Jeff Waldman of VanHack and SocialHRCamp on owning it, controlling your destiny and how to prevent becoming invisible
Jeff Waldman is the VP, Evangelism & Strategy at VanHack and the founder of SocialHRCamp. With an extensive background in HR, Marketing and Technology, Jeff is an active community builder in the Toronto HR scene whose work focuses on all matters relating to Recruitment, Employee Engagement, Employer Branding and Diversity and Inclusion.
Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
About this time ten years ago, I was working for a small public sector HR consulting group and thought that would be a good way to set myself up for leading HR at a larger organization down the road. When I got laid off from that position however, I told myself that I never wanted that kind of thing to happen to me again. It made me shift my focus to becoming more entrepreneurial within the world of technology. I always knew that I wanted to focus on pursuing opportunities that I was interested in, and that fit my skill set so the entrepreneurial road made a lot of sense. That risky choice was what ultimately led me to where I am today. It’s been interesting over the years making sure that I’ve been agile in the way I’ve managed my career as well because the business world continues to change so quickly. Being willing to take chances, following your gut, pursuing your interests and not being afraid to take new things on has been what has got me to where I am now.
What are the most important trends in HR today? What do HR people need to be thinking about and why?
Understanding and learning how to leverage technology is one of the biggest things that HR people need to be thinking about right now. Being able to properly scale the HR function ultimately comes through the use of technology in the right way. Things like chatbots are becoming more and more useful in removing the administrative load on HR people and increasingly, automation is helping free up HR people to focus on things that are more strategic or related to employee experience.
Stripping out the technology aspects, HR practitioners also need to be very well versed in everything related to employee engagement. From my experience, engagement is what most closely drives business results and outcomes. If, as an HR person, you can become an expert on everything that relates to employee engagement, you’ll have a big leg up in showing how the work that HR does truly drives the business forward.
Tell me about VanHack. What made you get onboard after building such an entrepreneurial HR career? What are you most excited about?
Joining VanHack has been a natural continuation of my entrepreneurial HR career and I feel thankful to have joined the team. The company has built an amazing brand, and is solving a real problem for Canadian technology companies who are starving for high quality technical talent. The platform helps these companies tap into an international community of top notch tech talent, which makes it so that companies here don’t need to fight against each other as much in order to find great people. Not only does VanHack help organizations find great people, it also helps get them to Canada quickly and that is a big value add. I’m really looking forward to working with them.
What have been some of the most important business lessons that you have had to learn the hard way? How have they made you more successful?
Early on, I’d say that I was quite naïve. I assumed that everyone had my best intentions at heart whether it was my boss or my peers, and this wasn’t always the case. The business world can be very cut-throat at times if you don’t really know who you are dealing with, and I wish I understood that more when I was starting out.
Secondly, I didn’t really have a mentor starting out, and that is something that I think everyone should seek out in order to be successful. It is important to have a group of smart people around you who can help you respond to situations and deal with things that you don’t have experience in.
Learning to trust your gut has also been an important lesson. In every situation that I’ve been in, I’ve come to learn the importance of trusting your gut. I’ve been in situations where my gut was telling me not to do things like taking a certain job but I ended up doing it anyway and that was one of the worst employment experiences that I’ve had. Learn to trust your gut.
Lastly, being comfortable with knowing that you control your own destiny and not being deterred by the dissent of others was an important learning. Many folks thought I was crazy when I started SocialHRCamp but after six years, it’s actually turned out to be quite successful. Building that was a lot of hard work but there were lots of intrinsic motivations that enabled it to be successful. It wasn’t about showing other people that I could do it, it was about showing myself that I could do it.
What does leadership look like to you? What makes a great leader?
Leadership for me means a few things: it’s about unconditional support, mutual respect and being inspiring based on the things that you do, not just what you say. Leaders always follow through on their commitments to others. Having an inspiring vision is one thing, but delivering on that is another. Leaders also break down barriers for others to be successful.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Whether that risk is taking a job that will pay you less money or stepping into a position with a lower title. You are in control of your career and finding something that you like to do that makes you happy and lets you grow is what you should focus on. Also, be confident in yourself and don’t pay so much attention to what other people think. Own the things that you care about and go after them. There are so many people out there that play their careers safe and they are ultimately invisible. Sometimes, it’s just about going for it and owning whatever happens after the fact.