Neil Carberry

CEO, Recruitment & Employment Confederation

Hi Neil,

Hope you are doing well. Head down at school, trying to get by? Hard work will always serve you well! I know that throwing yourself at it is helping with moving countries and a changing life right now. It’s a value in our family, and we use it to set ourselves apart.

Working class kid from a state school – in a few years people will refuse to believe you are a student of anything other than engineering when you become the first in your family to go away to university!

That’s the path you already see.

And it seems clear, doesn’t it? You like it that way – clear goals, proper process. It has and will serve you well for years to come. But you worry that it is fragile – so you work hard, and hate making mistakes.

But here’s the thing – sometimes those clear goals rub up against established norms and expectations

You can be boxed in.

I think I was too quick to accept others’ rules in my early days – and it contributed to mistakes that could have been avoided if I had spoken out.

So when you see something that doesn’t feel right, challenge it – be bold. Take some chances – it is okay to pick up a few scars. Your world won’t collapse because one thing went wrong – though you may think it will. I’m telling you this because your world at 13 is a simple one. School, home, football, rugby. And crisps. So many crisps. Looking back, I wonder whether being a bit more angsty as a teenager might have helped – but that’s us isn’t is it? Stoic, head down, eyes on the prize. The idea of the Presbyterian work ethic might have been invented for us.

But it won’t be an asset forever. In fact, it will be a hurdle.

When the rules are less clear, and others seem to know them better than you – you’ll stall.

That’s where the clear-eyed challenge and risk-taking comes in when the rules are less clear.

Firstly, because they don’t actually know better than you – they are just less rocked by it. There isn’t a roadmap to success – just the confidence of backing yourself. You are bright enough to work that out – even if some of the places you’ll end up will make you feel like everyone else has the plan in their back pocket.

When you go to Oxford, you’ll want to leave. A lot. An MP here in 2020 once said that before she was elected she thought she knew posh people before she came to Parliament, “but actually I just knew people who ate olives”. She was right. You’ll feel the same. But you aren’t out of place – you are in your place.

If the rules seem to favour things which you think aren’t right – challenge them

Don’t hide, or become defensive – Stand up for what you know is right. Own it with confidence: find allies, take a stand. Win lots, lose some. You’ll be the better for it.

Allies matter – you can’t do this on your own

Because your resilience is bred into you by your parents and the path they have taken – the emphasis on the value of education as a tool to progression. But you will not, can not, do it on your own. Even though you want to.

You can be clear sighted – but real progress is delivered by groups, not individuals. Investing more in relationships will boost your understanding of the world and create support networks that will help you to thrive. Finding space to develop with colleagues and teams will be vital. Have the confidence to trust in others’ talents and the value you can bring a group. Acknowledge your own weaknesses and seek to support others and get support from them. You feel you need to prove yourself. That’s fine – but you are not alone.

I believe you can do this better than I did.

And I did okay. And yes – do the people stuff. You’ll enjoy recruiting, HR and solving complex people problems. Put those negotiating skills to use!

See you when you get here,


Thank you Neil Carberry for writing A Letter To My 13 Year Old Self

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