Martin Dangerfield

CEO, immersive

1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?

As I get older, I reflect more on growing up, the places I lived and the people I met.

I suspect I am very lucky, I was a happy child. I was an only child, living with my parents who in the main seemed happy together and I know looking back we had a good life. I don’t know if I can nail it to one moment or a specific time but with a Birthday in June, I always had a great time. Typically warm (I was 5 in the drought of 1976) and a long way from Christmas it was almost the perfect time of year to have a birthday.

So the memories of being happy are tied to that collection of 1970’s birthdays, in the sunshine, surrounded by my friends, in a garden with cheese and pickle sandwiches, jam tarts and jelly. All a cliche, I know, but it was a simpler time, with no frills and expectations, making it some of my happiest moments.

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

Everyone always asks how you got into recruitment, the idea that we all fell into it, that no one chooses it, it chooses you.  I don’t believe that particularly.  I identified recruitment as a thing that I could probably do and probably do ok at and would take me to self-employment or running a business.

In another life, I used to live in a shared house with my then-partner and her housemate.  He was going out with a girl, long enough for me to get involved in her moving house complete with a giant and heavy fish tank.   She split with our housemate but stayed friends with my partner and when she met a new boy we had the awkwardness of a ‘double date’.   His name was Matt and we hit it off. He was a proper recruiter working for a well-known agency.   He had been taught how to take names in every call, stand up when you pitch clients and always be closing.

He was the opposite of me and so it was obvious we should start a recruitment agency together.

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

This is, I imagine, where people discuss their newfound love of extreme marathon running, getting up at 5 am for a cold shower and contemplation in their purpose-built yoga studio.

My new habit is as dull as hell. A trip to the doctor, due to me feeling ‘odd’, has seen me shed nearly 14 kilograms of weight in 2022 and pretty much keep it there. I have reduced my carb intake to around 100g a day and it sort of works.

It was suggested I give up coffee and booze but I feel my carb sacrifice is enough for now – a life without wine and coffee is no life at all.

So top tip to you 40-somethings who think it will be alright forever – it might be but at some point, you’ll probably have to make some changes if you want to make old bones.

4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to
others? Why?

I never find enough time to read. It’s not something I’m proud of. In my pre-covid life, I averaged 5+ hours a week on a train and used some of that time to read and write. That life seems like a lifetime ago

Generation X – Douglas Coupland

In a world apparently obsessed with Generation Z (How many times have organisations talked to you about Gen Z hiring?) I identify strongly with the stereotypes of my generation.

So whilst this doesn’t tell the story of my life it does accurately reflect my twenties, the moments we realised that our generation was different to that of our parents and that those baby boomers born in the 1950s really do have it made now.

I was lucky enough to meet Douglas Coupland at a book signing for another of his books. It was after work and he mocked that I was a ‘suit’. He was right and that was the beginning of the end of my corporate life.

The Beermat Entrepreneur – Mike Southon

Someone I knew raved about this book. So since it was written I am sure there have been others that are better but it’s quick to read and will help take those thoughts about your business idea or side gig.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Ok, probably a well-trodden path for a man of my age, but I read this when I was 10 or 11, watched the TV show, listened to the radio show and hated the awful film that was eventually made (avoid). I can relate to its hero Arthur Dent as the futility and purpose of man is questioned, although, secretly, I would love to be the time and space travelling journalist, Ford Prefect – much cooler.

5. If I were to go to people who don't think very highly of you, what do you
think they would say about you?

Those people that actually get to know me properly, will know I’m a pussy cat.  Sure, I talk a good talk and in the past, I was ‘office hard’.  You know the type, slightly Alpha male, pushy, needs ‘that report’ by close of play.

That was the old me, with all of that Alpha getting corporately kicked out of me.  Firstly by systemic bullying by an ex-army VP of HR, I was working for – that’s as much as my NDA allows.  Secondly and as a result of that not as successful as I would have liked interim gig where things just went wrong.

The Covid lockdown gave me the ‘opportunity’ to rethink my career path.  That sounds really positive, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t.

My income ended abruptly in April 2020.  It means 2020 and 2021 were extremely tough, financially, clocking up huge debts just to keep paying the mortgage, keep food on the table and the kids having an ok life.  It has left me in a shit position now, with many years ahead of me to pay things off just to stand still.

As a result, I am now completely driven by the business I started in November 2020, scared that those debts will catch up with me and that I won’t be able to clear them in a reasonable time.   It shows in every interaction, every sales call and every time we have to talk about hiring challenges we are facing with a client.

It works for and against me.

The common thing people would say is that I have always had an opinion.  Some of that has translated into a decent talk or two about the industry and why talent acquisition needs to sort its crap out.  Ironically one of my best talks was in February 2020 about why companies were struggling to hire – I definitely didn’t see the lockdown that would be in place 5 weeks later.

The problem  I suspect is that in my quest to demonstrate I know stuff my ego gets in the way.  As someone told me only a few weeks ago “You always need to be right, Martin, your ego gets in the way”.  That was from a competitor – actually I think he quite likes me which makes the feedback even more difficult to take.

That need to be right can get in the way.  I’m dismissive of people I don’t agree with or specifically those I don’t agree with and have no respect for.  The need to earn respect is a one-way street, I expect it and yet others have to earn it.

My detractors will have been on the receiving end of some barbed comments, some put down or other.  Some absolutely deserved it, others probably less so but the ability to put things straight for them has probably passed.

6. What personality trait has got you in the most trouble? What kind of trouble does it get you in?

Dead easy.

I genuinely believe that well-timed sarcasm is the funniest thing in the world.  I have a reputation for it but as with all humour, one size does not fit all and it has lost me paid work as an interim, dented my reputation and contributed to me losing my job.

With age, I’ve got better, probably because I have more to lose but better really means I’m not employed so that takes out one of the options.  As you can imagine, sarcasm combined with the perception of the people who don’t think very highly of me is not a great combination.

7. In current industry conversation, what is an example of ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’?

I suspect there are several things that spring to mind. Specifically in recruitment/talent acquisition there are the endless conversations about what ATS to use as well as those ‘guru’ types that keep telling candidates that they need to ‘beat the ATS’.

Maybe because my business is completely remote I struggle with the ongoing ‘does it work doesn’t it work?’ debate. I know that it does take more effort to manage a team remotely, we miss that shared background noise that you get in an office – the ability to jump in on a problem there and then… BUT.. my business went global because we work remotely, bringing local expertise to where it’s needed and – genuinely – do we want to go back to a world of endless commuting?

So we need to stop fussing about where we do our work and think about the work that we do.

8. What is that thing which is OK to ask you about, but which other people are
wary to do so?

This is a tricky question to answer.

In my business, I am still the lead sales person, the person that makes the hiring decisions for our team, the person that pays all the bills, manages the cash-flow and worries about next year. It’s my job to do everything. It sounds like I’m being a bit of a prima donna about it, I’m not but genuinely there are times when we’ve had cash-flow issues with client not paying the invoices etc. and whilst its my job to keep a positive outlook on everything there
In business, my business now and in my role as an interim we naturally dwell on the positives. You know, the things we can do, the things we will do and why we are going to deliver, or things will be optimised etc.

We pride ourselves on transparency but I know people will be wary about asking how things are or more specifically, how I am doing.

Growing a business is an all encompassing experience, I suspect I put barriers up that make it a difficult question to ask.

9. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

As I said earlier, my personal debts are huge, bigger than they have ever been. Not earning money in covid has taken its toll. For a long time, I didn’t have a car, mostly because I was away working in London so I didn’t need it.

Eventually, though, last year, I bought a 20-year-old BMW. I didn’t love it to begin with (old cars are a pain) but when the summer hit I was in mid-life crisis heaven insisting that every journey was a roof-down journey.

This year it sadly died with a failing head gasket so it has been recently replaced by a sprightly 19-year-old Audi – still a convertible, still more unreliable than I would like but with 4 seats, I get to share with more people that every journey is roof down – no matter the weather.

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

Overall, it’s breakfast. I love breakfast and since giving up carbs recently I daydream about breakfasts with hot, fresh bread, eggs, pastries and gallons of fresh coffee. One of my favourites in the last few months was probably at Andersen & Maillard in Copenhagen.

It is my ‘go to’ coffee shop in Copenhagen and I make sure I get there at least once every time I’m in the city. You get the things you expect, fresh rye bread with a soft boiled egg, yoghurt, berries and granola and every pastry you can think of, with great in-house roasted coffee.

11. If you were a giant mega Monster what city would you rampage first? Why?

So simple. Reading in the UK.

Now for those geeky enough to know, Reading is not technically a city but it has tried so many times.  In 2000 to celebrate the new millennium; in 2002 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee, 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee and you guessed it 2022 to mark the Platinum Jubilee.

So for this reason it needs to be crushed, just to put it out of its misery and allow it to move on.

Actually, I worked there for a number of years. It’s the generic nowhere place we’ve all been to and forget.  There is nothing actually wrong with it but there’s is nothing good to say about it either.  It is  a commuter town 25 minutes from central London built solely on the basis that you can leave Reading and head to London.

12. Which fictional villain do you find yourself sympathising with most? Why?

This is a more difficult question than you imagine.  We think of the heroes more, who hasn’t wanted to be James Bond or Bruce Willis in Die Hard.  Sympathy for Villains is tricky, it reveals something more.

For me it’s Darth Vadar’s blend of tragic past and evil presence.  He’s evil because he was on the good side before, somehow that conversion makes him more sad and vulnerable.  And yet, he rules with fear, willing to destroy humanity and more in his quest to rule an empire.

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it and when?

I try to get advice from people I respect.  That might be obvious but I think asking for advice can be tricky.  As I get older I find the people I’m asking are younger than me, actually making it more awkward for them than me.

The reality is whilst I have been ‘in business’ several times, this business is the most complex so far and whilst it is all about talent acquisition it is the first time that I have actively said I will not actually be part of a front-line delivery team.

It means that some of the work I have done in the last two years is new to me or if not new (e.g. Sales) needs to be looked at again.  I like to think I am open to looking at things, not falling into the trap of relying on past success to give the same outcomes, it doesn’t work like that.

I am really pleased with where we are, 2 years in from the start.  We’re on plan.  2023 is going to be super tough as we try to double our revenues again.

I recently caught up with Kevin Blair, co-founder of our UK based competitor Join Talent.  I won’t go into lots of detail but we had a proper heart to heart which in places was pretty rough.  But the thing that has stuck since that meeting a few months ago is that as a CEO I need to up my game and as a business, we need to be more ambitious with our 5 year plan.  So the advice, be less cautious, lead and look at the numbers again.

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

There is a project that still haunts me.

The large (subject to NDA) american software company was not always a bed of roses.  One of my last projects was to lead a project to hire hundreds of sales people in Dublin.

We started off well, we had a plan and we had plenty of time.  We were under-resourced but the window was big enough I knew we could do it, if we had a little bit of luck.

We had a draft plan which I kicked off before taking a week and a bit out on leave.

When I came back we were in the shit.  The goalposts had moved in that the business wanted to hire more and earlier and the resources that we needed to deliver suddenly evaporated.  To add insult to injury in my absence other people got involved, pulling the plan and the delivery process to pieces even though they had never done anything like it before – not for the first time I found myself sitting in front of someone more senior, armed with a tiny bit of knowledge telling me how to recruit.

Despite everything, the team was amazing, we got there – or near enough the business got what they wanted but in doing so I lost the respect of the team, we’d all collectively sold out and they blamed me.

Hindsight has taught me that the leave was a mistake and that however well you think the plan looks, you need to sit down with each and every person that is impacted by it, get them to agree the next steps in detail and then do that over again to make sure.

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

I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone with the same levels of sarcasm or cynicism as me. Cynicism is often confused with pessimism, it really isn’t’ the same thing. I don’t know if there is room for two of us in the team but I’d be willing to give it a go.

16. What is the optimal number of people in a team, with you in it? What roles
are those people playing?

Team shape and size to me is all dependent on the task at hand. So no optimal number but enough to get the job done, just. No room for too much spare capacity as it doesn’t really work like that.

In hiring teams, I’ve typically been the lead, the person to give the direction and outcomes we need to be successful. What is really important then is for the team to know what is expected of them and when but more recently the ‘how’ is important too. You know, the style. We’ve had recruiters in the team that on paper have similar skills and backgrounds but how they deliver the work has been so different.

Recently I have been reading a lot about decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO) combined with Holacracy, a non-hierarchical management system structured in circles (teams) and roles (functions). This could be the future, where the person best placed to lead at that moment in time leads based on their skills. In recruitment this could really work, with recruiters genuinely leading a circle.

17. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

There is nothing new in recruitment. Start it with Shakleton and his advert for people to join him on his adventure or start it with the Roman army that had a selection process based on physical and intellectual tests combined with an exam.

There is no movement forward, not if we are honest.

Now don’t get me wrong, the ability of organisations to overcomplicate the recruitment process has served me well as a consultant but it scares me that people joining our industry in their twenties, armed with degrees, creative content and social media promotion still fail to grasp the basics of the end-to-end recruitment process.

To me it is simple, put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and work out how to answer “What’s in it for me? Why would I want this new job?”

It is our collective responsibility to make this better, and share some of our experiences without patronising.

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

Dead simple, that somehow AI and, or machine learning won’t change everything for the better. There is always talk about how we are in a people business, and we are but equally, people are slow and inefficient when it comes to scanning CVs, profiles and career history quickly and accurately. Old school recruitment agencies are the worst “wanting to read between the lines of a CV” to really understand someone.


If anyone has ever used even the most basic of CV to job description matching tools you will realise it takes seconds and allows a proper conversation with a candidate.

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

I have linked this to the person I would ask.

I know a bit about their background – not lots, they have let it slip a few times and if you speak to them I’m sure they will say more. So my question is something like “You had some pretty traumatic experiences when you started work, how did you put them in perspective and not dwell on them to become the individual we now see?”

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

For those of us living in recruitment, in the UK, it’s an obvious one.

Katrina Collier.

We have an unusual relationship, not always on the same page but fundamentally we do agree about a whole load of things.  I admire that she has committed to her book and committed to improving the skills of recruiters however experienced they might be.  If I write my book (I have 3 very dull drafts) it will be because of her.

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

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