'What should I do when I'm made redundant? How do I get into the diplomatic service?'

An opportune time

I am being made redundant next March. I will get a package, but am unsure what to do next. I have worked in local government for 15 years. I feel that this is an opportunity but don't know how best to capitalise on it.

Many people who have been made redundant have certainly found that it is an opportunity, even if it didn't seem that way at the time. It's good that you are looking at it this way already. An enforced transition can make people realise that they have been coasting or stuck in a bit of a rut. Any money that is available can enable them to take a well-earned break and re-evaluate their priorities. Whether you want to stay in a similar field or use this as a launch pad to do something completely different, try the following.

Review and reflect – think back on your experiences so far. What have been the highlights and the low lights? Are there specific incidents that stand out for you as particularly fulfilling? You are not only looking for clues for future priorities, but collecting evidence of skills and achievements. You can also start recalling past contacts who might be in a position to help in the future.

Explore and experiment – the thing that stops some people from making the most of an opportunity such as this is that they focus too quickly on getting a concrete outcome. Don't just look for jobs you can get; look for inspiring career possibilities. Find out about three new careers a day by reading different job ads, browsing careers books or just talking to people.

Try to find out something new about yourself. Take short courses in something new, or do volunteer work which lets you use unfamiliar skills and meet different people. Start early and keep going – it's a process, and if you do it right, things may get more confusing before they become clearer.

A question of tact

I'm doing a law degree and am interested in the diplomatic service. Must I be British to pursue this career? (I am Swedish.) What else is similar and how will my degree help?

Positions in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Diplomatic Service require security clearance. You must be a British citizen and have been resident in the UK for at least two out of the previous 10 years. However, you can become a diplomat in your own country and take up any secondments to Britain offered by your own foreign-affairs ministry – these usually operate at management level upwards and are for one to two years.

You could also apply for a "locally engaged" position – a permanent position at a British embassy abroad, recruited locally. Around 75 per cent of Civil Service posts are open to nationals of the European Union, such as Swedes, and you can check out entry requirements on www.careers.civil-service.gov.uk. Related roles you might like to consider will depend on which aspects of working for the FCO attract you.

You might want to consider working for the institutions of the European Union (see www.europa.eu/ epso), or as a politician's research assistant or local government administrator, if you are interested in politics or policy-making. A career as an international aid/development worker may be another possibility. The skills you have picked up from your degree such as research, communication, advocacy and analytical skills provide a good basis for these and many other careers.

Careers advisers: David Winter, C2, The Careers Group, University of London; Jennifer Connell, University of Liverpool.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk