It doesn't matter what your age -- experts recommend actively pursuing professional development. According to the MetLife survey, only a third of respondents reported actively pursuing new skills and training, so people willing to invest their time may enjoy a distinct edge. Building your skill set through courses, workshops, seminars and networking events not only shows employers that you're current, it demonstrates motivation, commitment and that you're able and willing to learn.
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Keeping your skills up to par is only the first step. To stay in the game, you'll also have to keep up with the field or industry in which you plan to work. What are some of the key trends happening now? What innovations are shaping the future in the industry? What are the some of the challenges, and how can your skills and experience help an employer address them?
"Learning the lingo" is also crucial. Know and understand key concepts and "buzzwords" so you can effectively use them in your applications and interviews. (Hint: read the job description very carefully and use the same words in your own application.)
Craft your image
Like it or not, appearances matter and "looking the part" is essential for workers of all ages. However, older workers face the additional concern of looking "old-fashioned" or "dated" when employers are looking for energy and enthusiasm. Outdated styles and worn-out clothing and shoes can add years to your appearance.
The best advice: keep your look up-to-date. You don't have to resort to drastic measures or buy the latest fashions. Update your hair style, make-up (for the ladies) and glasses (as appropriate), and keep your attire in good condition. Stick to colours and styles that flatter your colouring and body shape for an instant "lift".
But beware the classic business suit: it might not be appropriate for all situations. Try to find out ahead of time what people wear in the industry or at the company, and aim a little higher. Think classic pieces and separates that you can mix-and-match with your existing wardrobe for more mileage.
When it comes to image, the "online you" is just as important and deserves attention too. More employers are turning to social networks and online sources to dig up information on job candidates -- good or bad. Use your online presence to show off your accomplishments, experience and expertise. Depending on your field, consider creating an online portfolio or interactive curriculum vitae as well.
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A word of caution: avoid rookie mistakes like bad-mouthing past employers or posting questionable content. (See Social Media 101 and 10 career-damaging online mistakes for more information.)
Network, network, network
Experts can't say enough good things about networking. Employers are often inundated with applications, so they might skip the advertising and hire through word-of-mouth and employee referral. Besides, getting to know people with whom you'd like to work is an effective way to find out what's going on in your field and to get the inside track on any upcoming opportunities.
It's good to have a network full of family and friends, but you'll want to move beyond this inner circle as well. Reconnect with former colleagues and fellow alumni at community or workplace events. If you're a member of a professional organization, make it a point to attend meetings and events. The key is to meet people with similar interests -- they'll be your best source. Building good relationships can help others see past the age bias.
Also, try social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and BrightFuse to join niche groups. Many of these sites offer functionality that lets you connect with people you'd like to meet. If you have expertise in a particular area, starting a blog or submitting articles to publications can help get your name out. (See Mastering the art of self-promotion for more tips.)
One area often overlooked by older workers is getting to know younger colleagues, according to the MetLife report. They may not be hiring managers, but it's a learning opportunity.
"A lot of Boomers don't understand Gen Ys, so they need to make a determined effort to spend time with people in their twenties and thirties," said Jeff Williams, found of Bizstarters.com, in the MetLife report. Other experts recommend seeking volunteer opportunities where you have the chance to work with people from age groups and backgrounds different from your own.
Overall, the message to older works is to invest some time (and even some money) into their careers. The job hunt can be a long and frustrating experience, but it favours those who are better informed and prepared.
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Article By: Elizabeth Rogers
Additional sources: AARP.com, Careerbuilder.ca, About.com
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Pali Rao