In the not-so-distant past, being laid off meant getting a nice severance package and taking a few months off to relax before stepping into a new opportunity. These days there is no guarantee that you will receive severance pay and landing a comparable position often takes much longer than expected. Just ask the 1.7 million Americans who are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 99 weeks.

Long-term unemployment impacts workers of all ages but older workers, those over 55, have been hit hardest. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, older workers make up more than half of the long-term unemployed. To make matters worse, a multitude of surveys and reports indicate many employers are steering clear of candidates who have been out of work for extended periods.

We have two choices. We can give up (many have done just that) or we can take action to avoid becoming another grim statistic. We can all take hope from the fact that people find good jobs after extended unemployment.

Tom Gaul is an example of someone who made a comeback after a long, hard search.

He landed his new sales position through networking. He is working with a great group of people at Zila, a dental products manufacturer in Fort Collins.

Many people know Gaul through his involvement at NoCoNet. “I went to my first meeting at the urging of a neighbor. I didn’t know a soul in the business community. After my NoCoNet experience, that has all changed. I now know a heck of a lot of people and have many companies in my network.”

“To be honest, I initially thought that networking with other job searchers would be a waste of time. It turns out that we all had unique skills and goals and we could learn from each other.”

Tom eventually served as the Employer Liaison Chair. “My recommendation, if you care to hear it, join the committees. You’ll get to know five to 10 people very well, talk business talk, be assigned or pick duties in the local area to represent NoCoNet, and commiserate with some amazing folks.”

Tom admits he had other lessons to learn. “I had never written a resume or been in a formal interview. Like many others, I was hired into my former position through a recommendation and promoted within the organization. I did not know how to target my cover letter or resume to a specific employer or position. Even with a solid sales background, it took some time to learn how to market my skills to potential employers.”

Too many candidates are using the same resume, sometimes for years on end, without changing a single word on the page. This “one-size fits all” approach does not work. Recruiters quickly spot serious candidates who are taking the time to speak directly to an opportunity vs. those who are throwing resume spaghetti at the wall to see if it will stick.

As the months passed, Tom recognized that. “Getting hired would require being excellent at every step of the process. My elevator speech needed to be great. My attitude needed to be positive. To land a job requires the entire package to be pretty near perfect.”

“Initially I was over-confident. Then I realized that I was competing against people one to two levels above me in seniority or experience. I began to approach every opportunity knowing that there would be at least 10 other candidates just as good, if not better, than me applying for the position.”

“I liken this to the professional athlete who practices for many hours each week in order to touch the ball for maybe 60 seconds in a game. I needed to bring this level of dedication to my job search. I needed to spend up to 10 hours preparing for a one-hour interview.”

How can we play an A-game when we are burdened by emotional and financial stress? Many job-searchers think they have their emotional baggage in check. In reality, unresolved emotional issues simply cannot be hidden from the world.

Alan Sherwood, author and broadcast host of “Successfully Unemployed,” sees the issue as “a downward spiral of self-confidence. The longer we are unemployed, the lower we sink into doubt and discouragement. I frequently speak to people who are frustrated because they have sent out 40 or 50 resumes to well-suited positions. They hear nothing. The real problem is they are not conducting an effective strategic search into the hidden job market.”

Keep in mind that the general rule of thumb is that for every 10 targeted resumes sent out, you should land one interview. If you are not seeing similar results, your resumes needs improving. For every three or four interviews, you should get at least one job offer. If this is not the case, then your interviewing skills are not up to par.

It is easy to blame age, the economy and black-hole recruiting processes but doing so keeps job-searchers stuck. Learn from and respond to the feedback, as well as the lack of feedback, that colleagues, career advisors and potential employers are providing. Continually polish, refine and adjust your search skills in order to be noticed.

Sherwood agrees: “Most of the time people will say they have tried everything to find a job. When I probe a little deeper, it becomes obvious they are spending the majority of their time applying for posted positions. They may have filled out countless applications but are not networking to build a bridge to a targeted list of employers. A key part of job searching is building relationships with people who will champion for our success or serve as an introduction with hiring managers. You want to discover the available or anticipated jobs that are unadvertised.”

The emotional readiness and tactical skills necessary to navigate a job search are complex and challenging. We are expected to project confidence, courage and charisma. We are supposed to write compelling online profiles and readily spout quantifiable achievement statements. It can be overwhelming.

Seek out the support you need to process residual feelings of grief and loss before you step foot on the playing field. Weigh the cost-benefits of investing in professional career counseling vs. learning job search skills on your own. Most importantly, never give up.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

Carrie Pinsky is a Fort Collins-based career and HR advisor. She can be reached at carrie@pinkskywriting.com.