James Osgathorpe

Leadership Sourcer, Software Engineering – Meta

1. At what age did you become an adult? What happened, and how did you know?

I think I truly became an adult when I went to live in China for a year after graduating from university. It’s surprising how long you can continue to really live in an extended childhood, but moving to the other side of the planet, with no knowledge of the language, and very few connections, will certainly help you to grow up quickly. The amount of self-responsibility needed definitely qualifies anybody who does this as an ‘adult’.

2. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

Choosing to study German instead of History for my A-Levels. I had basically chosen to continue with history based on how much I enjoyed it, rather than how good I was at it. However, my headmaster at the time convinced me to stick with the things I was really good at (languages), which was actually very good advice. It led me to studying languages and translation for my university years which resulted in me meeting the people that would shape my life for the next several years (including eventually taking me to China, where I met my then future wife.)

3. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think is false, that most people think is true?

I think Atheism, in its purest sense, is true – I still find that most people default to the belief that there must be some kind of ultimate creator, but I can find no compelling arguments for that being the case. I think it’s false that stress is something that is outside of your control, I strongly believe that the amount of stress you feel is almost completely within your own control and is basically a personal choice (or series of choices).

4. Name a well-known person you admire and explain why you hold them high esteem?

Satya Nadella – I think the ability to come in as a non-founding CEO of an enormous, iconic business and turn it into an even more innovative and market-dominating company is an incredible achievement. He’s more low-key than most of the famous big tech leaders, but consistently outperforms many of them.

5. What is your untrainable superpower?

My untrainable superpower is definitely likeability. I think it’s probably a combination of high levels of empathy and the willingness to be very self-deprecating. It means that all kinds of people generally feel comfortable interacting with me and find me very easy to work with, which I believe is one of the most underrated professional attributes.

6. What is a Ted Talk that changed your life?

This one is easy – Dan Ariely’s What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work? It informed an awful lot of how I try to lead and manage teams, as well as how I think about purpose, motivation and happiness in life more generally.

7. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?

When I was 17 years old I went for an interview to potentially study at Oxford University. Among the group of students that I interacted with, I was the only one not from a private school, and I was also the only one with a strong regional accent. It was a jarring experience that made me realise what a closeted and naïve upbringing I had had. It also gave me the determination to commit to never feeling like an outsider again. This is another area where I believe our feelings are strongly self-constructed. If you choose to not feel like an outsider, you can find commonalities with anybody of any background, allowing you to feel like a true part of any group or situation that you find yourself in.

8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?

Many aspects of how we treat animals. I’m sure all kinds of sports involving animals that we take for granted will be seen as barbaric in the future, let alone many practices that are already plainly horrific, such as factory farming. I think that on a long enough timeline, and dependent on certain scientific advances, eating meat will become taboo in many societies. This view is not something that I actively embody in current behaviour (as you will see in my next answer), just the way that I think society is definitely, and rightfully, heading.

9. What’s the last image on your camera roll? Care to explain?


This is a picture of my wife and son our recent visit to the zoo. It’s a particularly happy photo for me, as when we took him last time, he slept all the way around the park in his pram and barely saw any of the animals. This time he was really engaged, excited, and even fascinated by the zookeepers’ talks about the various animals.

10. What’s your favourite meal? Can you say why?

My favourite meal is a Chinese dish called 麻辣香锅 or mala xiang guo, which is basically a huge bowl of spicy meat and vegetables. It’s my favourite for two reasons: 1) it’s a real build-your-own kind of meal – you choose everything you want included and in what amounts, it then gets sent to the kitchen where the chef prepares it, so you can really customise it to whatever you’re craving on a given day 2) it conjures really strong and happy memories from my time in China, meeting new people and sharing meals with them. Obviously, it also tastes incredible!

11. If you were to survive the zombie apocalypse, what role would you play in the new society that would follow?

I think I’d probably be some kind of teacher – I have a broad range of general knowledge and generally enjoy passing on whatever kind of facts or wisdom people are interested in hearing about. Also, with such a blank slate, I think that teachers would be in an incredibly influential but understated position to influence the kind of society that we would create.

12. If you could witness one moment in history which one would it be and why?

This is a really difficult question – I could definitely think of many. However, I think one of the most interesting moments to witness would be the American Constitutional Convention. It’s an event that is now shrouded in so much mythology and political vested interests that it would be insightful to observe the true motivations, intentions and interactions that created a document that has ultimately had such an outsized impact on world history ever since.

13. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

Soft skills often aren’t easy to convey on a CV, so I feel it would definitely be one of those. I think my skill as a listener might be something that previous bosses would highlight. I think a lot of people in recruitment are trained to be incredible talkers, and so you encounter fewer people who are truly great listeners in this field. Any skill that you have which is atypical in your industry tends to stand out more, so I think this would be mine.

14. Tell me about that one project that was a total off-the-rails disaster? What was your role in that shitshow?

This feels like a risky question to answer for something that is going to be posted on LinkedIn! However, I was involved several years ago in a new client RPO implementation that definitely didn’t turn out well – it probably appeared to be going well from the outside (and good client management and collaboration mitigated the impact after the fact), but the initial results left the delivery team with a clunky process and some problems with reporting that needed to both be fixed. In retrospect, this was simply a case of being assigned a role that didn’t play well to my strengths and not pivoting quickly enough to call that out. A very good learning moment, the lessons of which have stuck with me and won’t be repeated!

15. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?

Brutal honesty. There’s no way to be an effective team mate unless you know where you stand with the people that you’re working most closely with. It’s super hard to offend me in a professional context, so even though I prefer working with people who have a good level of tact, I can also deal with those who just give me the unvarnished truth as soon as it enters their mind.

16. What hiring heuristic do you generally go with?

I’m a big believer that nearly anything can be taught i.e. someone doesn’t need to bring very specific experience to a role (except in a small number of technical contexts), so I definitely screen a lot for a) intellectual curiosity and b) the ability to apply frameworks. I think many lessons that you learn in your career can teach you how to behave in new companies and new roles, so if it’s clear someone can take a concept from one place and reapply it elsewhere, that’s generally a good sign.

17. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?

Unfailingly giving every single candidate an experience that they will feel good about. There is lots you can do with technology and best practice to create a world class candidate experience, but essentially, the act of rejecting somebody for a role can create an incredibly personal sense of rejection, and even if you mitigate that feeling in every possible way, you can never totally control what the candidate will end up feeling.

18. What common wisdom in our industry needs to be debunked?

I think the persistent belief that a recruiter can do a true 360 degree role (sourcing, screening, coordinating, hiring manager relations, business development) to the highest levels is just incredibly outdated. The best teams are segmented into specialists and this not only brings better performance and job satisfaction levels, but also encourages a macro level effect of developing greater professionalisation of the industry.

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

What do you think has been the biggest shift in the recruitment industry in the last 5 years? What do you think the biggest will be in the next 5?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Paul Harty – Chief Solutions Officer at Sevenstep. Paul is an incredibly down-to-earth and interesting person to talk to. He’s dealt with a lot of interesting people and challenges throughout his career and I think he’d be a really insightful person to hear from on in this format.

Thank you to James Osgathorpe for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow James on LinkedIn.

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