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Jump-Start Your Job Search

Face-to-face networking is a good way to jump-start your job search

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Strengthen your professional network by meeting with your online contacts in person.

Are you ready to find a new job? It can be a daunting task, whether you're looking for a full-time or part-time position. One strategy that can help is writing out action steps that will lead you to your goal. Here are six ways to get started.

1. Be bold about social media networking. Spend time each day on social media sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. On LinkedIn search for people you know and invite them to connect with you. To enhance your professional profile on the site, ask colleagues for LinkedIn recommendations. Join your alumni, peer and industry groups on LinkedIn for more networking and to stay abreast of job openings. Get customized job alert postings in your field of interest. AARP's job search tool is a good place to start.

Engage in social media by commenting on posts, retweeting and so on. Then make at least one lunch or coffee date each week to meet someone from your online network the old-fashioned way: face-to-face.

2. Join a networking group that meets in person. The Transition Network, a nonprofit networking group for women over 50, is a good option, as are meet-up groups for your profession or field of interest. Colleges have networking groups, too, so you might want to check with your alumni office.

Networking peer groups are active in churches, synagogues and community centers. Consider joining a peer group associated with your profession. If you hear of a local event that sounds intriguing, push yourself to make room in your schedule.

Real networking isn't about finding someone to help you get a job today; it's about making contacts over time. Aim to meet three new people at each gathering and get their contact information, then follow up via email in the next day or so and make plans to continue the conversation.

3. Help others connect. Virtual introductions are easy and a win for everyone. Pride yourself on being a good matchmaker? If so, when someone says, "I'm looking for someone who can do this," craft an email introducing the two parties and let them take it from there. It's a nice thing to do, and it feels good.

4. Learn to speak like a pro. The ability to deliver a presentation in front of an audience is crucial. Enroll in a public speaking class at a community college or join a Toastmasters International group. The tips you learn on polishing your speeches will help you not only in your current position but also in job interviews and other situations.

Most courses cover techniques for managing communication anxiety. You might also consider signing up for an acting or improvisational class. You'll learn how to express yourself on your feet and under pressure and to be more attuned to your body language and that of others. Those skills will come in handy in plenty of work and nonwork activities.

Since 1924, Toastmasters has helped people from all walks of life improve their speaking skills and self-confidence in front of an audience. Toastmasters has 332,000-plus members in more than 15,400 clubs in 135 countries. Most meetings consist of about 20 people who meet weekly for an hour or two.

Participants practice and learn skills of effective speech, such as focus, organization, language, vocal variety and body language. One of the things you learn is to focus your attention away from your own anxieties and to concentrate on your message and your audience. That will go a long way toward helping you ace an interview.

5. Shoot for the sky. Think about what the coolest job in the world would be or who would be your dream boss. This is your time to do something fabulous, right? "I tell my clients to play long shots," says career coach Beverly Jones, of Washington, D.C.-based Clearways Consulting. Great jobs often come from unlikely sources. Once you network with people who already know you or those within your industry peer group, "you have to pursue the off-the-wall possibilities, jobs … you have never done but have the skills to do. I have found these are often the ones that pay off," Jones says.

6. Learn something new. Education will motivate you. Check out community colleges or find an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute near you. The Plus 50 Initiative offered by the American Association of Community Colleges is aimed at students over 50. Most local colleges and universities offer distance and adult education programs, as well.

Libraries typically host monthly series of lectures by local experts and authors. If the arts are more up your alley, see what your town's art museums or arts centers offer. The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Carnegie Museum of Art (also in Pittsburgh), for instance, offer adult studio classes in photography, drawing and ceramics. You can also take an online course, many of which are free.

Many experts say that in order to stay healthy, older adults have to learn new things, stay active socially and exercise. When you stop challenging your brain with new experiences, you're in trouble. Don't let that be you.

Kerry Hannon, AARP's jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her latest book is Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills.

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