'Do I need more experience to write for an NGO? And is it too late to become a counsellor?'

Writing for an NGO

Q. I have six years' experience in voluntary sector marketing, but my real ambition is to be a copywriter for an NGO. I have studied for a certificate and an MA in English and have a strong portfolio and great feedback from clients. Two positions have come up and I haven't been selected for them. Do I need more training or experience?

A. It sounds, from the detailed description you have sent me, as if you have been been doing all the right things: getting unpaid experience, getting freelance work, building a portfolio. There is unlikely to be any further training or experience that would guarantee you a job, but there are, maybe, alterations to the way you are job hunting that could help. If you've just been responding to job adverts, try a more active approach and speculative applications. What about the network of contacts you have developed through your freelance work? You could use those to try and sniff out potential opportunities before they reach the advert stage. You could even pitch ideas to people in the bigger charities and see what follows from that. It is realistic to make your move this way, but it may take a while. There aren't many jobs in this field so it's competitive. If you've only made two attempts then maybe you just need to keep trying – successful writers tend to be either very lucky or very persistent. And make sure your CV presents your skills and achievements as effectively as possible to the people you want to reach – it may pigeon-hole you as a marketing co-ordinator rather than presenting you as a copywriter, as you would wish.

Leaving the office

Q. I am a 61-year-old male, unqualified (except for some O-levels), and I have worked in an office for many years. I expect to be made redundant soon. I do want to keep working but don't want to pack shelves in a supermarket. I might like to be a counsellor, but don't want to spend years studying.

A. Thinking about your strongest skills is a good place to start. Office work often involves excellent organisational ability, communication, and attention to detail. You may have many skills that could be developed into new roles. Think whether you want to work full or part time, in what sort of environment, on your own or in a team. Training as a counsellor is perfectly possible at your age and you can begin, perhaps, with a one-year skills course that may not cost a lot if you are retired or unemployed. If that suits, maybe it could lead to a diploma, normally lasting two years, which you would need in order to practise as a counsellor. You will be expected to have done some work in the voluntary sector. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, ( www.bacp.co.uk or 0870-443 5252) has advice on training and a list of courses. For other ideas try the diagnostic tools on www.prospects.ac.uk or on www.learndirect-advice.co.uk. These websites prompt you for information on the things that interest you, then present a list of suggestions. For information on particular careers, browse the "job profiles" section on learndirect, which also has a phone careers advice service. Contact your local colleges to find out about relevant courses, and discuss your ideas with tutors or support staff to see how they can help. See www.agepositive.gov.uk. And for information on volunteering call Volunteering England on 0845-305 6979 or have a look on www.do-it.org.

Careers advisers: David Winter, careers consultant, the Careers Group, University of London. 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 email chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk