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 is lawyers and financiers who are wary of wealth without the leisure to spend it in. But even then, 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 R80,000, 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 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.