Martyn Redstone

Consultant, Chatbots in Recruitment

1. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?

In my first secondary school – Southend High School for Boys (there were 3 schools, but not due to bad behaviour) – I encountered my first ever proper religious education class.  It was taught by Mr Pegler. I was only at that school for two years. It was a school that prided itself on its academic brilliance. However, outside of learning the 3 Rs, I was fascinated by and loved learning about different religions. Mr Pegler gave me a foundation of my understanding and respect that people all come from different backgrounds, but ultimately are still human and should and do live by a shared code. Some religions call that code the ten commandments, other people just call it morals and ethics.

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

I’m Jewish, so if I were to take heed of my religion, I would have been an adult since the age of 13, when I had a Bar Mitzvah (it’s not always like the films, but there is always a dance, always a drunk uncle and always lots of food). A Bar Mitzvah is a coming of age ceremony when a Jewish male is deemed old enough to be responsible for his own actions in the eyes of God – Bar Mitzvah literally means ‘son of the commandments’ – and he has all the rights and responsibilities of a Jewish adult. Females have the same, but a year earlier at 12 – they’re maturer than us boys!

However, I don’t feel as though that’s when I became an adult.

I’ve been through a fair amount in my life – moving from one end of the country to another at 14. Living on a remote hill farm in Lancashire. Moving out of the family home at 17. Travelling abroad, seeing things that a teenager shouldn’t see, like suicide bombings, earthquakes, living with Bedouin, doing crazy things that get the adrenalin pumping.

But I don’t think I became an adult until the birth of my eldest daughter in 2015. That’s when it hit me. There’s something small and vulnerable that needs protecting, needs nurturing, needs educating, needs my unconditional love and needs the benefit of all of my experiences in life. That’s when I think I really became an adult.

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

Term Limits by Vince Flynn.

I’m not really the biggest fan of fiction. However, I read this on advice of a good friend. While the premise is extreme, it makes interesting reading for those that have an interest in politics and want to see change. Mainly in the way that there are too many career politicians that spend most of their lives as a law maker. It’s a fantastic narrative on the state of politics both in the US and elsewhere.

The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters

I found this a really simple way of understanding how my brain works and I used the techniques to help control my decision making skills – moving from emotional to logical thought processes.

First Man In by Ant Middleton

I’m a big fan of military history and all things militaria. So I took a look through all of my books for my last recommendation and I really struggled to come up with one book. I’ve learnt so much from lots of different books about military strategy, but also the mindset of leaders in the military. However, I recently really enjoyed First Man In by Ant Middleton (of SAS Who Dares Wins – the TV show). Yeah, he can sometimes be an over the top character and (allegedly) some of his past behaviour is a bit dubious, but some of his concepts around leadership, facing fears and working in a team are really quite interesting.

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

This is going to sound ridiculous, but I think it’s got to be Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G, Borat etc.). I think the man is both a talented comic genius and actor and also an incredibly intelligent person. He can both make people laugh and think – reflect on what they are watching or how an interviewee is answering his questions. How his character is being treated, or what underlying opinions he is able to extract from others. He has shown that he can be both humorous and serious both separately and at the same time.

5. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ for how people should interact with you, what would be the top three things they should know?

Don’t treat me like an idiot, give me data and make me laugh.

6. What is your untrainable superpower?

Resilience. I think that’s been inherited and developed throughout my life. I could include in that, stamina, pain threshold, pig-headedness and a gritty mindset, but to me it all started with one saying that my dad’s mentor (Squadron Leader David Dattner OBE) used to say to him – “if your leg’s broken, hop. If your other leg’s broken, shuffle along on your arse. If you’ve got piles, it’s your unlucky day.”

That’s been my mantra for much of my life – keep going, never give up and you’ll get there in the end.

7. On what topic would you never make a joke? Why?

There isn’t much I won’t make a joke about, but you have to make sure that audience is appropriate. For instance, my favourite card in Cards Against Humanity is the Auschwitz card.

8. Have you always had the same political beliefs? If so, why do you think you have held them so long? If not, what event caused you to change your view?

I think so. I’ve been quite a political person my entire life – running in mock-general elections at school and getting involved in student politics at university as well as campaigning in my latter years. I think I’ve always felt attuned to those beliefs and they have sat very comfortably with me as an individual. Sadly, there isn’t a political party in the UK that really fits my political beliefs truly, so that becomes a very difficult conversation and decision come elections. While some people think that the term is codswallop and an oxymoron, I do truly believe that I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

9. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?

I’m a total geek when it comes to gadgets and tech. I can’t say that there’s just one app or product that I have fallen in love with recently, but if I think back over the past 6-months, my favourite purchases/downloads have been:

– Casio G-Shock sport watch (GBD-H1000)

– Mini Telescope

– New laptop (Microsoft Surface Laptop 3)

– Magnusson mini ratcheting screwdriver and bit set (yep I’m one of those annoying people that always has a tool handy… it’s the ex-engineer/ex-scout in me)

– Hyperlocal Weather app

– Flightradar/Marine Radar apps

– Starwalk app

And I don’t go anywhere without my Kindle and my GoPro camera

10. Cheese or Chocolate?

As much as I am a fan of a good cheese board, it would be an easy choice for chocolate – I have such a sweet tooth, which can be hard to control sometimes.

11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?

Cheers! One of my favourite TV shows of all time and an easy answer. I’ve been to both Cheers bars in Boston and really loved the bar/pub scene there as well. I sampled as many variations of Sam Adams as possible. I’d recreate it in a heartbeat – a place where everybody knows your name.

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

Dr Evil. No doubt about it. He’s my favourite fictional villian (not least because I sympathise with his lack of hair). Poor Dr. Evil always wanted to be International Man of Mystery and he was top contender at British Intelligence Academy, back when he and Austin Powers were roommates. He was number one in the class. But he was usurped by Austin at the last minute. That set him on his evil course.

I think sometimes it’s difficult to see others doing better than oneself, when you feel as though they aren’t working as hard as you and it seems as though they are just handed success on a plate. It could drive you crazy and lead down the wrong path, but stay the course, keep working hard and you will get there in the end. Dr Evil did.

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?

Be a sponge! One of the first things that one of the best managers and mentors I ever had (Leslie Weare) was that you should be a sponge – listen to everything and soak up all the information and ask questions to verify. It’s pretty difficult to do this sometimes, but it made me realise that listening is a conscious skill that needs to be honed.

I’d also like to give a shout out to every manager I have ever had in my career. While Leslie was one of the best I (personally) experienced, I have learned from every one of you – good and bad. Whenever I am in a situation of managing people I think back to all my experiences to remember what I did and didn’t like about them. Every time.

14. Can you give a work example of a lesson you had to learn the hard way?

Too many to count! But the main thing is to learn from them and remember them. I think the two biggest lessons that I have learnt the hard way are firstly not being scared to push back on your managers if you think they are wrong and secondly to recognise a toxic work environment and, rather than try and fix it, the best thing to do is get out of dodge as quickly as possible.

15. Who is the best co-workers or collaborator you’ve ever worked with? Now is the moment to give them a shout out - who were they and why were they so good?

I’ve never been one to go to work to make friends. There are some people that rely on their work to also be the lifeblood of their friendships, but that’s never been me. Sure, I enjoy socialising with my colleagues and peers (sometimes too much), but mostly they stay as colleagues, sometimes acquaintances. There are a few people I have worked with over the past 22 years of my working life that I can truly say have become my friends. There’s a reason for that – usually we have gelled so well as colleagues that friendship is a natural progression.

Most recently, I worked with Tom Donlea when I was at a previous employer. Tom and I gelled instantly on both a personal and professional level, and worked well together both in the office and when we were client facing. He has an amazing design and detail-oriented mindset and this made me care more about the work that I was producing, which I always had him look over. I actually think we learnt a lot from one another throughout the course of working together for two years. Since both leaving that employer, we have remained friends.

16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?

Absolutely! I always know when I feel this way subconsciously, as it’s when I am at my quietest. I know I’m a talker and will, sometimes, naturally take the lead in team environments. When I feel as though I am the weakest, that’s when I go back to being a sponge. I hunker down and listen to everything before becoming an active member of the team. I like to take in everything, understand, process and then input based on my understanding.

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

Candidate experience. Let’s face it, it’s shit. We can’t get it right. Well, not 100% of the time anyway. I’ve been on both sides of the coin – I hate being a candidate because I have expectations of the process and experience that never materialise and I find myself struggling to hold back the feedback to the recruiter. We also always see the same messaging coming from unemployed recruiters – no matter what the reason – “now that I am looking for a job, I’m shocked at how bad the candidate experience is, so I am going to change that when I get my next recruitment job”. Never happens. Ever.

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

That applicants and candidates are some special sub-sect of the human race. I don’t think it’s common wisdom, but I think it’s an underlying mindset that creates a protectionist mentality in recruitment. It’s a barrier to innovation and transformation in recruitment processes and the candidate experience; that response from recruiters that “I don’t think my candidates will like doing that”. Why? What makes your candidates so different to a normal person walking down the street? It’s my ultimate and long standing frustration with the industry, this common wisdom (or unwisdom if that’s even a word) that candidates are different. Online timesheets for temps in the mid-naughties? “Oh, no my candidates don’t do online, they prefer to fax”. Rubbish. Job boards in the mid 90s? “Oh no, my candidates don’t go on the Internet, they only read newspapers.” Wrong. Chatbots in 2020? “Oh no, my candidates prefer to speak to people at all times.” Bollocks. Start thinking about how you go about life, how you interact and what your expectation on the experience is.

19. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

I don’t think that I can class myself as a success, yet. I’ve certainly worked bloody hard to get to where I am today, but I don’t think of myself as successful. However, I think the one thing that has contributed to where I am in my career is the acronym SME. In whatever I have done, I have always strived to be the subject matter expert. It means that I have to find a niche and be passionate about what I do, but I have an ambition to be the best at something, to be regarded as the go-to person. It hits me hard when I don’t think I’ve got there, but makes me want to work harder. And it’s always enjoyable for me.

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

You’ve already had some great people do these 20 questions. I’d like to see somebody who has spent a long career and better part of their life in this industry. I cannot think of too many people except maybe Sir Alec Reed. There’s always been this divide between the worlds of agency and in-house, but he is somebody to listen to – businessman, recruiter, philanthropist.

Thank you to Martyn Redstone for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune.

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