What are my prospects in consultancy? And how can I return to teaching in FE?

Managing change

Q. I am halfway through a postgraduate diploma in management, part of an MBA distance-learning course. I hope to go on to complete the Masters. Eventually, I want to move into management consultancy. Is this realistic, as I don't hold a first degree? I am in my mid-thirties. I do have managerial experience in the charity sector. Will this put me in a good position to move, or should I wait until I have nearly finished my studies, when my marketability would be higher?

A. An MBA can be a valuable passport to a higher level, particularly for those who do not have first degrees. The charity sector has also become much more professionalised in the past few years, and is in need of people qualified to manage in all spheres. The advice is: always start networking from the beginning of an MBA, to build up ideas about your destination as well as contacts, even if it doesn't lead straight to a job.

And don't dismiss the area where you are now. It is worth looking around in your present job, in other charities or in the public sector, because it is usually easier to shift jobs step by step rather than in one big leap. Your new qualification might help you to get a better job or to move to a different area in your current workplace. The charity and NGO sector has burgeoning opportunities in consultancy work (in areas such as corporate social responsibility, for instance). You should also ask your business school careers advisory service if they can put you in touch with alumni who have crossed from the NGO to the private sector to see if they have any helpful hints. It is certainly worth finishing your studies because they will compensate for not having that first degree, and will stand you in good stead in the long term.

What's my number?

Q. I qualified as a further education lecturer in London in 1986, and taught here for 12 years and in Ghana for five years. I am now back and looking for a job in IT and mathematics. I will do anything, including supply or part-time teaching. I am 48, and hope my age is not a hindrance. I am committed and good at what I do. How can I trace my Department for Education and Skills (DfES) number?

A. The first thing to do is to check whether your qualification is now recognised - ring the Lifelong Learning UK helpline on 020-7936 5798 to find out. Qualification requirements changed in this area in 2001, so you need to see if you have been affected by that.

Your age is unlikely to be a problem here. You should be judged solely on whether you match the criteria set out in the specification that goes with the job ad. If you meet those, 48 is hardly likely to be considered old; in fact, age and experience should be valued.

You need to check in the education press for colleges that are actually advertising vacancies - writing speculatively to colleges that are not actively recruiting at this time will just waste time and effort. Colleges often use agencies to recruit hourly-paid staff; the agency most commonly used by London colleges is Protocol Professional ( www.protocol-professional.co.uk). It would be worth getting in touch with this, and maybe other agencies advertising in the press. The DfES number is your identification number in the teachers' pension scheme. It should appear on each of your annual P60 substitute forms. You can ask about this number on the link www.teachernet.gov.uk/pensions.

Career adviser: Kathy Harvey, former editor of the MBA Handbook.

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