GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Kerry Hannon, author of "Great Jobs for Everyone 50 : Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy ... And Pays the Bills."
Work at an older age is becoming business as usual. As life expectancy continues to increase, older adults are healthier and more active than in the past. In fact, 70 percent of workers said they expected to work for pay in retirement, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute's 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey.
That said, for older workers who lose a job and want to keep working that can be a problem. The average duration of unemployment is more than one year for workers 55 and older, above the average nine months for younger workers.
There are two undeniable reasons for this: First, discrimination against the unemployed is widespread. According to a recent survey of 1, 500 recruiters and hiring managers, recruiters admitted that it was "easier for them to place someone with a criminal record (non-felony) in a new job than it is to place someone who has been unemployed for two years or more."
Some job ads, in fact, brazenly say that applicants must be "currently employed." In most places this is legal to do. Currently, only Washington D.C. has a law that bans that discrimination against the unemployed in hiring practices. Oregon and New Jersey laws ban discriminatory language in job postings.
In early October, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal for companies to include statements like "unemployed need not apply" in their job listings. As a result, California employers can keep on requiring those who apply for their jobs to already be employed.
And, of course, age bias is rampant. As I write in my new book, "Great Jobs for Everyone 50 : Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy ... And Pays the Bills, " navigating today's job market can be tricky for older workers. I'm not going to sugarcoat that. Ageism is real. It's illegal for employers to discriminate based on age, but many older job seekers know it's a fact of life.
Have you sat in a job interview gazing into your inquisitor's eyes and felt that he or she was only seeing your "expiration date?" If so, you wouldn't be alone.
As I wrote in this PBS Next Avenue blog, these days, many employers sifting through applications are passing over experienced candidates in their 50s and 60s for the enthusiasm, and perhaps less onerous pay demands, of younger job seekers.
And some 65 percent of boomers believe they suffer from workplace age discrimination, roughly three times higher than the rate for Gen X and Gen Y, according to a survey of 5, 368 job seekers released this week by Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm and Beyond.com, a job-search site.
The truth is the job market in recent years has been challenging for workers of all ages. Here are some action steps to improve your chances of finding work.
1. Ramp up your tech skills. You must be comfortable with computers, basic software programs, web navigation, e-mail, and mobile technology. Most job searches nowadays are via the Internet. Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These sites can help you get job leads, network, and seek advice from others in your field. LinkedIn, in particular, is a great way to build a professional network. Employers troll it for perspective hires.
(Read More: Are You in the Wrong Job?)
2. Look the part. Be physically fit, energetic and have a positive attitude. Look and dress with an eye toward a vibrant, youthful appearance.
3. Don't be bashful. Boomers aren't the best at boasting. Millennials are far better at this self-promotion. Speak up about your flexibility in terms of management style, your openness to report to a younger boss, your technological aptitude, your energy, and your knack of picking up new skills.
4. Stay in the game. Contract jobs are a great way to do this. Increasingly employers are farming these out as a way to keep experienced workers on the job—albeit without benefits in many cases. This kind of work, however, will counter that unemployed need not apply mentality and keep your skills sharp. Trust me, you'll still have time to job hunt for a full-time position.
(Read More: A Risky Lifeline for Seniors Is Costing Some Their Homes )
Another option is to start your own business. Get a business card with your firm's name and your title. Talk with enthusiasm in interviews about your current clients. Even a small freelance business with one client counts. It keeps your resume alive. You aren't "unemployed." Read my recent AARP Great Jobs column here.
5. Keep your skills sharp. Make sure you have done everything you can to keep up with technology and changes in your field. If you want to change fields, add the necessary skills and certificates. Community colleges, the Osher Life Long Learning Institute (with 117 locations around the country), and local libraries offer classes.
6. Network with all your heart. Ask for help and advice. Even in this era of online resumes, it's all about whom you know that can get you in the chair for a face-to-face meeting. If there's a particular industry you're gunning for, join an association affiliated with it and seek out volunteer opportunities. Attend industry and professional meetings and conferences.
7. Think broadly about the job market. Look at what you do best and past experience as transferable to lots of different challenges and fields. If you're switching industries, you're probably redeploying skills you already have in place, not reinventing or retraining for entirely new ones.
8. Work it. Finally, do something every day to move your job hunt forward– even if it is just one phone call.
Kerry Hannon is a Washington, DC-based career, retirement and personal finance expert and the author of " "Great Jobs for Everyone 50 : Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy ... And Pays the Bills." She is a writer, editor, web content producer and columnist covering jobs, retirement, aging issues and personal finance for numerous national publications. She is AARP's Jobs Expert and is the Great Jobs columnist for AARP.org.