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Recruiting, Playboy-style

Working the Town is a bimonthly featurefeature about careers in the entertainment bizbiz, which will be written by various prominent figures in the field.

Playboy Enterprises chair-CEO Christie Hefner presides over a publicly traded multimedia business that employs more than 600 people. From corporate roots in the signature magazine of her father, Hugh Hefner, Playboy is today a player in both old and new media with global programming commitments in cable television, the Internet, satellite TV and radio, home video, gaming, licensing and other sectors.

During our interview, Hefner pointed out she had once told Malcolm Forbes that “if Forbes is the capitalist tool, Playboy is the capitalist carrot.” From company headquarters in Chicago, Christie Hefner spoke with Variety regarding employment matters.

Q: Apart from brains and a hard work ethic, what other characteristics suggest a high probability of success within Playboy?

A: People who have a more collaborative style of management do well here. Because we are a brand-driven company, we really want our people to work across department and divisional lines, whether that’s in content creation or in customer acquisition or in cross-promotion. I think people who are above average in creativity and intellectual curiosity do well here. I have always found having a sense of humor and being able to use it is a very useful quality.

Q: Is that easily ascertained during a job interview?

A: Well, we’re a little bit unusual I’m told by the myriad of candidates we’ve interviewed over the years, in that we make our interviewing process fairly collaborative. In trying to find people who are going to be successful, they’re likely to meet more than a couple of potential colleagues, and we use management psychologists to interview all of our external and internal candidates for senior positions. So by the time they’ve been through, we think we have a pretty good idea about the person’s style and personality, and not just know what their resume looks like.

Q: What was the most memorable job interview you ever conducted?

A: I can’t think of one. But certainly one of the things that’s always interesting to me in an interview is how well the person listens. It’s pretty hard to be successful in business if you aren’t a good listener.

Q: Do the hardcore aspects of some of your programming dissuade potential candidates?

A: I don’t think it’s been a problem for us. I asked our head of HR out in L.A., and she said that over many years, there have been only a few candidates who have turned us down. And it’s usually kind of a family question of, “Gee, I’m not sure my family would be comfortable with me working there.” But if you look at the backgrounds of the people we’ve attracted, I think it speaks for itself. We consistently are able to attract top talent from leading companies.

Q: It’s not a bigger factor for men or for women?

A: No. I think the fact that 40% of our executives are women makes us a pretty attractive place for women to come to work, because they’re not going to be the only woman sitting around the conference table when there are high-level decisions being made. They’re not going to be the only one who, if it’s a holiday party, the only spouse who’s a man is their husband.

Q: If you were an executive looking for a media or entertainment industry job today, how would you begin your search?

A: I think it’s important to not only evaluate the job that’s being offered, but also the organization, the business, and the culture. I think that if you go into an organization — and this can be true of small ones, midsized ones or large ones — that has shown its capacity to adapt to change, to be creative about seizing new opportunities, and has also shown its willingness to allow people to grow within the company, then that’s a more interesting environment to work in than an alternative environment. I think sometimes the mistake people make is that they just focus on the job description and the compensation for that job.

Unger is a leading exec recruiter. At various times, he led the media and entertainment practices of the world’s three largest executive search firms. He can be reached at sa.unger@verizon.net.

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