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'Will I Ever Work Again?'

Many older workers are jobless for more than a year

Older workers tend to lack the formal credentials common among their younger counterparts — a four-year degree or certification of technical training, for instance.

When it comes to searching for work, they can be rusty. They come from a generation that held the same job for years, even decades.

And misconceptions about older workers abound: They get sick more, have poor attendance, expect high wages, lack ambition or are technology-impaired (a particularly galling stereotype for a generation that invented computers).

A study of female job applicants by Texas A&M economics professor Joanna Lahey found that, with all else equal, companies were more than 40 percent more likely to interview a younger job candidate than an older one.

That's why it is vital for older job seekers to get in the door, experts say. What they lack in formal credentials they can make up for in experience, wisdom and reliability. Five minutes with a prospective employer can dissolve misgivings about age.

"The younger generation often doesn't believe the mature worker has what it takes," Zirkle says. "What they find out after they hire one is that they do. Sometimes it takes a little longer for the mature worker to get into the groove of things, but once they learn, they usually turn out to be the top performers."

Three-week "job clubs" Zirkle runs are a veritable makeover for older job seekers. They teach how to search for work. (The majority of jobs are never advertised.) How to write a résumé that plays down age — put your skills and experience at the top, the years at the bottom. How to conduct a successful interview — keep most answers to 25 seconds.

"When people come to us, they have usually just about given up," he says. "We turn them around and say, 'Let's go get it.' "

That's where 59-year-old Pam Gaul was 17 months after a downsizing ended her job as an executive assistant at a company that made industrial fans in Akron, Ohio. A friend dragged her to a job club. She thought she had nothing to learn.

Next: Fighting the age barrier. >>

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