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Overcoming Being Over 55 When Job-Seeking

Finding a job is tough enough these days, but it's even harder, now or anytime, when you're over 55.

The conclusion of The Early Show's "Job Squad" series Friday examined the higher hurdles such workers have to jump over, through the story of Diana Schuman, a 63-year-old from Dover, N.H. who was laid off after 42 years as a teacher.

Consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen pointed out that more than a million people older than 55 are currently looking for work. Many say they're not ready to retire -- but most say they still need a paycheck.

For Schuman, Koeppen notes, teaching was not just a job it was a passion.

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"I love making or helping people be better than they are in the moment," Schuman says.

And it wasn't something she thought she would leave anytime soon. "I figured I was going to be one of those people that I would know when the time was right," she says.

But school-wide budget cuts took the decision out of her hands. "My position was eliminated effective June 30, 2008," Schuman recalls.

And, early in her job search, Diana the teacher learned some hard lessons very quickly.

"The likelihood is that there's someone else who they're interviewing that, even if they're on the very same salary level as I am , are younger. Or the very minimum, they're cheaper. So they're gonna hire the other person unless I probably walked on water," Schuman observes.

In fact, age discrimination claims have soared 29 percent in the past year alone, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"We're such a youth-oriented society that older workers is not the first thing that a company, when they're doing some hiring, is thinking about," says Gene Burnard, who runs Workforce50 -- a Website that specializes in helping older workers get back into the game.

What are some of the myths about older workers?

"Older workers are not up-to-date on technology," Burnard responded, naming one myth. "Older workers don't relate well with younger workers. ... There's 49 myths about older workers. And I'd say 48 of 'em are debunked."

To help Diana with her mission, we sent Diana her very own Job Squad:

  • Kit Harrington Hayes, a career coach
  • Hugh Delehanty, a technology expert.
  • Katrina Szish, an image consultant
  • Marc Freedman, a financial planner

    First task: Fix those finances.

    That's where Freedman came in.

    "We need sure," he told Diana and her husband, "we're accumulating an emergency fund that's equal to three, six, nine months of your day-to-day expenses."

    Marc took a look at the Schumans' expenses and savings and found that, in taking care of their family, they hadn't taken care of their future.

    "To fulfill the spending lifestyle that you want, you at some point are going to need to rely on the equity of your home to support your lifestyle. ... And unfortunately, one of the things you can't do is just yank a window out of your house, bring it down to the bank, and turn it in for cash."

    Freedman crunched the numbers and told the Schumans that, if things didn't change soon, they'd have to downsize.

    Next step: revamp that resume!

    "I wanted to create a vision of you or little marketing piece for you," Harrington Hayes told Diana.

    Her current resume was a three-fold pamphlet,

    "It was gonna be so unconventional that a lot of employers might not just take the time to figure out what's here," Harrington Hayes says.

    She reworked Diana's resume to maximize her leadership roles, and minimize her age, putting her skills at the top of the resume and her actual employment history further down.

    "The whole point," Harrington Hays stressed, "is to compel that reader to read the rest of the resume to draw them into the resume."

    Next up: standing out from the pack.

    Enter Delehanty.

    "What you need to develop is a sense of really focusing what you want to say about yourself in a very kinda compact package," he told Dianna.

    To do that, he helped her put together a video resume to help her clarify her skills in a concise and hip way. It wasn't easy -- there were plenty of stumbles along the way, all caught on tape! -- but they got it done, with Dianna describing herself as a "self-directed team player. I'm known for my enthusiasm."

    Last step: revamping that look.

    Szish took it from one Diana said she'd be comfortable with in church to one appropriate for an interview -- from comfortable to ready-to-hire chic -- with clothes from Macy's Herald Square.

    And after three months with the Job Squad, Diana was rewired to be rehired!!

    On The Early Show Friday, Koeppen told co-anchor Harry Smith it was Diana's birthday the other day and she's calling it a rebirth.

    Diana said doing the video resume was "really, really tough. Some of that was the fact that I really don't like having my picture taken, but a lot of it was the fact that where I've got such a broad skill set, and I'm really just mission-oriented, that I didn't have the 30-second elevator pitch" -- that concise description of why an employer should hire her.

    Now willing to step out of the classroom setting, Diana said she's also stepping out of old, restrictive patterns. She told of how she recently went right up to the president of a company at a breakfast and introduced herself -- the day after she'd hand-delivered her resume to his assistant -- something she never would have done before the Job Squad did its thing with her.