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Starting Out

STARTING OUT: ESSENTIAL STEPS TO YOUR DREAM CAREER. By Philippa Lamb and Nigel Cassidy. BBC Books pound;7.99

Because career-defining choices have to be made at a time when we know little about ourselves or the world we're entering, outside influences - parents, relatives, teachers, friends, the media - hold sway. As a result, too many people reach middle age beset by a feeling that they would rather have been doing something else.

That's particularly true for women. As the authors remind us:

"Three-quarters of working women are still employed in just five areas (administration, caring, sales, nursing and unskilled manual work)."

This is an area where knowledge is power. Given that, as the book says, teachers have limited understanding of many careers (especially in engineering, for example), it's clearly important that young people take some control.This book sets out to help them - and their teachers and parents along the way. It provides lots of self-assessment advice and checklists, then urges them to discover what the world of work is really like. For example, work experience can, if it's well organised, "help you discover more about how you get on with people and what skills you already have or would like to develop".

A chapter called "Working Smart" deals with the all-important but oft-neglected issue of what it's like to be at work every day with other people. Here, say the authors, is where parents can help: "More than you realise, they will understand how important human relationships are at work and how central they are to a happy life."

So, for example - and many young workers should have this tattooed on the inside of their eyelids - it simply doesn't do to get legless at inappropriate moments. "Bosses like staff they can rely on, and heavy drinkers are notoriously unpredictable."

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