How can I make the best of my admin experience? Does the voluntary sector offer a way in?

Too young for the job?

Q. I am 21. I gained an HNC in business last year and am now doing an HND in business. I was a business administration trainee in local government, so I have a year of training courses and NVQs under my belt. I have been in administration for three years and am ready to move on, but I feel that employers are looking for older people. I have contacted agencies and applied for jobs, but they all say someone else had more experience.

A. You are either setting your sights too high, or not making enough of the experience you have. Ask for more feedback; do you need to be more flexible in the sort of job you're trying for, just to get some more experience?

It seems likely, though, that you haven't created a compelling enough CV. Make sure yours tells employers what difference you have made in your previous work. Have you changed or improved things? What shows that you did a good job? Were you promoted, given additional responsibility, or commended? What transferable skills do you have? Did you take on additional responsibility?

Try applying speculatively, or directly to heads of departments, rather than through a third party who might be looking for an excuse to discard an application. Be specific about career goals. Prospects ( www.prospects.ac.uk) offers interview and CV advice.

A call for volunteers

Q. My partner's daughter is very bright and was tipped for good As. She received offers from major universities. Sadly, her eating disorder kicked in and she was unable to sit exams or retakes, so job opportunities are limited. She would like a job in the voluntary sector, maybe unpaid at first if it leads to something. Her language skills are good but undeveloped. Is there scope for work to boost her French or Italian?

A. The voluntary sector would be a good call. It can be difficult to sort through the myriad opportunities on the web, but there are places to start. TimeBank ( www.timebank.org.uk) matches people with local volunteer opportunities, working through a network of some 400 organisations, all well informed about local needs and committed to finding the best placements for volunteers. Questions about expenses, training, health and safety, insurance and benefits will all be covered.

A registered charity called WorldWide Volunteering ( www.wwv.org.uk) has a database with thousands of volunteering opportunities in 214 countries, including the UK. Another ideal way to get involved is to contact Community Service Volunteers ( www.csv.org.uk). Placements last for a minimum of four months, and are full-time volunteering opportunities. Training is provided and you will be given free accommodation, food and a weekly allowance.

For work in France or Italy, have a look at Susan Griffith's Work Your Way Around the World and Lonely Planet's The Gap Year Book. Work in tourism, agriculture, childcare, business or volunteering on a conservation project are all possibilities. Have a look at WWF Italia ( www.wwf.it/ENG/holiday/listcamps.asp) for working holiday camps. Jobs-in-Europe ( www.jobs-in-europe.net/) could help with research, but you should always ask to talk to people who have returned from jobs shown. If you would like some independent advice, try www.gapadvice.org, which for a fee of £50 and up (depending on what you need) will offer tailored help with plans and itineraries.

Careers advisers: Carl Gilleard, chief executive, the Association of Graduate Recruiters; Lola James, managing director, Career Analysts.

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

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