Published: 02/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5934 Page 39

I am a high-flying graduate and I would like to pursue a career in NHS management. After joining the NHS in my first job since leaving university last year, I find myself increasingly frustrated and demoralised in a support officer role. I am simply not challenged enough.

I will apply for the NHS management training scheme, but I have been looking for a new job in case I do not get on it, and there seem to be very few jobs at that level that do not require previous management experience. I want to be as challenged and developed as university friends in the private sector, and not have a painfully slow career progression, or have to move cities every two years.

Jan Sobieraj says

Here's what should happen: your personal development review identifies your potential and together you and your manager agree a plan that sees you constantly challenged and the organisation getting the best out of you.

And here's the reality: your manager probably doesn't have the capacity to give you the practical support you need, so It is up to you to make the changes.

The development opportunities are out there, you just have to find them. And looking outside your direct area seems essential.

With the huge management agenda faced by every NHS organisation, there will be several managers desperate for more help - do you know who they are in your organisation? Go and talk to them - ask if they are looking for someone to support a project. Secondments are a perfect opportunity to test your skills in different areas and get the experience you need to progress.

National change projects, like Agenda for Change, the national programme for IT and local projects on service improvement often create valuable temporary opportunities. You need to make yourself known to the managers and directors leading these projects.

Training is another option. Speak to the training team to find out what is available. Many organisations have their own management training programmes which are seen as the source of future managers.

While good organisations should spot and support talent, career development is your responsibility and there are rarely any shortcuts. Make sure people outside your direct area are aware of your aspirations and stick with it. There is so much to go at - and believe me, it will be worthwhile.

Jenny Rogers says

This is a tough lesson to learn but It is better learnt now than later: nobody but you can manage your career. No one is likely to be saying, 'X is a really bright person and I think we should be finding them something'. You will always be your own best advocate.

I also hear a bit of a misapprehension in the way you describe yourself. 'High flying graduate' sounds as if you are still seeing academic success as the main criterion for career success. It is true that this can count very early on, but it will matter less and less as you get older.

It is your interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence that will truly count from now on. How realistic are you about your impact on others? What about your social skills - are you at ease in a room full of more senior people? Can you influence other people even when you have no formal authority over them?

Demonstrable skills and a track record in these areas are what any sensible employer will be looking for.

Find out where you stand here by asking your current colleagues and boss for feedback, and if this exercise reveals gaps, look for training.

Our panel

Bryan Carpenter is HR director of Bournemouth and Christchurch trust.

Kate Gordon is an independent nurse consultant and qualified life coach.

Sally Gorham is chief executive of Waltham Forest PCT.

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

Neil Johnson is director of education and training at NHSU.

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

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

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