Can I translate language skills into a job I'll enjoy? How do I become a political adviser?

A matter of interpretation

Q. In 2004, I graduated with a 2:1 in interpreting and translating. I've worked in customer service and as an au pair, an in-house translator and a receptionist. I am considering a postgraduate course in journalism, the law or teaching. I don't want to spend another year doing meaningless jobs, but I don't know which career choice is right for me.

A. Your language skills will be an enormous asset whatever route you choose. Right now, though, you should think beyond them - put them aside for a moment. Think what you enjoy doing and, just as important, what you don't. These may seem more "meaningful" jobs, but they differ considerably and you need to think about what matters to you.

Is money important? How do you like working; do you tend to initiate ideas, or are you better at paying attention to detail? How are you under pressure? Only once you have begun to identify what you want to do, should you think how your languages can help you achieve that, and how you might be able to do the job in a way that allows you to use them? If you haven't any voluntary or work experience in the area you choose, you might find it useful now, as a taster of what the job really entails.

You could also ask the careers service at your old university if they could put you in touch with alumni in the fields you are interested in - you need as much information as possible before committing to a postgraduate year. Try "What jobs would suit me?" on www.prospects.ac.uk, or think about going back to talk to a careers adviser - talking face to face may help to clarify things.

Policy decisions

Q. I am a student and I would like to work, eventually, as a political assistant in Westminster or Brussels. I'm trying to find the best tips on how to get a foot in the door.

A. A site that's fun to browse as well as being extremely useful is Working for an MP ( www.w4mp.org), which not only lists job ads and offers advice on looking for jobs or internships, but also allows you to surf MPs' blogs and read up on the electronic Westminster village. This gives a good insight into what life is actually like in the House and in the constituencies, and offers links to other helpful sites, such as www.eurobrussels.com. This suggests that you target jobs in one area of expertise and send your CV together with a short letter to get yourself on file for jobs that may not always be advertised. For most graduates, finding a first job in Brussels means an internship or "stage" in one of the EU institutions, or in industry associations or NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Job-hopping "to get something on your CV" is, it seems, not unusual, and once you are there it's obviously easier to meet people face to face.

Here in Britain, the best ploy is still to try your local MP and offer to work part-time or as a volunteer. It's not obligatory to be a member of the political party you're aiming to work for, but you have more chance if you do join up. Make sure you keep up with the political journals and research the way political processes work here and in Europe, as well as starting to research actual policy areas of interest to you. It's even better if these tie in with work you have already done for your degree.

Careers adviser: Jeff Goodman, director of the careers service, University of Bristol.

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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