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Searching for a Second Career

It’s not something that anyone really plans for: After 20-plus years in a job or industry, you’re looking for something new.

It’s an eye-opening experience,” says Heather Harvey, a former recruiter who is now a Colorado Springs-based career consultant. “The Internet has completely changed the whole process of job seeking. 

 “Today,” Harvey says, “people have to market themselves.”

The good news for Baby Boomers is that unemployment among those 55 and older fell 0.6 percent points to 3.9 percent in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a bit better than the overall unemployment, which fell to 5.6 that month. 

The bad news for job seekers? “Now they’re on their own,” Harvey says. “They have to take on the responsibility and job hunt. You have to treat it like a full-time job.”

If you’re out of work, over 55 and looking for a job, the average time out of work is almost a year. A younger applicant’s search is about seven months, says Kerry Hannon, an AARP jobs expert and author of “What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties, and Beyond.” 

Why so long? There’s a lot of competition for jobs, of course, and preconceptions about the older worker can come into play. But you can combat them, Hannon says.

Assumption 1: 

Older workers don’t have enough energy. Many people worry they’re not up for a new job. They tell Hannon, “I don’t have the stamina or the energy and enthusiasm to bring to the job what a young worker does.”  

Her advice: Get fit.

“You don’t have to run a fast mile or bench press,” she says. But if you get moving, you’ll feel better about yourself and “there is a kind of energy you give off. The prospective employer might not realize it, but they’re thinking, ‘I want some of that.’”

 Assumption 2: 

They will have a bad attitude. Sure, Doogie Howser may be your new boss. But come to the table with good ideas and an open mind, Hannon says. No one wants to have a grumbly dad or mom as an employee.

“If you think you’re not going to fit in, you won’t,” she says. 

Assumption 3: 

They’re stuck in their ways. Especially where technology is concerned.

“People worry about not being up to speed with technology and you know what? They might be right. If you apply for a job and you need certificates (or training) and you don’t have them, get them. You’re not going to be able to wing it and learn on the job. You need to know it.”

Assumption 4: 

They are too expensive. 

“When they see someone’s age, they expect they’re overqualified or their salary demands are too high,” Hannon says. “That’s kind of a big thing that stops employers.”

If feasible, consider ratcheting down your salary, especially if you’re going into a new field. Try asking for flextime or more vacation as a trade-off.

“The job market is hard,” Hannon says, “but if you stay out there, take chances and do things that you’ve never done before, you can find a job you love.”

Job Hunting Tips:

Workshops, online sites and career coaches can help get the new job hunter on track. Here are a few tips from the experts.

GET HIP

An email account through AOL or Yahoo dates you. “A lot of companies eliminate you right there,” says Kerry Hannon, an AARP jobs expert. Create a Gmail or Comcast account for job searches.

BEST FACE FORWARD

When you update online profiles such as LinkedIn or Facebook, have a professional photo taken of yourself. It’s a chance to project your best self to potential employers, Hannon says, and worth the fee.

The elevator speech

That’s a 30-second rundown of your professional skills and goals that will be ready for those times you run into a possible job opportunity. The bonus: The process will help define those things for yourself. “You have to have a communication strategy where people understand what you do,” Harvey says. “If they don’t, they can’t help you.”

THROW AWAY THE BOX

“People want to replicate the exact job they had before,” Hannon says. “Often you can’t do that. The world is changing quickly. You have to think of ways to redevelop your skills.”

PRETEND

Even if you don’t feel confident, act like you do, says Harvey. “Employers are looking for experience and enthusiasm. It’s important to be as confident as you can.”

NETWORK

Which really means telling people you’re looking for a job. Hannon tells a story about a friend who wanted to become an English as a second language teacher, but was getting nowhere. One day he happened to mention it to a friend of his son’s. The boy’s mother, it turned out, supervised an English as a second language program at a local college. That was his in. “You just never know,”