Q. What am I doing wrong? I left university last year with a good degree but now it's coming up to a year on and I am still working just to make ends meet, and not getting the job I want. I have tried to get relevant work.
A. Don't worry, you are not alone – in competitive areas the right full-time job does take time to find. You need to stay upbeat or you won't be presenting a confident face to employers.
You are on the right track if you are getting experience. Make sure you use any contacts you have, as well as learning from actually doing the job. Contacts are important as they, or someone they can introduce you to, can lead you to vacancies and even perhaps a cherished position.
In situations like this it is best to go back to basics, and check where exactly in the employment process things are not working for you. Are you getting to interview stage? If not, check your CV and your covering letter. Graduate Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk) has a list of useful tips about the whole application process, and charges £15 to evaluate your CV.
Does your covering letter demonstrate you really have an interest in and knowledge of the organisation you are applying to? It's easy to think that a duplicate letter sent to all prospective employers will save time – in fact, that can be the quickest way to get your application binned.
If you are getting as far as the interview stage, but then not receiving offers, ask for feedback. Check tips for preparation or answering questions on the Prospects site. Persistence is likely to pay off, though it's worth giving yourself a sensible target date and reviewing career options if you haven't succeeded in getting a foot on the ladder by that time.
Q. I've been looking for a journalism course but am uncertain how to judge the ones on offer. Should I be looking for some form of accreditation?
A. The National Council for the Training of Journalists' (NCTJ) pre-entry qualification is the industry-recognised start to a career in journalism, required by most editors. It equips students with the skills they need for the job: knowledge of media law, public affairs, multi-platform news writing and shorthand at 100 words per minute.
It accredits more than 60 courses at 39 centres – colleges, universities and commercial centres – across the UK. They range from year-long post-A-level courses to BAs, MAs and 22-week postgraduate diplomas. Students complete a portfolio of work demonstrating their writing skills. Work experience, vital in this area, is an integral part of all courses. See www.nctj.com.
You can also look up the National Union of Journalists' (www.nuj.com) Careers in Journalism booklet, downloadable from its website. The NUJ offers practical questions to ask about any course.
It advises checking how much of the course is taught by practising journalists or former journalists, and whether it covers the practical skills you will need (for example, to become a sub editor, it is necessary to learn the basics of copy editing, proof correction, the use of QuarkXPress, and journalism law and ethics).
It advises checking if equipment is adequate, and importantly, what proportion of recent graduates are working as journalists – and where. Start writing for any outlet or publication you can, and keep a portfolio of your work.
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 email@example.com