"There's better than an 80 percent chance," says Kane, "that your next position is going to come from someone you know." Joining a trade or professional association, a job ministry at church, or the National Association for Female Executives will help you stay connected and up-to-date in your field.
Both O'Brien and Kane say that if you're worried about coming off "too old," it's likely others will start to worry as well. Leave short skirts to the 28-year-olds, but learn the new computer programs, technology, and industry standards as they evolve.
If you're planning to raise children, consider working part-time, reducing office responsibilities, or creating other flexible options with your employer, advises Sylvia Ann Hewlett, PhD, founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York City. Her research, published this year in the Harvard Business Review, found that white-collar women's salaries decreased an average of 18 percent when returning to work after two-year leaves. "If they're out three years or more," says Hewlett, "the penalty goes up to 37 percent."
Organizations such as 40 Plus (www.40plus.org) and Gray Hair Management (www.grayhairmanagement.com) are set up to help mature professionals find employment. If you suspect you've been the victim of age discrimination and want to file charges, start by going to the EEOC (eeoc.gov). Recent laws have made it easier to protect your rights as an older worker.