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Six ways career counsellors can help clients who are struggling with motivation


By Larry Robbin

Individuals who face barriers to employment sometimes struggle with motivation during their job search. This population may include people who have been recently incarcerated, at-risk youth and the long-term unemployed. While they have many strengths, their lack of motivation can be a barrier to success.

One common characteristic of this population is their lack of vocational self-efficacy, which refers to how people see themselves in the world of work. They often believe that they have no place in the world of work. It is very important to prove to them that people coming from similar circumstances are in fact being hired to combat their negative self-talk.

Learning about people who were once just like them, but are now working and enjoying it, can help motivate job seekers struggling to overcome barriers. These role models are your most powerful allies in helping to increase employment motivation. There are a variety of ways to use them as a resource.

  • Ask former clients to speak with current clients about how they found success: They could participate in an informational interview over the phone or in person. You could have them speak with people in a job club or job search workshop.
  • Develop a mentoring program pairing former clients with current job seekers: A formal mentoring program pairing current program participants with working alumni who share a similar background can help change the perspective of people who are resistant to looking for work.
  • Conduct video interviews with your working alumni: They can talk about their struggle to change their negative thinking around work and the benefits of going to work. Show these videos in your orientation, group and individual sessions. Engage people watching the videos in a dialogue about the connections between their lives and the lives of the alumni.
  • Create a hall of fame of successful former clients: With their permission, display photos and stories of successful clients in your lobby or office. Take job seekers on a tour of this gallery and talk about what influenced these people to reinvent their lives. Refer to these people as you do your employment counselling. This will give your clients proof that people just like them went to work and that it changed their lives for the better.
  • Tell stories instead of giving lectures: Share moving and powerful stories of people’s struggles and successes on their pathway to employment. This strategy will work for all your clients, but it will be especially powerful for people who come from cultures where information is passed on by storytelling.
  • Design a ritual to celebrate people who receive job offers: For people who are not working, seeing people like themselves get jobs can have a profound impact on raising their vocational self-efficacy, which can lead to increased employment motivation. The ritual should be celebratory and get across the message that people are being hired. Participants who have received job offers could receive a certificate signed by a local elected official, gift cards donated by local businesses and congratulatory cards signed by staff. They could talk about their journey to employment and invite family and friends to listen.


One reason people who face barriers to employment can have negative attitudes toward work is their lack of positive vocational role models. They often live in communities with high levels of unemployment and they have been cut off from the labor market. They often face discrimination. Substance abuse, mental-health issues, disabilities and a lack of good schools can also contribute to their situation. If workforce programs and career development practitioners draw on the power of role models, a great deal of vocational progress will take place.

Larry Robbin, Executive Director of Robbin and Associates, has over 45 years of experience in workforce development.  He has worked with over 1,000 workforce organizations and trained more than 100,000 people.  He was the keynote speaker at the British Columbia Career Development Association Annual Conference. To get free job seeker handouts, his free newsletter and resources, go to  You can email him at

Lindsay Purchase

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