Thomas Waldman

Head of Talent Acquisition, Employer Brand & Contingent Workforce, Action

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

I’m cheating here a bit, because it wasn’t in school. Instead, I fondly remember my bass guitar instructor who, after 10 lessons said:

“Structured learning isn’t for everyone, I think you’d get bored of me teaching you scales very quickly. Join a band, jam, screw up. Most musicians learn so much more from that experience than anything I can offer.”

It opened my eyes to the notion that different people learn very differently on different topics. I need the structure of a course to succeed in topics like analytics or languages, but in music or leadership osmosis and experience trump any book I could read.

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

It’s such a shame, but I don’t think anyone ever purposefully considers a career in recruitment. We all sort of roll into it. Same for me. I was pursuing a career in music and thought I’d do a summer at a temp agency to make some cash. 20+ years later that decision has turned into a deeply fulfilling, never boring career that has allowed me to travel the world and work for amazing brands. Talk about fundamental.

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

So boring for someone my age, but the habit of focused exercise. After a very sporty life in my twenties, I lost it somewhere amidst the hustle and bustle of career, kids and life in general. I find that the hour I spend in the gym every other day is so much more than working up a sweat. For me, it means a moment where I reflect and structure my day. It has helped me tremendously in keeping focus and am sure will help me make it to 100+ years old gracefully

4. 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 its true that inborn talent does not exist. It does not matter if you are physically privileged to play sports or creatively inclined to be an artist, it still takes a tremendous amount of work and dedication to work your craft. Rembrandt’s first drawing was a stick figure, just like for the rest of us. Application and practice yield result for everyone.

5. What is your untrainable superpower?

I think I am an unrelenting optimist. And all though I can’t tell you how I got to be like that or have any sage wisdom about how to practice optimism, it flows though me every day. Every setback offers new opportunities, every failure is squeezed dry for learning. Once I started looking at life at like that, life has become a lot lighter for me.

6. What is the number one thing you would recommend every person in the world to practice from now on in order to increase their happiness and wellbeing?

Be your own best friend. In an age where stress and pressure is rife, the understanding that you are your own leader is key. The only person that can ensure your wellbeing is you. I don’t care how many friends you have or how big your network is, the only person that ALWAYS knows what you need is you.

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

A picture of the most beautiful children (mine ofcourse) playing board games over the holidays. Every parent will know that desire to try and capture quality time in a picture. Where everything is ok, just there and then. I have a million pictures like that and I love them all.

8. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

My most long standing desire is to open a restaurant that focusses entirely on unforgettable nights of pleasure, great company and stellar food. I’d be the cook in that dream, procuring amazing ingredients to surprise my guests with. Because I know just how hard the hospitality industry is and how hard it is to balance quality with profit, I aim to become a TA millionaire first and then do it as a hobby someday.

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

Think classic French Bistro with beautiful white table-linens, but set on a cliff on the Portuguese south coast where the sunsets last forever. If someone could import fireflies for the terrace at night, I’d be ever so grateful!

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

I’d build teams, and make sure people are in the right place in the right time to make their optimum contribution to a joint goal. Just like I do today. No Linkedin, no career ladders, just really getting to know people and helping them thrive. That, or court Jester for one of many warlords that will have arisen amongst the survivors.

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

Whenever you find a problem, your presentation to leadership should have at least 2 probable solutions. Explaining what’s wrong is easy, you were hired to solve the problems you find. This advice was given to me in my first TA leadership role, where I walked in and found a mess. At the time, I wanted to show that I understood what was wrong quickly. My HRD kindly told me that he knew most of the problems already and explained that he trusted me with the design of the solution. THAT’s what he wanted to talk about. The idea of putting 2 solutions in your presentation is brilliant I think. It helps spark debate and forces people to take at least two different angles when looking at the problem.

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

I joined a start up that said it was “in final stages of closing a huge funding round”. I was promised that aaaaalll that money would go into hiring and I was asked to build a massive TA team. In my obsession with scaling, I could not resist. When I joined after serving my two month notice at a job I loved, the funding never came. I sat there for 6 months, filled 10 roles and fired 6 recruiters. My role in that shit show is that I fell for the glitter but failed to check whether it was gold. At the same time though, I met some amazing people and it allowed me to pivot my role into volume recruiting and put me where I am today. No regrets.

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

There is nothing wrong with a bit of corner cutting, even if it stems from laziness. If someone gets results and makes sure the quality is there, typically the fact that they cut corners is because there is waste in the process. They have found a quicker route to the desired outcome. That’s to be learnt from.

14. What is the optimal number of people in a team, with you in it?

This is a question that keeps me up at night and there is a lot of mega interesting science about optimum sizes of organization, collaboration models etc. If I’d ever go back to uni, I’d love to study this question. Right now, based on my gut, I think intentional team design, clear division of roles and strong goal settings is way more important than the number of people in it. That said, I like my people close and lines short.

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

That even with the industry maturing at the rate that it is and with all of the C level attention for Talent nowadays, recruitment is still not a chosen career path. No student counsellor is recommending our students a career in recruiting and no real formal education exists. We’re suffering massive churn and burn according to Linkedin. It scares me that the people in charge of story telling about careers have failed to put “recruiter” on the map of the next generation of talent.

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

AI is not going to change your life. The whole industry is atwitter with all the cool things ChatGPT does for you, but they forget that ChatGPT has a huge set of clean data at its disposal that we can never mimic. Without clean data, AI is utterly, utterly useless. In an age where most TA leadership still struggles with even the most basic reporting on open roles, candidates in process etc., I think we are hugely distracted. Build a process where you have 100% clean, continued and complete data first. It’ll take you months, years to get there. Then come talk to me about AI.

17. If you were to win a fortune on the lottery, what would you do with the money and why?

I’d became a perennial masters student and just spend my days completing every masters that tickles my fancy. Philosophy, Psychology, Literature, History, Physics, Politics. I’d never be bored a day in my life.

18. Which famous historical figure do you think would make the best agency recruiter, and why?

Miles Davis, a revolutionary jazz and fusion trumpet player put together some of the star-studded line ups for his albums and tours almost without fail. He had a particular knack to put promising young players that became masters of their craft later in life. Talk about networking and an eye for talent!

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

“Name the top three skills every recruiter should have?”

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

Femke Jongsma, Director at FixedToday. She is one of the masterminds of the RPO and MSP industry in the Netherlands and understands integrated talent like no one else.

Thank you to Thomas Waldman or taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow Thomas on LinkedIn.

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