The voice on the phone wants me to draw a picture of Where I’m At. I’m baffled. Where I’m at, at that moment, is in the kitchen trying to extract a tissue that’s just been through a hot cycle with the children’s school uniforms. « No, where you’re at in life, » explains the voice. « In your life Right Now. »
That’s the point when I begin, briefly, to panic. I’d volunteered to submit myself to one of the UK’s leading career advisers, Corinne Mills of Personal Career Management, partly because the idea of talking lengthily about oneself to a captive stranger is always agreeable, and partly because jobs in newsprint are looking increasingly precarious. Flexible work that permits you to appear twice a day at the school gate is elusive, and recently I’ve found myself assuming my professional future will be bound up with a Tesco checkout.
This is surprising because a large part of her clientele are lawyers and financiers who are weary of wealth without the leisure to spend it in. But even they, it seems, are vulnerable to self-doubt when it comes to leaving the familiar and marketing their assets elsewhere. « People don’t come to us because they want any job, but because they want the right job, » says Mills. « What we offer is a confidence-building process. »
The gift of self-confidence is a pricey one. A full face-to-face course, which identifies desires and options, details job search strategies and hand-holds through the process of applying and interviewing, costs up to £4,500, although Skype sessions and a programme for new graduates are cheaper alternatives. The investment seems sound, since PCM’s statistics show that 83% of clients find jobs that appeal to them and 11% set up their own businesses. « A lot of career advice companies look at your CV, » says Mills, « but don’t analyse who you are as a person, your needs and aspirations. »
Who I am as a person remains nebulous, for my career has never required a written CV and I have left the sheets on Identifying Your Achievements largely blank. A memory surfaces about saving a couple’s wedding day through my consumer help column, but mostly my 20 years in journalism have melded into a pleasant blur. It’s now that Mills’ skills are unleashed. She asks me to recount my job history and pounces when I start with leaving university. « Which university? » « Cambridge ». « So why didn’t you say so? »
With more time she would have helped build these skills into a seductive CV and schooled me in self-marketing. As it is, she instructs me to establish a website to showcase my newly identified wares and to nibble cocktail sausages with influential people. I explain that the latter is impossible. I’m no good at networking. How then, she asks, have I managed a seamless succession of media jobs? I confess that my secret lies in tea bags. I’ve always kept colleagues well irrigated and they remember my efficient waitressing when I’m needy.
Heading home I feel freshly invented and equipped to embrace the adventures of middle age. The session might, or might not, secure me a fulfilling professional future, but it’s made me evaluate the past in an encouragingly different light. I’m even tempted to pay a few grand to hear more. But, right now, I’m off to a mirror to see if my newly translated self is visible to the naked eye.