Published: 28/07/2005, Volume II5, No. 5966 Page 35

I am 56 years old and have loved working in the NHS all my life, almost all of it in the community. My background is in nursing and health visiting, followed by various specialist and management posts. I am currently head of clinical governance.

My career progression was fairly slow. I perhaps stayed too long in jobs because I was so happy in them. Being a single parent also restricted some of my choices.

I am educated to masters degree-level and have a few publications to my credit. I have worked in primary care trust senior management posts for the last few years but have never managed to gain a director's post.

I would love to work at this level but wonder if I have now left it too late. Can you advise me on how I might make this final leap?

Or should I just continue in this job, which I really enjoy.

Bryan Carpenter says: Providing you have the right skills and experience, I would say that it is never too late to start thinking about being appointed to a director-level post.

There is also nothing wrong with staying on for longer than average in jobs where you have been happy, even though this might have restricted your career development.

The key here is to take your chances whenever the right opportunity presents itself. If your personal circumstances now allow you to apply for posts away from your current base, your choices will be quite wide.

However, if you are restricted to a geographical area you might have to wait for the right opportunity. It does seem that your clinical background, linked with your management experience to date, is an ideal mix and would stand you in good stead. Take your time and ensure that you would be as happy in the new job as you are in your current one.

Jenny Rogers says: Do I hear a touch of overmodesty here? Actually, it sounds as if You have got plenty to be proud of, not least raising your children single-handed and making a decent fist of your current not-at-all easy role. So forget that 'Oh dear, I am 56' stuff, even though we all know that ageism is a reality, even in the NHS.

First, be clear why you want the more senior role. I would guess it will be about being able to operate on a bigger canvas and to have more impact on an organisation than is possible at your present level. Look at the colleague at director level who you most admire. How do you measure up?

Let's assume the answers are positive.

Now identify what your strengths are and what you would bring to the position.

What are your passions and skills? What achievements are you especially proud of in your current role?

Beware of trying to appear an allround wonderful manager. Play to the things you know you do uniquely well and especially make the most of the expertise demonstrated through your publications and your master's degree. Then when you go through the assessment process, give live evidence of all the benefits the new organisation would get from hiring you.

What's the worst that could happen if you do try and fail?

You simply end up doing what you love. That does not sound too bad to me.

Sally Gorham says: At this stage in your career you may find it useful to do a bit of a personal stock-take. Start by thinking about what you want to be doing in the next 10 years. For example, if you hope to be able to continue your writing after retirement, then perhaps It is worth thinking about what you need to do to make this possible.

This should help you to be clearer on whether a directorlevel post is the right direction for you.

It is never too late to develop your career but competition for a director post is always going to be tough.

So to get you there you are going to have to show real determination. Why not try a one-to-one discussion with your chief executive to get some feedback? You could also use this opportunity to secure their support in getting a mentor who you can explore future issues with.

Our panel

Bryan Carpenter is HR director of Bournemouth and Christchurch trust.

Kate Gordon is an independent nurse consultant and life coach.

Sally Gorham is chief executive of Waltham Forest primary care trust.

Hazel Henderson is physical fitness co-ordinator for Wandsworth PCT.

Neil Johnson is group director, learning programmes and services, at NHSU.

Jenny Rogers is an executive coach and director of Management Futures.

Jan Sobieraj is chief executive of Barnsley District General Hospital trust.

Do you have issues - whether about your career, working life or general well-being - that you need some expert advice on?

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