February 8, 2011

Playboy’s Hef: Recruiter Role Model?

“Most of today’s magazines for men spend all their time out-of-doors – thrashing through thorny thickets or splashing about in fast flowing streams. We’ll be out there too, occasionally, but we don’t mind telling you in advance—we plan on spending more of our time inside.”—Hugh Hefner, inaugural issue of Playboy, December 1953

“I really like the outdoors; when I’m not indoors, that’s where you’ll find me.”—Woody Allen, notorious woods hater

STATIC QUEST/IMAGE: Michael Moffa

The World’s Greatest Recruiter?

Who is the world’s greatest recruiter and what can be learned from the methods that have driven that success? Asked this question, most guys I know would pause for about a nanosecond, nod in unison, sigh, agree and reverentially intone, “Hugh Hefner.” Prima facie, they could make a good case for giving Hefner the nod.

Monty Python wink-wink-nudge-nudge muted titillation and envy aside, is there anything job hunters and recruiters can learn from Hugh Hefner, resident pasha at the posh Playboy Mansion?  It seems there is.

The Static vs. Dynamic Quest

Hef, at home as much in print as in pajamas, described (in one of his Playboy forum articles many years ago) what he called the “static quest”—an efficient, effective technique for meeting women (or men—depending on gender and inclinations—or VIPs).

As an alternative to chasing after them like a hound after a fox, the static quest involves merely strategically planting oneself, for example, at a café table to wait for the fox to come to the rabbit, like patient paparazzi—if a Hollywood sybarite dolerite mansion is not available for that purpose. Hef’s plan and promise to adopt this recruitment strategy of conquest should have been in 1953 as much of a tip-off about things to come as German glider clubs were in 1933.

This Hefnerian concept of a static quest and its implied contrasting “dynamic quest”, stripped of pajama undertones, can be translated into terms resonant with and useful to recruiters and job hunters. For example, a traditional recruiting method of passively waiting for applicants to show up on a cold call or in response to a conventional advertisement is a form of static quest.

What Is a “Means-Alternative”?

For recruiters who are doing something else that is constructive while they are statically waiting, such as paperwork, their static quest is additionally an illustration of what I have identified as a “defense mechanism” that I call the “means-alternative”, namely, protecting your vital interests such as a job or merely maintaining your psychological equilibrium by doing something that is a means to what you want, but that is also an alternative to it—in this case, doing paperwork while waiting as both a means and alternative to interviewing.

Another simple example is that of carrying a book while on a train: It not only will serve as an alternative to conversation with others on the train (who may be absent, boring, etc.), but will also be a means to interesting conversation should they take an interest in your book and start to chat.  In the realm of high-powered business, for some people, an MBA is like that too: It can serve as a means to meeting an equally intelligent, successful future spouse or as an alternative to one—possession of that MBA  making a successful DINK (Double Income No Kids) spouse unnecessary.

Clearly, like all means-alternative situations, a win-win scenario—but on one condition: that the alternative not only counts as a success, but also that it maximizes the minimum success. In recruiting, it is not at all clear that a traditional means-alternative motivated static-quest recruiter is adopting an optimal strategy. That’s why there are lively debates about networking vs. advertising and proactive head-hunting vs. fax-reactive in-house interviewing.

So, the static quest is not a one-size-fits-all-pajama strategy. As a philosophy, a lifestyle and a recruiting style, the static quest outlandishly and outrageously succeeded as a valuable, but not sole, component in Hefner’s recruitment and empire building. Why is such spectacular and unique success unlikely for the modern static quest recruiter?

The Monopoly of Beauty, the Beauty of Monopoly

Part of the answer is simple: Hefner’s instant success in the 1950’s was unique because the products and services were unique, i.e., he had a monopoly that was instantly attractive to countless males.  Upon its debut, Playboy magazine and its subsequent chain of Playboy clubs had no comparable rivals equally resonant with mainstream male society and tolerated by the rest, despite its image as “Preyboy” among many.

Even without data, it seems a priori true that were Hef limited to a purely static quest recruitment strategy, he would have enjoyed substantially comparable initial-monopoly success in recruiting eager models for Playboy magazine, bunnies for the Playboy clubs and VIP celebrities for Mansion parties.

Unfortunately, a private-sector recruiter or HR staffer waiting in static-quest mode for responses in highly competitive business environments of 2011 will, in general, not enjoy the luxury of such a popular monopoly—hence, one reason for the popularity of LinkedIn, Facebook and other forms of networking as blends of static and dynamic quests.

Handing out a business card is the quintessential iconic fusion of both static and dynamic questing. The handover of a business card, the magnetic attraction of Hef and the Mansion combined with active search-and-employ talent scouting; and positioning oneself and one’s resume on LinkedIn are all examples of blended static-dynamic quests—a mixed static-dynamic quest strategy, rather than a pure version of either. Interpreting Woody Allen’s witticism about the outdoors as implicit, albeit sardonic advice, mix your strategies.

Recruiter Spider Strategies

Such a blend is not only smart, it’s natural—even and especially for some spiders. Some spiders will hunt, others simply wait. Often, like the species of New Mexico desert grass spider, Agelenopsis aperta, the spider will, in addition to actively hunting maintain a small territory or web for inviting mating and breeding, which it usually is able to defend merely in virtue of being the resident, while raiding a neighboring spider’s territory for prey.

(If it were not more dominant in virtue of having a territory than the average intruder, the average resident spider would be such only briefly, causing the havoc of endless population destabilizing evacuation from territories as same-species intruders continually dislodge residents, in a kind of pointless game of “tag-you’re-it, tag-you’re-gone”, “tag-I’m it-tag-I’m gone”. This translates into business dynamics as “first-mover/niche-creator advantage”.)

Hef, like a nested territorial spider, has his Playmate-wannabe and celebrity-magnetizing attractive territories and their webs—the Mansion, the mag and the clubs. To match that, a recruiter will need his or her own irresistible turf to which candidates and clients are drawn. If you are a recruiter attempting a traditional or modern static quest for candidates and applicants, such as waiting for the phone to ring and shake the webs loose, ask yourself this: “How can I create my own unique corporate mansion-cum-magnet-cum-spider’s web?” Maybe you don’t have to ask; maybe you are recruiting for a government-run monopoly, e.g., the military, the IRS, a VA hospital or an embassy.

How to Use Means-Alternative Strategies

But, if you have no idea or no government-monopoly clout, you’d better follow the modern lead and get more proactive. Sitting at your dime-a-dozen lemonade-style recruitment stand just won’t work as well as the more proactive alternatives and may pose a mean challenge as a means of generating traffic. On the other hand, a mixed static-dynamic plus means-alternative model works very well on the Net: Sites that recruit as well as sell online are, in effect, following that strategy: The marketing and recruiting are means and alternatives to each other.

If you are job hunting, rather than recruiting, the static quest vs. dynamic/proactive quest distinction is relevant to characterizing and evaluating your strategies and chances too.  Static: Post your resume and wait for the Web/web to jiggle. This will conserve energy, but cost you time (as modern physics would predict). Simple posting and waiting can also be a means alternative: If nobody responds, you can switch to the alternative activity—endlessly updating your resume, changing its formatting, etc.—a  strategy that clearly qualifies as an application of the means-alternative in its paradigmatic psychological defense-mechanism form.

You can also go mixed static-dynamic: Have a website as your territorial, mini-mansion “web”, while actively networking both on and off the Net. Then perhaps it will be true for you that “a man’s home(page) is his castle”….and mansion, from which to stage job hunting forays.

Recruitment Future of an “Urbane Legend”

As for Hef’s own recruitment future, even if he segues from quest to rest, he will forever rank among the greatest “urbane legends” of all time. In achieving such prodigious vertical and horizontal corporate integration apparently largely from the confines of his bed and pajamas, he has earned that accolade, if not also the right to be crowned “the greatest (static-quest) recruiter in the world”.

Read more in Recruiting Help

Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).