James Bates is the Head of Recruitment, APAC at Hyper Anna, an AI powered data platform that delivers business insights from natural language requests.
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I started my career as a web developer back in the year 2000, when the internet was a very different place. I worked for the UKs first free ISP, a tech start-up called Freeserve, and built the code that ran their landing page. This was back in the time of dial-up modems, waiting 30 seconds for a page to load and the weirdness of people’s geocities websites.
After around 6 years as a developer, I made the move into tech recruitment, where I was basically hiring developers to do roles I used to do myself. I then moved to Sydney in 2008, and after 5 years at a recruitment agency I made the move into internal recruitment with Atlassian.
I was one of their 1st ever tech recruiters, and part of a small team that helped the Sydney office grow from 200 people to over 1,000 in 4 years. We also won The Best Place to Work 2 years in a row during my time there, and it was a fantastic learning experience for me.
I am now Head of Recruitment for a software company called Hyper Anna, who have built an AI powered data analytics platform. I manage all their recruitment across APAC, which means I get to chat with some of the smartest minds in the AI and machine learning space.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I think what I love the most about being in fast growth tech companies is that you rarely get 2 days the same. So I try to manage my workdays with that in mind.
Every morning I spend a few minutes re-assessing my day ahead, does everything in my calendar still make sense to do? Do I have enough breathing space in between my most important things? I’m happy to act quickly on these things so my day is then as productive and enjoyable as possible, no matter what new things the day throws at me.
Before work, my commute into the city takes me around an hour on the train, so I get time to listen to podcasts in the morning which help to get me focused on the day.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, I can work from home if I need to be there for something (eg. a delivery or my daughter is unwell), but normally I prefer being in the office. I enjoy the buzz and the energy you get when you are around smart people doing great things.
I’ve learnt so much from simply over-hearing a conversation in the office or looking over a wall of post-it notes in the design area.
In the future I can see myself moving towards a more remote / home-based role, but for the next few years I would prefer to keep experiencing the vibe you get from a growing company.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance for me means making sure I’m being as productive as possible and making sure I’m enjoying what I’m doing, so that I can leave work happy and then put all my focus on my family. When you know you’ve had a productive day, you bring good energy home with you and it’s much easier to switch work off.
Setting small goals is the key to work-life balance. Whatever monthly or quarterly goals you may have will always translate to daily and weekly steps forward. Once you break your Big Hairy Goal into small pieces, you take control of it and your work-life balance will follow.
5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?
I am a big believer in mindfulness and not being afraid to simply stop what you are doing if you find yourself stressed or confused. Take yourself out of that physical space and go to get a drink or a snack.
A good tip I was told a few years ago around mindfulness is about how to introduce it into your life. Rather than it needing to be a big commitment, there is a very easy way to start.
The next time you stick the kettle on, or put your lunch in the microwave, close your eyes and listen to the sound the machine makes. Focus purely on the hum of the machine and take slow, deep breaths. You won’t see the funny looks from people because you’ll have your eyes closed, and the stress in your head will clear away. You can then reassess what you need to do.
Another nice habit to have is to take time to celebrate each others success. When you see someone do a great job, call it out. When someone goes out of their way to help you, go out of your way to Thank them. Work should be made up of lots of little successes, so don’t forget to take time to enjoy them.
6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
I’ve read some of the business books often mentioned when answering this question, like Creativity Inc., Start With Why and The Tipping Point, and would say I’ve actually learnt the most from reading books that focus on the skills needed in jobs that I’ve never done, but that could be transferable.
For example, a few years ago I became very interested in product management, and so read Hooked and The Lean Product Playbook. Reading them really helped me to broaden my mindset, and bring product and design thinking principles into recruitment.
Seeing recruitment as a product, and breaking it into different pieces, means I can better assess how each piece is running, how they fit together and which piece to improve.
7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Prioritise. Say no to things quickly and only focus on what matters. It’s more important to do 3 things well, than to do 10 things badly.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and I think his perspective on work-life balance really resonates with me. He’s all about being productive rather than working long hours, and he believes the most productive and happy teams tend to be small teams with a common goal. I’d recommend everyone read at least one book by him.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Take the time to reward yourself whenever possible.
Make sure you celebrate your successes and those of people around you. Make your work a happy place for everyone.
If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!