When The New York Times ran a story on its front page earlier this month about the plight of unemployed workers over 50, Renée Rosenberg got so upset she sent a letter to the editor. "As a career counselor who specializes in working with those over 50, this article does not ring true," she wrote. "Discrimination is not necessarily the reason people over 50 can't find work."
Rosenberg says the 57-year-old former Boeing ( BA - news - people ) internal auditor featured in the Times article just wasn't going about her job search the right way.
In Pictures: How to get a job when you're over 50
In Pictures: 13 big mistakes job seekers make
In Pictures: The shortest route to a new job
Top Tips: 10 companies share what they look for in nontraditional hires
The new rules of business etiquette
Rosenberg, the author of Achieving the Good Life After 50, says a 69-year-old client in her career coaching practice just landed a great new position. Like the ex-Boeing auditor, this woman had worked for many years for the same company, and had lost her job in a downsizing. However, instead of holing up at home with her computer and poring over job listings like the woman in the article, she followed several steps that guarantee a high success rate, according to Rosenberg.
The first hurdle: realizing that a layoff does not mean it's time to relax. "What happens for many people when they're downsized is they drop out for awhile," Rosenberg says. "They feel this is their time to rest and take it easy." Especially for people in their 50s and 60s, who may have worked in the same place for several decades, losing a job can induce what Rosenberg describes as "a mild depression." It can take up to four months to get past that phase and realize that, in fact, they still have the energy to work.
Another issue that come up for older job-seekers who have lost a longtime post, she says: the feeling that they are out of the loop. "They have the feeling that they've been stuck, and that time has passed them by."
Rosenberg recommends an exercise she calls the "seven stories" approach, where you list seven achievements you're proud of. That will help you build your self-esteem and focus on your skills and values. The exercise helped Rosenberg's client realize she did want to go back to work part-time, and that she would much prefer a short commute.
Her next step was letting her network know that she was looking. Rosenberg recommends going "deep and long" in your networking efforts. Even get in touch with people you last knew a long time ago.
Rosenberg's 69-year-old client did just that, and soon she heard about a company near her home that was looking for a part-time worker in her area of expertise. Rosenberg helped her craft a cover letter that was up-front about her situation and described her eagerness to return to work. "Her letter said she had retired and then realized she was ready and able to go to work," Rosenberg says. "She let them know immediately that she was not young, but that she was also capable."
At the interview, Rosenberg's client learned that the salary was not what she had hoped. With Rosenberg's coaching, she described her background and skills, and the employer wound up offering more money, full benefits and vacation time. She took the job.
Rosenberg says one of the most important parts of looking for a job if you're over 50 is having a can-do attitude. To be sure, the statistics for the age group are daunting. According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate among people 55 or older is 7.3%, twice as high as at the start of the recession in December 2007. But you can't let that get you down, Rosenberg says. "If you think you're too old for the job, then you are too old," she says. "If you don't think you're too old, then you're not."