Fast Track: Help Desk

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The problem:

I am a 25-year-old teacher of English in Japan but will be returning to the UK this summer to look for a more permanent job. I graduated from Leeds in modern languages (2:1) in 1996 and have been on the road since, working in the USA, Mexico and Australia. I have gained a lot of experience doing very different jobs and working with people of different nationalities. However, I feel it's now time to settle down and embark upon a 9-5 career. I freely admit that this hardly excites me, but accept it as part and parcel of life. I've been very happy here in Japan and have picked up a little more than the basics in Japanese conversation and intend to study further upon my return. As for a choice of career, I'm not so sure - a job in personnel, perhaps? I do know I would like a job with a lot of people contact, an international environment and the chance to work abroad.

Des Moore, Japan

The solutions:

Gill Sharp, Career Adviser, C2 - The Graduate Careers Shop - WC1, says:

Hard as it must be to return to "reality", look on it as the next phase in an eventful life, rather than resigning yourself to your fate! Personnel might indeed give you the opportunities that you crave, but you need to be sure about what it involves. Often misinterpreted as an agony aunt/uncle role, it's more about helping a firm to maximise its potential. It is now called human resources and demands a sound business head as well as people skills. Investigate other possibilities before deciding; a personal consultation with a careers adviser, computer guidance packages or psychometric tests might pinpoint other areas.

It will become increasingly rare for people to stay in a single-job sector; and what you choose now may be a base from which you move to other types of employment. Look for a role and an organisation that will let you build on the excellent skills and experience which you have already acquired.

Dr Curly Moloney, Managing Director, Moloney Search, says:

We are used to advising bright young things who are three rungs up the ladder as to whether or not they are wearing the right footwear for their particular ladder and have it propped against the correct window. It is a challenge to help a world weary young man whose career ladder has feet in Europe and Australia and is propped against Mount Fiji!

Clearly, both the strongest and weakest features of your employability profile are in the diverse/eclectic/butterfly nature of your work experience. Candour and honesty are endearing but you should not extend it to selling yourself short. You must capitalise on your "invaluable experience of working with different people" and your wide range of practical skills. Employers are finding real-life experience increasingly attractive in graduates and few dynamic growing organisations are content with graduates embarking on a 9-5 day anyway.

Times have changed - if you want variety and are unsure of what function to be in, try joining a large international organisation that runs a flexible graduate training programme and will allow you to experience different functions for a couple of years. Your aptitudes, abilities and experiences would suit you for a "people contact" job, and one of an international nature, but you must show reliability, drive and commitment, as well as versatility.

I would advise calling the graduate recruitment managers in some leading international organisations and talking to them directly about their general management training programmes. More retailers are increasingly looking to work on a European level, so you should contact these as well, especially as a customer orientated environment could well suit you. Don't forget to re-contact your university careers service in Leeds or the closest to wherever you base yourself when you return. Good Luck!

Angela Baron, Adviser, Employee Resourcing, Institute of Personnel & Development, says:

There are alternatives to the traditional 9 to 5 structure. Short-term contracts, teleworking, part-time working and flexible working hours are increasingly common and may be more suited to your particular preferences.

You have acquired an impressive list of valuable qualities while travelling. Attributes such as motivation, self-reliance, the ability to work in a team, coaching skills, initiative and good communication are greatly in demand and you should ensure that you emphasise these competencies to future employers. A career in personnel would certainly allow you to utilise your people skills.

You should be aware, however, that opportunities to work abroad are limited. If you decide to pursue a career in personnel, you would be well advised to take an IPD qualification. Alternatively, you might want to pursue career options which use your languages, love of travelling and ability to relate to people, and consider the voluntary sector, non-governmental organisations or some civil service roles.

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

If you have a work problem and would like some expert advice, write to Carmen Middleditch, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; e-mail