Finally! A Ray of Hope for Job Seekers Over 50
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Why is it so hard to get a job after age 50--and what, if anything, can older job seekers do about it? In response to the Nov. 12 column on this topic, many of you sent some pretty strong opinions, solid suggestions, and even a few genuine job opportunities. First, an amplification: Netshare CEO Dave Theobald recommended that executives in search of contract work check out the Website of an interim-staffing company called Spherion. I neglected to mention that the firm doesn't post openings for senior-level contract positions; you have to go through a Spherion recruiter. Contact information for these folks can be found by going to www.spherion.com, clicking on Careers, and then--under Job Search--clicking on Senior Executives. Sorry not to have been clearer about that.

The idea that people over 50 have too much experience--that is, they're outside the 15- to 20-year window that hiring managers most often want--struck many of you as absurd. "Even if someone has been working for the last 30 years, it hasn't been at the exact same thing. None of us has 30 years of senior executive experience," notes a reader named Liz Johnson. She suggests that older job seekers figure out how many years of experience they have in particular areas--say, 14 years as a brand manager, 16 years as a VP of marketing, and so on--and present themselves accordingly. Several readers also suggested following up after fruitless job interviews to get a sense of why no offer was forthcoming. Maybe the reason is, as Johnson puts it, "not an age issue and is something [the job hunter] can control."

Larry Alter, president of the Arthur Group, a Minneapolis-based outplacement and career-management firm, says many of his clients are in their 50s and 60s. He offers tips that make sense at any age: First, don't rely on your resume. Instead, pick up the phone. "It's much more difficult for someone to hang up on a job seeker than to file away a piece of paper," observes Alter. Meanwhile, concentrate on networking (more about this below) and "recognize that you can network with people you don't even know. Many executives are receptive to mentoring discussions if you do not abuse their time." Third, even if you've spent your whole career working for giant corporations, focus your search efforts on small to medium-sized companies. In Alter's experience, "a smaller company is less likely to discriminate based on age."

Thanks to Shari Fryer, of outplacement behemoth Drake Beam Morin, for sending along fascinating new research on workers over 55. Following are five suggestions, based on DBM's survey of some 16,000 job-changers in 21 countries.

--Be patient. The research indicates that workers over 50 take nearly twice as long to find a new job as do younger people. But, says DBM president and CEO Tom Silveri, that's partly because "with the advancement of age usually comes a change in priorities and preferences, which can make career decisions more complex and time-consuming."

--Be creative. DBM's study showed that only 31% of workers born before 1946 opted for full-time work in landing their new positions. Most pursued contract work, self-employment, and other more flexible arrangements.

--Consider changing your job function or going to a new industry. Fully half of the people of all ages in DBM's study succeeded at this by identifying their transferable skills and packaging themselves to appeal to an employer in a different field.

--Take someone to lunch. DBM found that 51% of the over-55 workers--as well as 36% of Gen Xers, incidentally--got their new positions by networking. By contrast, only 3% of all employees in the survey found new jobs on the Internet.

--Keep salary expectations in line with reality. Unfortunately, DBM's data suggest that people over 55 have a 50% chance of facing a pay cut in a new job.

Now, folks, I don't want to turn this space into a job-posting service, but here's something I just can't resist passing along: A reader named Bruce Spacek--a CPA who spent many years running a division of a FORTUNE 500 company--retired at 60 and, after five years, got bored. So, about a year ago, he joined GE Capital Assurance as an agent in the long-term care business. "The best part," he writes, "is that, at 66, I'm dealing with people my own age and can relate to their problems and concerns, as they are the same as my own.... We're always looking for new agents, as we have offices all over the country and they're all growing fast." Want to look into joining GE Capital's long-term-care insurance team? Spacek has kindly offered to make sure your resume gets to the right person if you send it to him at 8486 Karlstad Cove, Cordova, Tenn., 38018, or via e-mail at bspacek@aol.com. There's a certain poetic justice at work here. If you're feeling (reluctantly) like part of the graying of America, you may as well consider ways to profit from it too.

E-mail: askannie@fortunemail.com Mail: Ask Annie, FORTUNE, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, Room 1559, New York, N.Y. 10020. Please include an after-work phone number. Annie offers additional advice at askannie.com.