(CareerBuilder.com) -- There's no question that job searching gets harder after the age of 50. Although age discrimination is illegal, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Many employers have pre-conceived notions about older workers. Among the most common: Their salaries are high, their energy is low and they're not up-to-date on the latest technologies.
"Recruiters and companies are definitely less interested in hiring people -- regardless of how strong their career has been -- when they reach the age of 50," says Tucker Mays, co-author of the book "Fired at 50: How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge." "Many are considered, by this age, to be inflexible in their management style -- that they're not going to be able to adjust to, say, smaller companies if they're coming from a larger company. Or if they've been with a company for a long period of time and are now leaving, that they're just going to be doing things the way that one company had trained them for all those years."
If you're over the age of 50, the key to a successful job search is not only to disprove the negative stereotypes that exist, but to show employers the benefits your extra years of experience can bring to the table.
Countering the age bias
There are a number of ways job seekers over 50 can mitigate employers' subconscious, age-related stereotypes says Bob Sloane, Mays' "Fired at 50" co-author.
Foremost, he says, it's essential to make a good first impression. "It's so important for [job seekers over 50] to keep in shape, both in order to make that really great first impression and to demonstrate that they have the energy which is often unfairly expected that they won't. They have to exude that energy."
If you don't already, Mays and Sloane suggest exercising regularly. "Walking, jogging and weekend athletic activities have been proven to increase metabolism, cognitive ability and physical appearance," they write in "Fired at 50."
Also important is emphasizing a flexible management style, technological proficiency, ability to learn new skills and the willingness to work for a younger boss. "Very often today it's going to be likely that somebody over 50 will be interviewing with a prospective boss who is considerably younger," Sloane notes.
Before going into an interview, come up with concrete examples of how you've mastered new technologies, how you've worked with and for younger generations, and how your management style has developed through the years.
Proving your worth
After decades in the workforce, older workers possess life skills, talent and abilities that younger workers don't have. Emphasizing these strengths can set experienced job seekers apart.
"We cite four great strengths that you develop over time that give 50+ job seekers a superior advantage over younger individuals," Mays says. "They are problem solving skills, people management ability, good judgment and leadership. Experienced workers are usually able to solve problems faster by identifying them quicker and finding the right ways to solve them, for example. They can use their success stories in these four key areas to help prove their age is an asset."
Conducting a successful job search
Many 50+ job seekers are finding themselves in a job search for the first time in years -- even decades. If you fall into this category, and are unsure how to go about your job search, consider the following.
Expand your network
Job seekers over 50 often have well-developed professional networks. Leveraged correctly, your network can drastically reduce the time you spend looking for a job.
Sloane and Mays believe that your network is best used not to find connections to jobs, but to find connections to other people.
"[Finding a job] is really a matter of time management and how job seekers spend their time, and our advice is to spend the most time on productive job search methods while de-emphasizing less-productive channels," Sloane says. "What that really means is they need to spend 80 percent of their time networking to individuals they did not already know, prior to their search. It is all a matter of getting referrals — you want to get through the people you already know to get their help to meet people you've never met before."
Sloane suggests building up your networking efforts until you're meeting or connecting with 100 new contacts per month, and to continue at that level until they find a job. "I know that sounds like a very lofty level, but with the use of some social networking tools, like LinkedIn in particular, it is easier nowadays to accelerate your networking because you can get to new people on a broader basis faster," he says.
Focus on small companies
The best place to look for jobs if you're over 50? Small companies, Mays says.
"The reasons [to focus on smaller companies] are first, that there are 20 times as many small companies -- those with sales of under $100 million — in America as there are above $100 million, which means there are many more opportunities in that space. Secondly, those companies seem to be far less concerned about age, and in many cases they really prefer and like individuals with great experience who can help them with their business."
Hang in there
In today's economy, the job search is taking longer for people of all ages, so it's important not to give up hope. As Sloane and Mays point out in their book, "There are over 13,000,000 companies in America. You only need one, and one always needs you." Hang in there.
© CareerBuilder.com 2011. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.