Fast Track: Help Desk - Still temping after all these years

Click to follow
The problem

I have reached the age of 30 without settling into a career or finding my vocation. It is making me feel very insecure and is eating my confidence away. I graduated eight years ago with a degree in German, after which I spent two years jobbing in Berlin. Although it was enjoyable, I felt pressured to return to England and train for a "proper" career as a bilingual secretary (NVQ IV). I then worked for an Austrian firm for a year in London, but left because I was treated like a slave. For the next two years, I temped, but because I needed more of a challenge, I applied for teacher training (PGCE) and secured a place at university. Six weeks later, I realised I wasn't committed enough and left.

I'm now back in temping, but find secretarial work demeaning and only do it for the money. Ideally, I'd like to find a career where I can utilise my French and German, but how can I break out of the cycle of temping and decide on a job or career or training that really suits me?

Mary Westcott-Young, Bedfordshire

The solutions

Roy Harrison, training and development policy advisor, Institute of Personnel and Development, says:

We all make the wrong career choices from time to time because you can never quite know what you are getting into until you have tried it. The current nature of work and the job market makes the task even more difficult. Dominic Cadbury recently concluded that career paths have disappeared and we are left with crazy paving which we have to lay ourselves! Take a step back and ask yourself what you really enjoy doing and what you think you are good at. Then you can address the question "who would be prepared to pay me to do it?".

You could go back to the Careers Advisory Service at your old university since they increasingly provide for the needs of graduates in your situation. Alternatively, spend some money with a firm of career consultants. Be aware, however, that the field of adult careers guidance is currently unregulated. IPD does not recommend any particular firms, but we do have a register of guidance firms who have signed up to the Institute's code of practice in this area.

Paul Roscorla, occupational psychologist, Acker Deboeck, says:

Compared to most people, you have little reason to feel desperate. Your qualifications suggest you are bright, and as Europe inevitably comes together, language skills will become ever more valuable. In addition, you are young which means you have time and opportunity to sort this out. In my experience, few people have a Road to Damascus revelation that shows them what they should do. It comes through persistence, resilience and having the right attitude.

Secretaries and PAs are not slaves per se, but some people treat them that way. Whatever your role, my motto is leave if people treat you badly. All approaches to career guidance centre on isolating what people are interested in and what they are good at. You can do this for yourself and ask your friends for their views. I recommend Clive Fletcher's book Get that Job! Having got together some ideas, make a plan and act positively. For what it's worth I'm optimistic for you - you have talents.

Celia Nicholson, managing consultant, Sanders & Sidney, Specialists in Career Counselling (01908 222 622), says:

You have obviously gained an enormous amount of experience working in different companies and countries and this will certainly have a value in your future job search. Don't be too quick to dismiss that. Identify the elements of some of your most recent jobs and decide which parts you liked most. Was it using your languages, working with people, organising things or working to the pressure of deadlines? Then try to identify the types of companies where you had the best time. You clearly have a natural talent for languages and travel. Have you considered the travel and tourism industries? While these are very competitive fields, you may be able to find an organisation where you can build on your current strengths and gain additional skills through part-time or short courses. In this way you gradually move into a new field rather than making a dramatic change.

But the most important thing right now is to give yourself credit for the successes and achievements that you have made in your life so far. If you see yourself in a positive light you will find that other people will respond very differently towards you.

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Middleditch, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2068; e-mail: c.fielding@