Restarting work in your 50s

Allen & Overy have been running a unique programme for men and women over 50 who are struggling to get back to work.

Group of varying age women sitting chatting and smiling


Long-term unemployment in your 50s can have a damaging impact on self-confidence and mental health. A unique return to work programme aims to counter this and give people the skills they need to get back on their feet. 

Run by international law firm Allen & Overy, the ReStart programme targets the over 50 group living in London who have been unemployed for between six months and a year. Through workshops, business mentoring and digital modules, participants are supported to rediscover strengths and to build the knowledge, skills and confidence to help them get back into work.

The first programme was run in 2017 and has run every year since between February and April. It is now looking for new recruits for the next session.

ReStart is a community programme rather than a recruitment one. The aim is to make a difference to those who are finding it hard to get back to work rather than guarantee jobs at the end of it.

There have been some striking success stories since it started. For instance, one woman who took part had lost her parents in quick succession and then her job as a PA as she struggled to come to terms with her bereavement. Within two weeks of doing the programme she had agencies fighting over her. She is now working for a law firm and feels back in control of her life. “The transformation can be amazing,” says Sue Wisbey, Community Investment Manager at Allen & Overy who set up the programme.

Men and women attending the programme come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience. They include a personal trainer who was looking to move into a different job as she got older, but had no relevant office experience. Through the programme she was able to see the transferable skills she had. That diverse mix of people is important as it shows participants that they are not alone and that many others are in the same position as them, even if they were a former CEO. “It makes people feel it’s not just them,” says Wisbey.

She adds that participants need to live within one hour’s commuting distance from the firm’s London office because they have to attend not just the four all-day workshops, but meet up with their coach and mentor in between.

Skills building

Some of the issues that come up at the workshops are experiences of ageism, even if it is not intentional. Participants may have found it difficult to even get an interview or have been told they are overqualified. “It’s a very difficult place to be,” says Wisbey who has had years of working with the long-term unemployed. She says that, unlike most returner programmes, ReStart is focused on building people’s skills and confidence, for instance, teaching them how to use LinkedIn effectively and how to tailor their application for each job. 

One of the most popular elements of the programme is the one to one professional coaching which helps people to think through different aspects of their lives and how they might come across in interviews. The mentors provide a fresh pair of eyes and encouragement to try sectors they might not have thought of. Previous participants also come back to talk to the new cohorts.

In the first year, over 50% of participants found a job within three months, but Wisbey says it can be variable. “Unfortunately, no-one can just wave a magic wand and find someone a job. People have to have the right mindset and be open to change. We can provide the support, guidance and tools, but no-one can do it for them,” she says.

Since it started there have been several tweaks to the programme. There were, for example, 40 people in the first cohort, which was deemed too many and there are now around 30. There are four workshop sessions instead of three and there is a longer period between these so coaches and mentors can have more one to one time in between addressing things like the importance of a positive mindset. “It can have a big impact on people’s lives,” says Wisbey. “The reason I’m so passionate about this programme is that there are so many organisations that do so much with young people, but no-one is really doing anything for mature people.”

*The deadline for applications for the next programme which starts on 6th February is on 13th December. This is to allow time for participants to be matched to the right mentors and coaches for them. To apply click here.

Comments [3]

  • Laura Hunter says:

    Despite having a long career in local government project management and since being an interim contractor from 2014 when I took voluntary redundancy, the ability of obtain steady employment has become harder and harder, especially as I am now in my 60’s. Many of the interim roles I’ve held have been extremely unsatisfactory and I’m sure I’ve been let go because of age discrimination. The whole recruitment process now seems to be geared towards younger workers, with impossible competency interview questions and no response once recruiters learn your age. Where do I go as I do desperately want to work but feel I am getting nowhere. The last role I had ended because I wasn’t a data analyst (and never pretended to be) the dice was loaded all on their side. I’ve watched countless training videos on project management, IT, software systems but nothing seems to help, and I do feel my age is a definite barrier. It’s the one protected characteristic potential employers can get away with easily as so difficult to prove.

    Thank you – any advice and help would be much appreciated.


  • Jennine says:

    I’m just about to be made redundant after working for a company for 14 months. I’m over 50 and have been for two interviews. One look at me, the interview was over. Obviously they didn’t say it was because of my age.

  • Paul Taylor says:

    As a male in his late fifties, with an outlook and health of a motivated 30 something, I think? I am experiencing a ‘perfect storm’, in my recent endeavours to return to the world of work after a period of time working abroad.’ It appears I have been penalised by the decision makers for my sojourn abroad. How dare I venture to the Middle East. I have certainly suffered from ageism from various institutions and agencies. In short, whether it is in the UK or abroad, to the blinkered recruiters/decision makers, I am too old, as well as due to my absence abroad I’m not current, I’m not relevant. My career to date appears not to be of much worth as I cannot hit the deck running. Yet, I have a CV, where I have constantly taken on remits where in some instances, I have limited ‘specialist’ experience, though subsequently I make a success of the remit and leave a positive legacy.
    However, if you were to see my CV, I have a wealth of experience to impart, as well as a raft of transferable skills for the ‘right’ remit, post, organisation, community etc. In short, after a short sabbatical post-Middle East and the fall-out from the pandemic, I have struggled to secure a job, to return to the world of work.
    My CV Profile reads as follows:

    A dynamic and forward-thinking educational leadership professional and inspirational teacher with an understanding of the transformational impact of education covering schools, colleges and training providers in the UK, South-East Asia (Malaysia) and the Middle East (Qatar and KSA). With a proven track record as a classroom teacher, teacher trainer, operational manager and strategic leader and business director in numerous institutions. For instance, in a global setting managed complex projects, diverse partnerships, developed curricula, strategies and procedures, sometimes ‘breaking new ground’. Throughout maintaining high standards, towards a broad, balanced, innovative, challenging curriculum, nurturing young people and adults to have self-confidence, self-respect, self-knowledge, useful life skills and knowledge, as well as respect for others and society; and enhanced cultural and social awareness to be a good citizen.

    Through transformational leadership and with an understanding of teaching and learning seeking to impart a wealth of varied experience to help children, young people and adults ‘learn how to make life choices and help fulfil their potential’ and be the best they can be’.

    So, a course like Allen & Overy’s ReStart programme would be a timely fillip for me. However, I note it is unfortunately for me based in London and I live in the deepest depths of the East Riding of Yorkshire, in the sticks between Beverley and York.

    Surely, there must be something similar in commuting distance to me? I would really appreciate direction or referral to similar programmes. Can you help? Beyond this I would appreciate a conversation as to my straits and perhaps, some support and guidance as to my options.

    Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your response.

    Kind regards,


    Surely, there is

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