvella believe they’re victims of age bias, but they are unfortunately living a painful reality: It’s harder for workers who are over 50 to find employment.

According to the AARP, the average length of unemployment for those 55 and older is 29.9 weeks, compared to 21.4 weeks for those under 55.

Dismal numbers to be sure. But clearly, older workers are landing interviews and finding great jobs every day. How do they do it?

Here are five strategies from successful job seekers who are 50-plus:

Sweat a lot
Ella Newman, who is over 50 and left her company after a merger, found her dream job within six months in one of the toughest hit industries of all: finance. The one thing she points to for her success was hard work.

“I had to find something before my benefits ran out,” she said. “I worked at my search from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, until I found the perfect job.”

She is now senior vice president at Fiduciary Trust Company International in New York.

Her game plan each day was as follows:

  • Wake up. Write e-mails and letters. This included e-mails to people she knew or were recommended to her, and notes to people she connected with, even hand-written letters to people she met, especially hiring managers.
  • Go to as many appointments as possible, including general networking lunches, informational interviews and real interviews.
  • Spend the rest of the day researching employers and jobs.

“You have to make finding a job your full-time job and put all your effort into it if you want to get a job in a reasonable amount of time,” she said.

Look tech savvy
The last thing you need is an employer thinking you’re too old to get all the latest and greatest technological advances.

When Bob Dixon, 57, realized there was a chance he was going to lose his job at a semiconductor firm because of business conditions, he started working on a Web site to promote himself and putting together a multimedia resume known as a VisualCV .

“I needed to feel like I was doing something proactive,” he said.

Dixon, who lives in Windham, N.H., said he has found contacts through the Web site, and hiring managers have been impressed by his cyber resume. He has already scored many job interviews and actually withdrew himself from consideration for a few jobs that he looked likely to get because they weren’t the right fit.

“I want something that involves global sourcing or realigning a supply chain for a company,” said Dixon, who has significant experience in Asia, having worked with manufacturers there in his previous job. “For me, it’s not just about getting a job. It’s also about finding a position in a company where all of my experience can contribute to the success and company goals.”

Seek assistance
Sometimes one of the biggest hurdles for older workers is figuring out what to do next with their careers after they leave a longtime employer. It can create a situation where you’re applying for jobs half-heartedly, and that’s a recipe for job-hunting disaster.

Susan Schwab, 56, left her company without a job lined up in September of 2008 because the firm was going through some management changes.

She was at a career and life crossroads, wondering if she should take her technology background and pursue jobs in education or health care, two industries she had enjoyed in the past.

To figure it all out, she paid about $10,000 for outplacement services at a company called New Directions and spent hours taking psychological tests such as Myers-Briggs. “It helped me get clarity on what my strengths are and what they’re not,” she said.

The company also gave her basic job-hunting help, stressing the importance of networking and why she should join social networking sites like LinkedIn. “I hadn’t actively looked for a job since the 1970s,” she said, adding that jobs had “always fallen in my lap.”

Even though she was now wise to the ways of the Web 2.0 job market, she ended up landing her position the old-fashioned way — through an advertisement she saw in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Schwab is now the associate CIO and executive director of shared services alliance at the University of North Carolina.

Use the time wisely
Richard Hingst, a former Chrysler Corp. environmental staffer who lives in Lapeer, Mich., took early retirement from the automaker last November because he saw the handwriting on the wall and has been looking for the right job ever since.

He’s taken employment-training sessions that include topics such as interviewing skills, and he also expanded his credentials by obtaining additional energy and environmental accreditation.

Hingst, 54, also attended an air and waste trade conference a few months ago where he volunteered to run a seminar. That gave him free access to all the sessions so he could learn more about the industry, and it allowed him to network with potential employers.

Although he’s optimistic he’ll be able to find a good permanent job soon and has gotten some solid leads, he decided to start his own environmental consultancy and is working on projects he hopes will give him the inside line to a full-time position.

“At this point, I have a small pension coming in and my wife works. We can pay the bills, but it’s not enough to get ahead,” he explained. “I thought trying consulting would be a way to make a few bucks or lead to something bigger.”

Help others
While career experts are constantly telling job seekers to reach beyond their networks and ask for help, including job leads or recommendations, there are benefits to helping others even when you’re struggling to find a job.

Dixon from New Hampshire mentors students and also gives pro bono speeches at universities. He’s always more than willing to help out anyone looking for advice.

In one instance, he helped coach an individual who had been interviewing for eight months and felt his life and his family were falling apart because he could not find work.

And recently he got an e-mail from a man who was laid off from General Motors who found his profile on LinkedIn. “He wanted to talk about some issues I could help him with. I spent several hours on the phone with him over a couple of weeks,” he said. “Now he sends me job postings he comes across that might work for me.”

“People have the whole networking thing backwards,” Dixon said. It’s not just about calling someone up because you need help, he said. It’s about helping others.

“You can be out of work and still help people.” 

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

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