Lynn GorhamLynn Gorham wasn't scared when she started looking for a job after 13 years as a homemaker. She had worked office jobs before she got married, and she was ready to go back to full-time work. Plus, she needed the money: Her husband, a contractor, was struggling to find work, and their savings were running low.

Previous experience told the 53-year-old Gorham (pictured) that the key factor in finding a job was the employment agency. If you were connected with the right recruiter, they'd take care of you.

She was in for a surprise. "The temporary agencies weren't even taking applications," Gorham, of Atlanta, tells DailyFinance. "They wouldn't even take your resume. That blew my mind."

Back to the Basics

Gorham kept looking as the weeks and then months went by. She discovered that the world of employment had migrated online, with less time spent on the phone and hardly any in person. Still, she didn't give up -- she knew her administrative and bookkeeping skills made her employable.

After six months of looking, Gorham was frustrated. She was using the job sites and sending out applications, but she wasn't any closer to a job. She decided to take a critical look at her job application process, starting with the basics.

She pulled up her profiles on job sites like Monster and Indeed, and noticed that she had said she wasn't willing to travel for work. After so many months, she decided that this might be worth revising. She changed her settings to say that she was willing to travel "25% of the time."

That one tweak to her online profile changed everything. She started getting interest from employers, and she eventually took a job arranging housing for college students. She now travels one day every other week and loves the work. "I must've looked for eight months, really hard," Gorham says. "My new job is a better fit than I'd ever imagined."

Big Changes in the Job Market

Gorham was one of millions of older people who have found themselves in the toughest job market in decades. They're discovering that job-hunting today is vastly different from the way it was just a few years ago. Instead of making deals over drinks or dialing up an employment agency, they have to be aggressive, tech-savvy and constantly on the lookout for anything or anyone that can give them the edge.

"We train individuals to really sell their skills," says Lita Kleger, a spokeswoman for ExperienceWorks, a nonprofit that helps people over 50 reenter the workforce. "It's sort of like a personal marketing campaign."

There's plenty of need for these marketing campaigns.

A 2008 survey by the AARP showed that more than two-thirds of baby boomers were planning to work into their retirement. For some, this was a choice, since they wanted to stay active. For others, there is simply no choice.

Many of these older workers haven't had to look for a job in decades. To compete, they have to catch up with many of the skills that younger job seekers take for granted.

Bill Coleman of RetirementJobs, an organization that helps connect older job seekers with vacancies, says he regularly encounters older people whose job-hunting skills are practically antiquated.

These job seekers might think the local newspaper is the best place to find a vacancy, Coleman says. Or they may find a job online, but assume that the best way to apply is with an actual cover letter -- sealed in an envelope, stamped and mailed. While the letter is in transit, the employer may receive hundreds of online applications. Then there's the possibility that they won't even go to the trouble of opening the envelope.

"You tend to get overlooked when everything is done electronically on the employer side," Coleman says.

A Different Market for Older Workers

To be sure, it isn't all bad news for seniors. Unemployment among those over 55 runs at about 7%, compared with more than 9% for the workforce overall, as employers hang on to senior employees who know their organizations well and are closer to retirement anyway.

"The decline in the percentage of the population working is much smaller for older workers," says Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Still, those over 55 find today's job market a cruel place. October's unemployment figures showed that 335,000 older workers are classified as "discouraged" -- they would like to work but have given up all hope of actually finding a job. That number is more than five times higher than it was at the end of 2007, just before the financial crisis moved from the U.S. mortgage sector to the wider economy.

The number of older people who are out of the labor force but say they would like a job has risen by 78% in the same period, hitting 1.47 million in October 2010.

The obstacles that these workers face to reentering the workforce are real. Many fear age discrimination, which can often take the form of simply ignoring an application, rather than overtly telling a candidate they're too old to tackle the job. "There is often age discrimination in the market place," Coleman says. Companies 'tend to worry that people are technologically behind, they're slower."

New Skills to Learn

Those who are willing to face the job hunt have to unlearn some of their old ideas about how to find work. One of the foremost of these is networking. Thirty years ago, networking might mean a one-on-one conversation over drinks or a dinner party. Today's job market calls for a scattergun approach of selling yourself to anyone who will listen.

Barbara, 56, of Boston, learned from her time in the job market that networking opportunities don't' always come at a job center. She had almost given up hope of finding work after two years of applications. Then, she made a breakthrough while applying for food stamps.

While she was applying this summer, Barbara spoke to a job counselor, who put her in touch with a connection at a local medical billing company. That contact came in useful when the company advertised for an administrative assistant a few weeks later: Barbara had an in at the company and got the job.

"Networking to me, prior to this, meant something much more direct -- a handshake and an introduction to somebody at a public event," says Barbara, who asked DailyFinance not to use her surname. "This seemed to be very circuitous. "

Barbara and Gorham both stress that job-seekers have to maintain a positive attitude if they want to sell themselves to contacts or potential employers.

Gorham says the key to her job hunt was learning how to brand herself. She tuned into careers webinars, handed over her resume for critique and did mock interviews to help overcome her nervousness. "I had to learn how to portray myself," Gorham says. "I learned to think 'why would the company hire me?'"

Answering that question is a pressing need for many seniors. AARP data shows that the number of people over 55 declaring bankruptcy accounted for more than 20% of total filings at the end of 2007. Meanwhile, 20% of those over 45 have stopped contributing to their retirement accounts completely as they struggle to meet today's bills. As a result, older workers can find themselves under intense pressure to find work immediately if they ever hope to repair their personal finances.

"People in my age bracket who have experienced any substantial amount of time on unemployment have used up their savings," Barbara says. "We don't have another 40 years to make up for it like we would have when we were 25."

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How to Buy a Car

How to get the best deal and buy a car with confidence.

View Course »

Introduction to Preferred Shares

Learn the difference between preferred and common shares.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

66 Comments

Filter by:
top4latinmsl

What does Lynn Gorham changing her willingness to travel have to do with an age barrier in finding a job? As usual, AOL reporting is completely off the mark.

December 08 2010 at 5:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
brandonelgato

I'm 38 and have a Master's degree, and haven't been able to even land a secretarial job in the past year and a half. I've had a handful of interviews, I've even been one of two finalists on three different jobs. But there's always someone just a LITTLE bit better qualified. Not all of us out here are over 50 or undereducated.

December 07 2010 at 3:18 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
nxston08

Start your own business, carefully monitor your investments, start a new career, downsize your house if you have to, and stop trying to compete with the younger generation. You can't. Move on.

December 07 2010 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nxston08's comment
madmax821

easier said then done

December 07 2010 at 3:24 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
kv37

Hey, things change. Take it as a challenge and stop whining. I'm pushing 55 and I've seen the job scene change many times. Old people wouldn't let us do anything when we were young because they were all protecting their positions. Now, kids are running everything. It can be a matter of demographics, it can be energy prices, it can be this and that. But get over it! Get on with your life!

December 07 2010 at 2:50 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kv37's comment
madmax821

what's your point?

December 07 2010 at 3:25 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
sksjds

THOSE PEOPLE OVER 60 THAT HAVE BEEN UNEMPLOYEED AND THEIR BENIFITS HAVE RAN OUT ARE NOT SHOWING UP ON THE UNEMPLOYMENT NUMBERS. ALL THEY HAVE BEEN DOING IS DRAINING THEIR SAVINGS AND 401K'S. SOON , THAT WILL BE GONE, THEN YOU WILL REALLY SEE THE PROBLEMS START TO ROLL. WHY THEY EXTEND THE BENIFITS ON TIER IV BUT WON'T GO TO A TIER V , I DON'T UNDERSTAND. SOME REALLY SMART PEOPLE SAY THAT THE ONES WHO HAVE RAN OUT OF BENIFITS WON'T LOOK FOR A JOB IF THEY WERE EXTENDED. THEY DON'T REALIZE THAT WE HAVE HAD NO BENIFITS FOR 8 MONTHS, AND WE STILL CAN'T FIND WORK. COULD IT BE THAT THINGS REALLY ARE THIS BAD, AND WE CAN'T FIND WORK.

December 07 2010 at 2:10 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
mike edwards

so many people out of work they expect people with masters degrees to fight over 8 dollar an hour jobs so they stay on unemployment for years with all the extentions plus it works both ways they were taught never do a job you dont like doing well i think times are a changing

December 07 2010 at 1:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
dhherndon

If one has stong skills, becoming self employeed may be a good way to become employed. When I was 59 I was laid off from a mid-sized firm and after several months of looking I still did not have an offer. If I had wanted to re-locate to a large metro area, which I did not want, I could have had several offers as I had strong skills in proposal development. I finally decided to become a self-employed consultant and began networking within my professional organization. Within 6 months I was making signficantly more that I ever made as an employee working only part time. Now 15 years later, I am still consulting all I desire and turn down more business than I accept.

December 07 2010 at 12:50 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
wendyand112

It is a bigger challenge for us.

December 07 2010 at 3:34 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to wendyand112's comment
Iselin007

Bernanke's 600 billion was for low interest rates mainly for the banks mess in housing so you know it was another bailout an not for job creation like they had claimed. They are't trying to get older people jobs because pushing college when the young are being displaced by visa workers doesn't make any sense

December 06 2010 at 11:56 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
jrexmarda

Well I guess if you are a senior and have to work with the younger generation you'll have to develop some kind of personality for yourself. Most older people I know are hung up on dumb stuff that doesn't mean anything in the 20-plus world. These kids need to know you got important things going on between your ears and that working with them is nothing but a means to an end. Be an adult instead of an old person in other words. Make the brats look askantz when you walk by cause you don't act like their whiny parents wringing their hands wondering what junior is going to do next.

December 06 2010 at 11:54 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jrexmarda's comment
dterraman

absolutely the right idea

December 07 2010 at 4:41 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply