Grace McCann: Answering your postgrad queries

Should my son and I take another degree each to get our careers on track?

I am in my late forties and hold a degree and two postgraduate degrees; a PGDip in law being the latest. After my first two degrees I married and had a family. I began working as an unqualified legal executive when my son was five, leaving my job five years later when my husband relocated to Scotland. While living there I could not get work for four years. I returned to London and finding any legal work proved impossible. So I took the PGDip in law in order to qualify as a lawyer, only to realise later that I was too mature for the liking of barristers' chambers or offices of solicitors: my applications to them failed miserably. I am not prepared to invest any more time and money on a legal practice or bar course. Two years have passed and getting any kind of job seems an even harder task now that I hold a recent degree.

Too late for the Law

I am in my late forties and hold a degree and two postgraduate degrees; a PGDip in law being the latest. After my first two degrees I married and had a family. I began working as an unqualified legal executive when my son was five, leaving my job five years later when my husband relocated to Scotland. While living there I could not get work for four years. I returned to London and finding any legal work proved impossible. So I took the PGDip in law in order to qualify as a lawyer, only to realise later that I was too mature for the liking of barristers' chambers or offices of solicitors: my applications to them failed miserably. I am not prepared to invest any more time and money on a legal practice or bar course. Two years have passed and getting any kind of job seems an even harder task now that I hold a recent degree.

Meanwhile, my 24-year-old son Alex, who has a MSc in astrophysics from University College London, has been working as a labourer for the past two years. What would be the quickest way to convert his degree to an engineering degree/PhD? We are both looking for another degree to provide us with a career.
Soraya Harding, London

Be careful! It is unwise to think there is a magical course out there that will land you the job of your dreams. You already hold two postgraduate degrees and neither has led to a career. Qualifications are only one aspect of what employers want.

As you have found, law is a fiercely competitive field and age is a factor. Solicitors' firms tend to reject people aged about 35 or older and barristers' chambers are not keen on applicants in their early forties or older.

But before giving up on using your law degree, how about considering careers in less competitive fields related to law? These include advisory jobs in areas such as housing and welfare rights; roles which involve practical application of the law, such as probation officer; regulatory work in fields such as tax inspection and trading standards, and financial occupations including insurance broking.

The graduate careers advisers at Prospects (prospects.ac.uk) and the Law Careers Advice Network (lcan.org.uk) have put extensive "alternative careers" sections for law graduates on their websites. If none of their ideas appeals to you I would still advise looking into other job possibilities before signing up for another course because your cv is lacking work experience rather than qualifications. The Prospects website has a useful interactive tool, the Prospects Planner, for graduates who are stumped for what to do with their qualifications. It may be that you decide on a field that will demand further postgraduate study, but I would suggest that this would be best undertaken part-time alongside employment. Ideally this will be paid work related to the field you wish to enter but the main thing is to get back into the workplace. Please let me know how you get on.

I am sorry to hear that your astrophysicist son has been doing unskilled labour. But, again, I am not sure that another postgraduate qualification is the answer, and your suggestion of a PhD rang warning bells. A research degree requires massive commitments of time, energy and money, which might not pay dividends in the jobs market. Alex should decide which field of engineering he is most interested in and investigate what skills potential employers are looking for. The Careers and Jobs section of the Engineering Council's website ( www.engc.org.uk) is a good place to start.

Thanks to Naeema Khan, careers consultant, Graduate Prospects

Send your queries to Grace McCann to reach her by Monday, 20 December at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to g.mccann@ independent.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea