Dressed to unimpress

Barbara Hyslop offers some sage (green) careers advice

FRAN is uptight. Her able, talented and personable youngest daughter has just had an interview with a careers adviser. Apparently this armadillo suggested that the adorable Thea should become a sanitary inspector. "Dorothea," protests Fran, "means gift from God." Was such a one put on this earth to be a sanitary inspector?

My sympathies are with the daring armadillo. Divining a teenager's innermost thoughts is difficult enough for the teenage thinker (and they have the advantage of staring deeply into their own soul for 30 minutes in each hour before the bathroom mirror).

Given a slip of paper saying, "Degree potential", and hearing "best subject, chemistry; preferred location, outdoors", the Daring One would have needed a ouija board to guess at the creative flair just barely contained within the Gap-khaki tank top. In the absence of any such supernatural resource, why shouldn't Thea's choice of effluent-coloured clothing be regarded as portentous?

Logically, if clothes express your personality, they should indicate career compatibility. Colour Me Beautiful clients are happy to try a variety of swatches against their skins to find a perfect match. Careers advisers could offer a similar service - sea green for sailors; sky blue for aviators; silver and gold for bakers. Of course, the career-coloured client might be just as prone as any other kind to taking (burnt) umbrage: "How could you suggest roadmarker yellow, when my pashmina is rosegrower pink?"

Choice of fashion style could be the decision clincher. I'm thinking of marketing a new scheme. Instead of careers advisers spending numerous years "in the field" being reviled and scorned, each could have a handy cardboard kit based on those seaside hoardings with a hole cut out to poke your head through depicting bathing belles with tiny waists, or bosuns with bulging biceps.

My hoardings would feature "Engineer with hard hat", "Dentist with mask", "Minister with dog-collar". Each punctured board could be slid between teen and mirror (the mirror being a bonus in itself, of course), and discarded whenever the "yuk" reflex kicks in.

Choice of career by choice of clothing style, that's my idea. Selfassessment, action-planning, progress-reporting, etc, could all be dispensed with. No words need be exchanged. It could all be done on a scale of wince to preen. There would be no need to conjure up nebulous hopes, normally concealed from the dreamer's nearest and dearest - and classmates . . . and careers advisers - for fear that they might be seized on and crushed underfoot like soggy seeds in a soil sample.

We all need signs. Even clairvoyants look for clues; but careers advisers are not fortune tellers. If any silver crosses private palms, it is for assessment of potential, not accurate predictions. "Keep your options open" is common sense, a good defence, and a safer bet than Entrepreneur to win in the 3.15 at Musselburgh.

Hard facts by themselves are certainly subject to individual interpretation. I once read a report in The Times about the crash of a light aircraft in open country. A farmer (who rescued the shaken pilot) described the last minutes before the plane crashed. "I knew it would come down," he said, "because I heard the engine getting louder. I looked up to see the plane getting bigger until, by the time it passed over my head, it was about the size of a small dragon."

Now, if it had been a small dragon who would want to know? The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, I imagine.

Environmental health officers, sanitary inspectors and their ilk; by any other name they would definitely smell as sweet. Careers advisers have every respect for them. To any EHO reading this, be assured that we know: you are more than likely to have a good science-based degree, sufficient people skills to handle confrontation and the necessary ability in report writing to bring the "big boys" to court. So, don't dump us in the sludge.

And, to any sanitary inspector testing our teacakes for E coli 0157, truly, you are a gift from God. As for Thea, perhaps the most comforting inference she can draw from the advice she was given is that . . . she certainly scrubs up well.

Unfortunately this skill may yet go to waste. Thea, on further reflection, intends to be a journalist - possibly the only profession, bar the world's oldest, which you can conduct quite comfortably, without getting dressed at all.

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