The financial meltdown shaking the economy from Wall Street to Main Street has dealt a staggering blow to millions of Americans nearing retirement or already in retirement.

With nest eggs already having lost an estimated $2 trillion, a growing number of would-be retirees are contemplating remaining in or returning to the workplace, employment experts say.

The good news is that older workers are finding jobs just as quickly as their younger counterparts, as companies recognize the value and effectiveness of employing experienced workers who have seen their share of downturns, according to John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

"The key to job search success for these seasoned job seekers is to get back in the market as quickly as possible," said Challenger. "The longer they wait, the more competitive it will become. Unemployment is going to get worse before it gets better. Fewer jobs and more people vying for the same job means there is no time to delay."

Unlike the downturn stemming from the dot-com collapse, which seemed to have a more profound impact on the younger generation of workers who were employed and invested in these firms, the investment banking and housing collapse may affect older Americans disproportionately, due to the fact that their retirement nest eggs are concentrated in their homes, pensions, 401k plans and stock portfolios.

The value of defined-benefit pension plans has fallen by 15 percent, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Account balances among 401(k) participants have shrunk between 7.2 and 11.2 percent, according to an analysis of more than 2 million plans by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The CBO reports that Americans have seen about $2 trillion disappear from their retirement savings.

Even before the recent increase in Wall Street volatility, America's aging workers were altering their retirement plans. An April survey by AARP found that 20 percent of 55- to- 64-year-olds, and 25 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds, planned to delay retirement because of the economic downturn.

"That percentage has likely skyrocketed in recent weeks as the financial crisis reached new heights and the stock market plunged. It could take three to five years, if not longer, for retirement accounts to regain their value. This means many older workers will be putting off retiring for at least that long," said Challenger.

Challenger pointed out that staying in the workforce is not as simple as going to your human resources department to announce that you will be canceling your retirement plans. It is even more difficult for the already-retired to reenter the workplace. Challenger provided the following advice:

How Older Workers Can Find/Keep a Job

Consult Your Employer Immediately
If your employer expects you to end your service with the company soon due to retirement, she needs to know your plans have changed. Inform superiors immediately that you have decided to continue working. Your bosses may be interviewing for your replacement, if they have not found one already.

Do Not Get Identified as a Member of the Old Guard
In some cases, workers nearing retirement begin to detach from their jobs and co-workers. Sometimes a new management team or boss takes over. Being perceived as part of the old guard by the new regime could be highly damaging. In fact, not being liked by your boss could be the single most important reason people are discharged, not their lack of skills and abilities. You must get along with members of the new team. It will not continue automatically; you must consciously work at developing new relationships, even if the people in charge are younger than you.

Emphasize Commitment and Corporate Memory
When you decide to tell your employer you do not wish to retire, you will have to prove why they should keep you on. Show your commitment. Have ready multiple examples of how much company specific knowledge you possess and why it would take years for a new hire to build up that understanding of how the organization really works. Stress the wide-ranging and congenial relationships you have with people throughout the company system.

Stress Relevant Experience And Willingness To Expand.
Your employer should feel that you can continue your current position, as well as possibly taking on new tasks. It is important to convince your boss that you are highly creative and flexible and that age has nothing to do with learning new concepts and accepting new ways of doing things.

Dismantle the Myths.
Older job seekers should face the fact that they will probably be interviewing with someone who may be 10, 20 or even 30 years their junior. These individuals will have their own preconceptions or prejudices about older individuals that could taint their view of the candidate before the interview ever starts, which may include:

• Older people are sick more and take more leave.

• They are set in their ways and therefore cannot be trained.

• Younger workers and older workers will clash.

• They are only looking ahead to the day they can permanently retire.

Employers are not permitted to ask questions that pertain to age, but the questions may still exist in the mind of the interviewer.

How To Sell Yourself

Demonstrate Your Flexibility And Creativity.
You want to counteract stereotypes that suggest older workers do not have imagination. Talk to your employer about ways you can solve problems and develop ideas to make your employer more money or be more competitive.

Look and Act Young.
Everyone knows people who are 50 who look and act as if they are 65 and people who are 65 who look and act as if they are 50. Dress in currently fashionable clothes and show enthusiasm for the opportunity. Exhibit a sense of excitement and energy, traits that younger individuals do not always show.

Stay Current and Embrace Technology.
Do not appear as if the world has passed you by. When deciding to keep your position, it will be helpful if you are up-to-date on current technology and new applications. If you do not have at least a rudimentary understanding of computers and how they work, take a class at night. Employers do not expect to spend a lot of time teaching employees how to use computers.

Get Yourself Noticed.
Consider this idea: Find out what your supervisor's favorite civic or charitable activities are and volunteer to work for those organizations. That will bring you into regular contact with the supervisor in a non-job situation, which should increase your visibility and give you additional opportunities to make a favorable impression. Developing some shared experiences off the job will be a definite plus for you.

Be Accommodating.
Throughout the interview process, do your best to accommodate the schedule of the interviewer. This may mean meeting early in the morning, in the evening or even on the weekend. The job seeker who says he/she cannot come in for an interview after hours will screen himself or herself out of the interview process immediately, regardless of age. It sends the message that once on the job he/she will not be willing to put in extra hours to get the work done.

What Not To Do

• Do not apologize or act defensive. Never again say the following: "Nobody really wants to hire someone my age." You cannot have a defeatist attitude or it will show during the interview. Employers want to hire people who are confident about themselves and their abilities, regardless of age.

• Do not lead with your resume. It might show that you graduated from college before your interviewer was even born. Try to get the interview based on your experience and what you can offer the company. You cannot omit dates from the resume or stop the chronology early. It is a red flag to employers that something is amiss in your work history and will prompt questions from the interviewer. The goal is that by the time the interviewer asks to see your resume, you will have already won him or her over and age will not be an issue.

• Do not tell the interviewer you took early retirement. You do not want to give the impression that you are thinking of retiring in a few years. First, it reminds them that you are older and second, that the idea of retirement is more important than the job for which you are interviewing.

• Do not mention accomplishments from more than 10 years ago -- unless they are extraordinary or the only example of experience you possess that meet the employer's needs. If you do mention a past accomplishment, talk about it as if it happened today.

• Do not talk down to, patronize, or become convinced that you could not work for a younger manager. You do not want to make the interviewer feel that you are better than he or she. If you have a problem working for someone younger than yourself, resolve this conflict immediately because odds are the jobs you are interviewing for involve working for people who are younger than yourself. It is a reality you have to accept and deal with properly. Leave your ego at the door.