Q. I read that Euan Blair will be going off to work as an intern in the US Congress. What about those of us who don't have famous parents who might lobby for us? I sometimes despair of ever getting these networking contacts that people seem to talk about.

A. It's true that some can take advantage of well placed contacts and it's unlikely that much can ever be done to legislate against that - people will always use the contacts they have to help their children.

The fact that he will be working without payment is more of a problem - not everyone's parents can afford to subsidise them, and the best candidates might not be getting the jobs. Networking, however, is a lot easier than it appears before you start out. A bit of common sense (people don't owe you information) and the ability to chat interestedly (this gets easier) will get you far. It really is true that if you start with one person you can ask them to give you other contacts, and you can go on expanding your list right through your career.

When you approach people for work, say what you can offer - even if it's only an extra pair of hands. Do they have jobs you could take on that they haven't had time to do? Write to the person at the top - a named person - so they can pass the e-mail or letter down the line, and it doesn't get stuck at the bottom. Find out what the company does. If you get a job, make sure they have proper tasks for you and everyone knows what's expected (get it in writing, if possible).

Once you're there, take every opportunity to get more contacts. This really comes down to self-marketing, which some people are overly reluctant to do. Once you've cracked that, you'll be fine without the famous parents.

Jobs for the older boys

Q. Having reached 60, I was forced to retire from my job with a major employer. Having an interest in teaching, and degrees in maths-based subjects, I decided to try teaching maths, apparently a "shortage" subject. Universities offering training said age was no impediment - except one, which suggested I check out post-course employment prospects by contacting schools. The response has not been good. What good is a system that provides funding for training if for some there are no jobs at the end of the tunnel?

A. I don't think this university has done you any favours. It is unlikely that schools you are contacting this far ahead are going to be able to say much that is helpful. They have little to go on at this point - you have not started training. How well you do on the course is important, and once you are in training you will be in a better position to apply for jobs.

Your age may deter some employers, although maths teachers are in high demand and good schools will be looking for subject knowledge, classroom skills and enthusiasm above all.

But there may be another factor at work here. Even in shortage subjects, schools don't want to drop standards, and they will be keen to see that you have shown some interest in working with young people. If you have not, that may count against you more than your age. If you do lack this experience, the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) on 0845 600 0991 can organise a day visit to a school and a subsequent three-day taster course for those applying for training, which might help.

Once you are embarked on the course, things may look very different. There are definitely schools out there that would snap up a career changer with industry experience.

Careers adviser: Liz Rhodes, director, National Council for Work Experience

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

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