Maintain your network and don’t neglect the personal touch. By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor July 5, 2011 The employment market’s recent fits and starts are straining the economy and the patience of job seekers. But none more than the long-term unemployed (officially defined as those without a job for 27 weeks or more), who struggle to rise to the top of candidate pools as their skills degrade or fail to match today’s demands. Some employers have blatantly excluded people who are not currently working from consideration for job openings, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is examining the practice as possible job discrimination.Take our quiz: Will You Ace Your Next Job Interview? Steve Roche, 60, knows the challenges well. Roche, who lives in Davis, Cal., has been through two bouts of unemployment since late 2007, lasting a total of about two years. Despite the extent of his sales experience, potential employers often told him he wasn’t the right fit. “It’s really frustrating,” he says. “I know that a lot of people are going through the same thing.” See our slide show: 10 Jobs That Didn't Exist a Decade Ago Advertisement Surviving a long search requires maintaining confidence, which will help project a positive attitude in interviews, says career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman. Stay busy. Volunteer or take classes and tell potential employers what you’ve been doing. Keep your network current, and be flexible about jobs you pursue. Don’t underestimate the personal touch. Roche hand-delivered his résumé and letters of recommendation to a manager at Wingfoot Commercial Tire Systems -- and started a job there in May.