Open up your door

If I promise not to rant, will you bear with me a minute? Because I need to get serious, just for a while.

Back in 1992 I left my state school. I didn’t come from a particularly privileged family, but by no means was I disadvantaged. My dad was a civil servant and my mum was a lecturer at the local FE college. I didn’t get particularly good A-levels, in fact they were poor….the letters, C, D and E were involved. More than once.

As a result, I didn’t get in to any of my first choice universities. I went in to clearing and eventually got a place at the University of Sunderland (Polytechnic) and went there to study Psychology. I graduated in 1995.

What is he talking about? I can hear you say it. Where is he going?

But, if I told you… might not keep reading. And you need to read on.

1995 wasn’t a great time to be graduating, jobs weren’t abundant, businesses were on their knees. I applied for graduate schemes but I didn’t have the university, the school or the polish to pull it off. I was directionless.

Not being able to get a job, someone suggested I study for the IPM (Institute of Personnel Management). Given I had nothing else to do, I did. Working nights to fund the fees and moving back in with my parents with my newly married wife. It wasn’t great. But it wasn’t horrific.

Even then, with my shiny postgraduate, I still couldn’t get a job. I have hundreds, HUNDREDS of rejection letters in a file at home. Everything asked for experience, but no-one wanted to give you experience. It was a classic Catch 22.

Then something special happened to me. I applied for a job at a crappy old hospital in a crappy part of the world. But, I didn’t know it then, there was someone willing to take a chance. The interview was a blur, but I remember cracking a joke about my wedding being in French and unsuspectingly marrying the wrong woman… wasn’t my greatest joke.

I left and walked back to the bus that would take me to the train, that would take me to the other train, that would take me to the ferry, that would eventually take me home.

And then I heard a voice behind me. It was a guy called Colin Moore. And Colin offered me a job. A chance. An opportunity.

That moment took place nearly 17 years ago.

The work wasn’t brilliant, the job wasn’t amazing, the location was frankly shite. I spent Sunday to Friday in a bedsit, before travelling for four hours back home for Friday and Saturday nights. But it was a chance. It was an opportunity. It was proper experience and it gave me a chance to start my career.

Nearly two decades later, I’m not doing too badly. I’m doing ok. I think I’ve grown a bit, I’ve learnt a bit. But it was all down to that one person that was willing to take a punt on a snotty nosed idiot with no experience.

And that’s why I’m so proud today to be supporting the launch of the Open Doors Campaign and particularly through the Talent Tour taking place. I don’t care what your politics are, the issue of social mobility and talent management are intrinsically linked. And Open Doors is trying to change the way that we, in business, do things to open up opportunities for young people regardless of their backgrounds.

I’m proud that my company was an early signatory to the Business Compact on Social Mobility. I’m proud of the work that my team do to increase transparency of opportunity.

If you work in HR or you are a business owner, no matter how big, no matter how small, I’d urge you to get involved. If you are on social media I would BEG you, today to publicise the campaign by following @dpmoffice & @JamesCaan or the hashtag #MissionOpeningDoors. And if you have a personal story to share about your own career break then please use the hashtag #MyBigBreak.

This is an opportunity for the HR community online to show their power, their influence and to raise awareness of an issue that many of us have debated time and time again. So go tweet, go Retweet, put political boundaries aside for today and be the people that really make change happen.

Thank you. This means so much to me, both personally and professionally. Maybe together we can really make a difference.


  1. Doug Shaw · June 5, 2013

    A great personal story of endeavour and improvement. I’ll take a look at @dpmoffice and learn more.

    PS – those jokes of yours….I mean….really.

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      That’s why I’m no comedian…..

  2. Jacky Hilary · June 5, 2013

    Really interesting post Neil and I’m all for the campaign. Will see what I can do……………. Oddly enough the daughter of friends is about to graduate from Sunderland in Psychology.

    Jacky Hilary

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      Graduating from Sunderland was the best thing I could do. I couldn’t wait to get away to be honest. Feel differently about it now though.

  3. stephenod72 · June 5, 2013

    Fascinating story and a vitally important campaign Neil. As a council house boy, Social Mobility means a huge amount to me.

    Kids, teenagers and graduates don’t always get to choose where they received their education, and mustn’t be held back as a result. Talent comes from all areas of society, so restricting your intake to those with wealthy parents makes no commercial sense.

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      Absolutely, talent knows no social limits.

  4. What a great read Neil!! I had the same experience. I was only given an opportunity after calling an HR General Manager of a Hospital who put me through to the Operations Manager who gave me a chance to follow my enthusiasm and make things happen. I was also a graduate who didn’t have the “right” experience, although I had always worked from 15, someone gave me a break and a chance to prove myself! I understand and appreciate your journey!

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      We all need someone to give us a break. Then we can repay it in kind with someone else.

  5. Pingback: From social mobility to City culture change: recruiters can play a part | Recruitment Agency now
  6. Henry · June 7, 2013

    Colin Moore got it wrong!

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      Shhhhhh don’t let people know that!

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