02/10/2012 11:05 am ET Updated Apr 11, 2012

Job Search: Advice For Finding A Job After 50

Many believe it's nearly impossible to land a great job after age 50, especially in today's tight job market. That point-of-view is not necessarily the truth. There are two forces at play here: the circumstances, and how we respond to them. We don't have much power over the former. We are, after all, of a certain age, and the job market is tough these days, no doubt about it. It can seem as if we are caught up in a giant machine over which we have no personal power. That viewpoint can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. For example: a woman who believes that all men are bums is likely to create a long string of men who fulfill that belief. If you are willing, you can have a very different outlook about job search.

There are people over 50 who are landing terrific jobs. What's different is that they do not accept the fear-based myths as the one-and-only truth. They decide that they are going to find that great job no matter what. They bring a creative, positive attitude to their job search. What I'm going to do in this article is recommend a creative method of job searching that has one thing going for it: It works! If you alter your attitude to a more positive one and then use the most effective job search methods, you may find that you can land the kind of job you want.

The usual job hunt methods are about as effective as eating peas with a toothpick. They never worked all that well, but nobody noticed this while the economy was roaring along. You could send out a bunch of resumes and land a job. No problem. Those days are over and not likely to return anytime soon. Just as businesses have found they've had to get smarter to stay competitive, you need to do the same to get the job you want.

We tend to think of the job market as stalled. But, in fact, companies are hiring, just not as much as they were five years ago. There is a flow of employees in and out of most organizations. You just have to do what works to be part of the inflow.

Imagine you are a decision-maker tasked with filling jobs in your department. Your own job security depends on the people you supervise making you look good to your boss. You want to find new employees who will make a significant contribution and fit in. This makes hiring a very personal matter. The last thing you want to do is to leave it to HR to supply you with candidates. Poring through online resumes is even more impersonal. So what do you do? You turn to people you already know and do what you can to fill the job with someone you personally believe will do well. This is the single most important thing to understand about job search: whenever possible, people hire people they know. If that doesn't work, they ask folks they trust to suggest candidates. It is all personal and based on relationships (i.e., networking). Here are a few principles to guide your search:

Focus on meeting and getting to know decision-makers. Since this is how most hiring actually occurs, the most productive activities are those that create relationships with people who could actually hire you. The next most productive are those that create relationships with people that decision-makers know and trust. Spend more time generating these relationships than applying for existing job openings. Few people find the perfect job through online job listings. Most existing job openings will be filled by people known to decision-makers. Many will be filled from within the organization. The most effective strategy is to find creative ways to meet and speak with several decision-makers: people who could actually hire you to do the job you want. Then, when a job becomes available, you have something better than the perfect resume, you are known. That's why old school pal networks often lead to landing a job.

Make it a project. Turn yourself into a job detective. Research the companies you would like to work for. Identify the decision-makers, and figure out how you might meet them. Conferences and networking events are a good bet. Do you know anyone with contacts in the company? How could you meet them in a non-work setting? Do they sail or garden or juggle? Get creative. One man seeking contact with several CEOs rented homing pigeons and had them delivered in boxes with notes saying, "I would very much like to meet you to discuss xyz. If this would be convenient for you, please release the pigeon. If not, you may keep it as my gift." As you might expect, all the pigeons flew home and several of the CEOs agreed to meet with him, amused by his audacious approach.

Seek results, instead of comfort. Get personal. It is much less confronting to do the usual job search activities such as posting your resume online. Since we are programmed to avoid discomfort, we often keep doing the same comfortable things over and over. In job hunting, the least comfortable activities are usually the most effective.

Don't quit. An effective job search takes time. You will almost certainly face rejection, possibly many times before you land the job you want. Defuse this by realizing that you will hear "no" many times before you hear "yes." People who usually get what they want have a simple secret: they keep making requests. Often the sequence goes like this: no, no, no, no, no, YES.