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Developing confidence

Section image for Confidence and Motivation - woman walking along an arrow pointing up, implying she will go on a positive journey forward

This section has been designed to help you recognise, understand and deal with some of the wide-ranging issues relating to confidence often experienced by jobseekers aged 50+.

Each customer you deal with is different and, as such, the levels of confidence will vary from person to person. In some cases you may be working with someone who outwardly appears confident, but may have some underlying issues affecting their confidence. It is, therefore, important to understand the key drivers affecting confidence among 50+ customers in order to take the most effective approach to help move them forward.

Underlying issues affecting confidence

The feeling of loss affects confidence and can be triggered by a number of different events. Losing a job is a traumatic, life-changing event that can severely affect an individual’s confidence, even more so in later life. Often, 50+ jobseekers think they are no longer of use, have no skills to offer or believe their skills are industry-specific.

Losing a job can also mean a loss of identity and status, particularly for individuals aged 50+. Many will be defined by their job and more likely than younger adults to have been in the same job/industry for a considerable number of years. This is particularly true for older men.

Dealing with significant personal change, such as being made unemployed, is a major event in an individual’s life. There are other ‘life’ events that can also affect confidence, for example: bereavement of a spouse/partner or parent, a serious personal illness, divorce/separation, family growing up and leaving home, and generally coping with the thought of getting older.

Financial security may be a contributing factor impacting on 50+ jobseekers, with many uncertain as to how they will continue to ‘make ends meet’ in later life.

Learning needs, such as dyslexia and literacy/numeracy issues, can go undetected particularly for workers aged 50+ who have been involved in more manual or physical jobs. Over the years they may have developed coping mechanisms which have hidden these underlying conditions.

Mental health related illnesses, such as depression, can be triggered by a life-changing event, such as being made redundant. In some instances this can go un-diagnosed and may not be immediately evident to you as an adviser.

Health can deteriorate as we get older. There is, therefore, a greater likelihood of an underlying health issue emerging which affects an individual’s confidence to continue working.

Job searching experiences are also likely to vary significantly. For some, it may be that the last job they had to apply for was 20 or even 30+ years ago (particularly 50+ jobseekers who worked in the public or financial sectors). For others, their experience may be more up to date. It is therefore important to understand the confidence issues around re-entering the labour market now compared to 20/30 years ago.

Barriers to do with re-training are often due to a poor self-perception of an individual's ability to learn new skills. ‘I’m too old to learn’ is a phrase many individuals have been telling themselves, or have heard from others, and are now of the mindset that they are past being able to learn or develop new skills. A key challenge is changing this mindset.

Prior educational and learning experiences are also likely to vary significantly. For many, their last formal educational experience will be secondary school, while for others training and development, or Continuous Professional Development activity, will have played some part in their working careers, although participation may have been imposed/directed by their employer.

Once you have established a clear understanding of the confidence issues affecting your customer, you can begin to work with them to help them address the issues they may have. Some suggestions that may help you to achieve improving the confidence of 50+ jobseekers can be found here.

Suggestions for improving confidence

Consistency of adviser / trainer: In order to build trust, rapport and mutual understanding, it is crucially important that the same person deals with the customer. This may seem a simple point; however, the value of building a relationship with your customer will be crucial in gaining their trust.

Empathy and understanding: A customer-centred approach (where the customer makes the decisions) where you employ effective listening and empathise with the situation of your customer is an important step in relationship building. You should try to appear non-judgemental, open and positive.

Reflecting on past experiences: By encouraging your customer to reflect on past work, learning and personal experiences, confidence can be greatly enhanced. Often, individuals will remember skills and learning experiences that they had participated in, which they had either forgotten or felt were no longer relevant.

Carrying out a skills analysis: A simple skills analysis which encourages your customer to write down and list the different skills they have gained over their working / personal life can be a powerful tool in building confidence. It also helps them to see the skills they have that can be transferred from one job to another. This visual representation helps them see the wealth of skills, knowledge and experience they have gained over a period of time.

Preparing a CV: The skills analysis exercise can also help your customer build a strong CV. For many, it will be the first time they have had to create one, so explaining the different types of CV, such as functional and skills-based, will be of real benefit to them.

Job searching techniques: You may find that some customers you deal with have recently left a job that they had been in for a number of years. It is, therefore, worthwhile establishing their knowledge of current recruitment practices. Explaining how to complete an application form for a position which has a person specification may be completely new, so spend the time to help your customer learn. Support in preparing for an interview can also help build confidence.

Identifying suitable learning opportunities: Finding learning and development opportunities that meet the needs of the customer is crucial to developing confidence. The consequences of matching the customer with learning that does not suit their needs or interests can lead to complete disengagement.

Volunteering: Volunteering can help 50+ customers gain new skills and feel they are able to make a contribution, thus improving their self esteem and building their confidence.

The following case study illustrates how a woman who had not worked for 30 years was helped to build her confidence and find a job.

Case study 1: developing confidence (Seetec)

Krystyna (58) came to the employment service, Seetec, in January 2010. She had very little work history as she had been raising her family and then caring for a parent for more than 30 years. When her mother's health deteriorated and she moved into a care home, Krystyna was no longer able to claim the Carer's Allowance and was transferred to Jobseeker's Allowance.

It was a particularly worrying time for her. "I didn't think I would be an employable person to be honest," she said. "My employment history was effectively zero and I thought my age - I was 58 then, 59 now - would be against me."

Yet thanks to an adviser who was able to identify her potential and gradually raise her levels of confidence, she succeeded in finding a job within five months. She had considerable obstacles to overcome: in addition to her lack of employment history, she had no formal qualifications and no IT skills. She was also looking for a job in a recession and was competing against candidates who had work experience. At the time Krystyna joined the employment service, she was suffering from depression and had to attend hospital appointments every three months.

Krystyna participated actively in all the modules Hounslow Seetec was running. These included computer skills, confidence-building, CV writing, how to look for work, and interview techniques. Apart from the courses, she had the opportunity to practise her IT skills in Seetec's centre on her own. Initially, her focus was just on learning. She always achieved her monthly objectives which led to an increase in confidence and an improvement in her health.

She also benefited from the interaction with other people on the courses and within a few weeks Krystyna was building good working relationships and her communication skills improved. In turn, Krystyna's attitude changed. A confident woman emerged who wasn't afraid to voice her opinions.

Krystyna was shown amongst other things how to search for jobs, attach emails and tailor her CV. She wrote down stage by stage what to do so she would be ready the next time to do it herself. She absorbed information and showed a real willingness to learn. She did some research on the job market with her caseworker, looking at the types of jobs that were being advertised to see if there was anything that interested her. She thought she might like to become an interior designer but subsequently acknowledged it was an aspirational ambition.

Her caseworker explored what Krystyna liked doing in her free time. Krystyna mentioned visiting her mother in her care home and that she enjoyed talking to the residents and brightening up their day. Her caseworkers then suggested she might like to try some voluntary work and that she should approach the care home to ask about the possibility of an unpaid placement there. After a few weeks of volunteering her confidence soared. With a little encouragement from her caseworker, she asked if a permanent paid position was available. Unfortunately there were no vacancies there at the time.

Krystyna continued to apply for jobs in the care sector and was soon invited to an interview for the role of Activity Coordinator at a new care home. Her case worker held a mock interview to help her improve her interview skills. Krystyna ran through the interview about five times, taking on board everything her caseworker mentioned from tone of voice to answering the type of questions posed in competency based interviews. Although the care home manager who interviewed Krystyna felt she needed some with more experience for the Activity Co-ordinator role, she felt that Krystyna showed such passion and enthusiasm that she offered her the assistant position instead.

Krystyna thoroughly enjoys her new work: "I play games with the residents, motivate them, reminisce and do sing-songs. The level of activity is tailored to the resident's condition. If I can do lively things with them, I will. With others I take a gentler approach. It's very challenging, very interesting."

Against all the odds, Krystyna achieved what she would have thought hardly possible some months earlier. By working with her case worker in setting appropriate achievable goals, building on them and taking a step by step approach, Krystyna won her first interview and job offer in over 30 years.

You may also be interested to read the following case study of a 50+ jobseeker who became unemployed but was encouraged to explore her interests and evaluate her skills. She has now re-entered the labour market working in a different sector.

Case study 2: developing confidence

Jane had successfully owned her own business, a café, for over 25 years and was actively involved in the day-to-day operations until a serious health issue was diagnosed. The condition was directly linked to years of working in a kitchen and she was advised that she could no longer continue working in this environment. Eventually, Jane was forced to sell her business. Having been divorced for a number of years and in her early 50s, her personal circumstances dictated that, financially, she would have to continue working.

Jane discovered a programme that offered support in helping unemployed adults over the age of 50 to explore their potential and assist them back into employment. She initially felt that she had no skills or experience and was beginning to really worry about what employment opportunities were available to her. The programme encouraged her to look at the skills she used in running her own business. Before long, she had a list that included dealing with the public, customer service, marketing and promotion, recruiting and managing staff, dealing with complaints, as well as an array of financial skills.

This helped build Jane’s confidence and shaped her CV as well as a number of job applications. She also started to think about what she enjoyed doing in her spare time and realised that the tourism sector was something she would be interested in exploring further. She applied to work in a local hotel as a breakfast assistant. However, her employer was so impressed that she was offered a supervisory position due to her wealth of experience. Jane worked in the job for around six months and continued to learn about and develop her personal interest: becoming a tour guide.

Having continued to pursue her ideal job, Jane is currently working as a tour guide for a local tourist attraction, where she thoroughly enjoys meeting and guiding tourists and gains a great deal of satisfaction from the work she does.

The case study below describes the approach an adviser took to help a 52 year old woman who had been out of work for more than five years following an anxiety-related breakdown develop her confidence and find a job that interested her.

Case study 3: developing confidence (TNG)

Bernadette, 52, had been out of work for five and a half years, due largely to an anxiety-related breakdown she had suffered. She had been on different types of medication which had not helped her feel confident about going back to work. Bernadette felt very low, wasn't keen to interact with anyone and her self esteem was at rock bottom.

She was referred to New Deal but was extremely worried that she would not be able to cope with group induction. Her Jobcentre Plus adviser rang ahead to explain this and it was agreed that Bernadette's induction would take place as a one-to-one session with an adviser and she could see how things went from there.

When Bernadette arrived she was greeted by Helena and they sat down in a side room to discuss what being on New Deal would mean for her and how Helena could help. Bernadette felt immediately at ease as Helena had a kind nature but, more importantly to Bernadette, she was a similar age. They discussed what the job market was like for people aged 50+ and Bernadette left feeling more at ease because she understood that she wasn't too old to go back to work and that employers would look at her skills rather than her age.

Bernadette discussed the retail work she had done in the past but said that because she was taking anti-depressants she didn't feel able to cope with work that involved dealing with people .They talked about the kind of work she would like and Bernadette said that perhaps she could consider working with animals as she has always had pets and loved programmes like Animal Hospital. Helena arranged to see Bernadette again the following week and asked her to see if she could go to her GP in the meantime to talk about going back to work and to ask to have her medication reviewed.

When Bernadette returned, she seemed livelier and had made a decision to try to find work, but she said she needed Helena's help. She had also discussed her medication with her GP and he had decided to reduce her dosage. Over the next few weeks Helena worked with Bernadette, setting her little tasks to build her confidence. These tasks included getting her to plan bus journeys to parts of the city she would be prepared to work in, talking to friends and neighbours about any jobs they knew about, and also to ask in shops if they had any vacancies. Although a little nervous at first, Bernadette worked at the tasks and they slowly built her confidence around interacting with people in new situations.

After a time Bernadette asked to attend one of the CV building workshops which really surprised Helena as she had been so against the idea when she first joined the programme. After the session, Bernadette started to look for placements and managed to get one helping out at a dog grooming parlour. After she had been there a while she told Helena how happy she was and how she felt she was getting back "on top of life". Helena looked for jobs for Bernadette while she was on placement and after several interviews Bernadette found a job working at a pet shop. Bernadette was excited about starting work as she felt she was back in control and could "see a future for herself for the first time in ages".

Bernadette is still in work two years later and has persuaded the pet shop she works in to take people on placement as she knows how much it helped her.


This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.