How employable are history graduates? Can I conceal that I was sacked from my last job?

Past, but not least

Q. I am a 29-year-old mature student studying history at Exeter. I am concerned about the employment value of a history degree, particularly in the light of recent comments from a Government minister. I can combine my degree with another subject next year (IT or a language). Should I do this, or concentrate on history, and try to gain skills through work experience?

A. You are probably referring to a recent speech by Bill Rammell, the Minister for Higher Education, when he said that the fall in applications for arts subjects, including history, and the rise in those for vocational subjects, was "no bad thing". But hold on. A large proportion of graduate recruiters, up to two- thirds, say that they don't mind which subject is studied. They are more concerned about the lack of "softer" skills such as communication and team-working. History gives you a broad range of employer-friendly skills: communication is one of them, as is the ability to analyse, present arguments and reach a conclusion. Look at Professor David Nicholls's pamphlets on the employability of history graduates and the sort of jobs that they go on to do at www.hca. What matters most is whether you enjoy your degree enough to work hard and get a good class. If you think taking up one of these subjects would detract from that, don't do it. Your course should already have given you IT skills such as the ability to handle PowerPoint presentations, so ensure that you use the resources or courses available to you now. Think about your probable career path and work out what combination of subject and work experience would enhance your chances, and make sure it is all on your CV.

Honesty is best policy

Q. I was sacked 18 months ago and I am finding it hard to get interviews for new jobs. I worked in IT, designing the front end of a software interface. I was in this job for five years. The agreed statement was that I went because of problems with my workload. The reason was that I had personal problems. Can I obscure my sacking or will this always come up?

A. You need to be honest about this. In addressing it directly, you would be saying that you have nothing to hide. Morality aside, you can't just bury it. You spent five years working for this company and you will need it for a reference. Your CV would otherwise have an unfortunate and long gap. Try a combination of agencies and personal approaches to companies. Explain the personal problems you had at the time, but focus on the positives: what you learned from your experiences and what you would do differently in future. Talk about the skills and knowledge that you have to offer and how you would benefit the business. What is important in the fast-moving world of IT is that you don't just sit at home. Work out what differentiates you from other applicants, where you want to be in a few years' time and how you aim to get there, and look at what training, study for a qualification or work shadowing you might need to achieve this.

Careers advisers: Jo Causon, director of marketing and corporate affairs, the Chartered Management Institute; Anne-Marie Martin, director, The Careers Group, University of London; 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