What I Wish I Knew: career advice interview with Paul Hallam

Six Degrees Executive CEO and Co-founder Paul Hallam gives some tips for creating a rigorous goal-setting routine, talks about his insatiable thirst for knowledge, and shares the lessons learnt from a run-in with the law as a teenager.

While brushing his teeth every morning, Paul Hallam doesn’t let his mind wander like the rest of us. Instead, he’s reviewing a one-page printout (literally stuck to the bathroom mirror) of his personal and professional goals.

Welcome to the next instalment in our “What I Wish I Knew” interview series. Read on for plenty of actionable advice, including Paul’s red-hot tips for young recruitment professionals looking to make their mark. 

Paul, we understand you’re a BIG believer in the importance of setting goals?

I’ve been setting goals for 20 years, and my process has evolved over that time. I start writing out my goals in November, and make sure that I’ve completed my list before Christmas. Around the first week of January I’ll meet up with my friend and mentor, Steve Kloss and he and I are both very stringent goal-setters. We’ll sit down together, talk through our goals and challenge each other on them. Throughout the year we’ll reconnect to review and reflect on those goals and see how we’re performing to them. The document itself used to be very exhaustive; now it’s much more condensed. I also have a 1-pager version of my goals in my bathroom which means I’m regularly looking at them and assessing them. I truly believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have that practice. My two pieces of advice for setting goals would be:

  • Write (don’t type) your goals down and make yourself accountable to yourself

  • Find a friend or mentor who can help hold you accountable.

What sort of goals do you have currently?

My goal-setting is organised into ‘buckets’ of what’s most important in my life. Health and Wellness is my number one goal and probably also my biggest challenge. My doctor tells me I’m reasonably healthy, but I am overweight – and that’s something I’ve never mastered. Eating, exercising, meditating, or any activities to make sure I have good physical and mental health are really important to me. The second bucket of goals involves family, friends and relationships: ensuring that I’m the best partner, father and friend I can possibly be. I take time to think about where I can improve in my relationships and what relationships are working for me and what relationships are not, and what I can do to improve them. The third bucket includes my personal development goals, or areas in which I want to grow and develop professionally, financially, and generally. This could include any number of activities – one of them that I haven’t achieved yet is to learn how to play 500! I have standard goals every year i.e. visiting a new country every year and ensuring I read a minimum of 8 books each year.

Paul, what’s your opinion on continuous learning?

Today, learning is more accessible than ever before.  I’m constantly listening to podcasts, watching TED Talks, getting onto YouTube to watch online seminars … there’s so much information at your fingertips about anything you want to learn. There’s no longer any excuse not to learn; it’s just about picking the right channels to learn through.

In recruitment we’re very lucky in that we interview so many people per week and constantly meet with interesting clients. This means we’re in a forum where you can be genuinely curious and ask questions – not only about the candidates, but also to teach yourself about new ways of doing things, whether that be lessons in leadership or strategy, but there is no better way to build your commercial acumen.

Can you tell us about a time when failure has set you up for success?

I’ve certainly had some failures over the years. I remember as a 15-year-old I thought it would be a really good idea to sell roses on Valentine’s Day. I bought thousands of roses, packaged them and recruited some friends to sell them at major intersections around Melbourne. We sold a few, before the police approached us to see our license – I didn’t understand what they were talking about, but they explained to us that I should move on very quickly with my thousands of roses, or I would be arrested! So, I went home with the roses that I couldn’t sell. Lesson learnt:

1) you need to plan, and

2) there’s a thing called compliance that you need to abide by!

As an adult, I’ve also had several failures in business, including a healthcare recruitment business that didn’t take off. When I Iaunch any new venture now (and not just in recruitment), the lessons learnt from those past failures are important to draw upon.

Historically, I think we’ve been a bit too scared to fail at Six Degrees Executive, but I’ve learnt that in the new economy and the digital world, failing is a very, very important part of your journey.  If you’re not failing along the way, you’re not trying and probably haven’t been pushing the boundaries enough. If you’ve measured and considered the risk, trying and failing is the greatest lesson.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting their career in recruitment?

The most important thing to understand in executive recruitment is that our business is built on relationships. Although technology is becoming more important every day, machines cannot replace the relationships that you have with your candidates and with your clients. So, make sure you do whatever you can to build and foster those relationships.

Never ever forget the importance of the candidate. Recruiters are so focussed on the client, but if your focus needs to be as much on the candidate as it is on the client.

Technology is also important. Used correctly, technology can be an incredible way to build your personal brand, source the best candidates efficiently, lessening your administrative load. The key piece of advice is to embrace technology and know when to use it.

What are the top three traits you look for when hiring?

  1. Passion – if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, give it away. Life is way too short!

  2. Curiosity – our job is to ask questions, but important is to listen. You’ve got to have curiosity in this business, but it’s what you do with that information that will determine how successful you are.

  3. Resilience – what we do isn’t easy. It’s important to be resilient and have mechanisms to make sure you stay on top of your game.

If you could put any message on a giant billboard, what would it say?

Believe in yourself!


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