Blog    Spotlight Chats With

Shortlist chats with... Nick Waterworth, Ambition

Published on 28th July 2015

Like many recruiters, Nick Waterworth entered the industry by accident. 

After completing an economics degree in the UK, he applied for work through a recruitment company, which suggested he try a trainee recruiter role instead.

Waterworth soon moved to Michael Page, and in 1985, joined the company's fledgling Sydney office. After more than 16 years, Waterworth departed Michael Page in 1998 and began his own business, Ambition, the following year. 

What inspired you to start Ambition?

"I had become very close, in a business sense, with a guy called Paul Lyons, who was also at Michael Page. He was in Hong Kong, running the Asian business, and I was running Australia. We both turned 40 at pretty much the same time. We're rugby tragics, the two of us. We went to watch the Wallabies in Melbourne, [and] we drove from Melbourne to Perth to watch the Wallabies the next weekend... We both had a desire to drive across Australia. 

"On that drive it was sort of Thelma and Louise, talking about the world. We came to the conclusion that we didn't want to die wondering and that we wanted to start our own business. We really didn't know what it looked like, but that didn't matter. We just knew we wanted to start our own show. 

"So we resigned from Page and it was quite an exercise. It wasn't because we didn't like it; we were both quite close to the boss who was in London... It was just a desire to find out, could we do it? And how good could we make it?" 

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your recruitment career?

"The start-up phase, whilst exciting, is hard work. It's just fair dinkum hard slog... You have to put your heart and soul on the line. I guess that was the first big challenge... The other has been surviving various shocks that we've had along the way. The dot-com bubble, 9/11, and more recently the GFC... I remember very clearly: September 2008 was our best month and then October 2008 went to our worst month. 

"So in a month it turned down really sharply... We did what we could to survive: we put most people on a four-day week, sadly we had to make some people redundant... Thank goodness we had some good advice and we got through. But those shocks which drastically reduced demand from employers, they were big challenges." 

What do you look for in the consultants you hire?

"The majority of people that we hire come from the Ambition Academy, which is for people who haven't had recruitment experience. We do hire experienced recruiters, but that would be maybe 25% of our hires. The majority are people who have done two, three, four years [of work] out of uni but haven't found their 'thing'... It is much less about the resume and more about soft skills, such as integrity, which is really important to us... [Also] the ability and willingness to make things happen, rather than react to things that are happening to you... [It's] a particular type of intellect that enables people to deal with ambiguity, to think on their feet, to change priorities two or three times a day." 

How has the role of a recruiter changed since you started in the industry?

"As the old saying goes, 'all change, no change'... The fundamentals are very similar. Some of the stuff I was taught back in prehistory still apply... A definite challenge for people working in recruitment these days is the volume of email... Technology's had a huge impact. 

"Social media, CRM – that's radically changed the speed with which recruiters can work [and] the reach they can have, but also the challenge is time management... The industry is also significantly more sophisticated... It's become much more part of the landscape, the service offerings are much more sophisticated." 

What advice would you give to someone looking to enter recruitment?

"Don't do it if you're not prepared to work in a job where you have to make things happen. It's not a right or wrong thing, but some people are much better in a role where they react to situations and they're part of chain, if you like. As a recruitment consultant, that just isn't your work. You've got to make things happen... But do it if you're task-orientated. Being a recruitment consultant has very black and white outcomes." 

What is on the horizon for your company?

"For Ambition, growth, definitely. At the moment, growth is in existing offices. We have four offices in Asia, we're in three cities in Australia, plus London, so the emphasis on the moment is growth within those offices... whether that's expanding in technology in Hong Kong, or growth in professional services in London. "So growth is a big agenda and possibly the biggest part of that is Asia... We are endeavouring to get more savvy about digital, social media and so on. It is clearly much talked about, but it is also complicated and easy to bark up the wrong tree and spend a lot of time and money and not get a return on it. So we're very involved, we're getting more and more involved each month, but we're really trying to not just play, but get more sophisticated, in the digital environment."