Courting Creativity at Disney

The entertainment company tops our survey as an entry-level employer. But don't expect the typical structured corporate environment

Anne Ceruti is the vice-president for talent acquisition at Walt Disney(DIS). This fall, Disney ranked No. 1 in BusinessWeek's inaugural "Best Places to Launch a Career." Disney clinched the top spot based on a survey of 37,000 U.S. undergrads. Cynics need not apply: the culture stresses creativity, optimism, and decency.

During the 2005-06 school year, Disney recruited on 450 undergraduate campuses. Ceruti spoke to BusinessWeek's Lindsey Gerdes earlier this year. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.

How can you tell if a candidate is right for a certain role?

We don't interview people specifically for a role as many would think. We look at them by their ability to grow with the company, to lead and collaborate. Someone who's looking for a very structured environment, everything nailed down all the time, like at a manufacturing company, might not be someone we're looking for, because we're a creative company.

What would you say are the three most important characteristics Disney looks for in entry-level applicants?

We look for communication skills, leadership skills, and analytical skills (see, 06/09, "Best Places to Launch A Career").

How much is networking stressed in the entry-level chain?

It's a very important part of our process. We have a diverse and established internship program across the companies. Theme parks have an international component. We have summer and year-round internships.

We have a long list of activities to gain exposure to different business units. We bring them together to showcase our leaders through Q&As, dinners. Interns don't just get the viewpoint of one business unit, they get a view of what the company's about.

You have an internship program where participants live together. What's that like?

You're referring to Orlando. They have a lot of opportunities for exposure. We showcase leaders in different groups. They come in every six weeks, and we have housing for domestic as well as international. On site we provide transportation. It's like a small city.

Any particular ways you engage this generation of new hires?

We currently have four different generations working together. We really try to motivate this generation. We've expanded our internship program, educated managers on what it takes to engage this particular workforce. We also leverage technology, engage them through their own informal communities, like MySpace, LinkedIn.

Do you recruit off these social networking sites?

We don't necessarily recruit off of MySpace, but we're very aware where this generation goes to think about opportunities. There's a lot of information out there on the Web. We tap into blogs and find out what things people are interested in, in terms of why they would join a company.

We want to encourage people to collaborate. I think prior generations focused more on traditional career ladders, move up and be on a particular pace with peers. That's still important to some extent, but this element of collaboration is so much more important than for previous generations.

How else are you adjusting your recruiting to attract and retain this group?

From what I understand by looking at external data, we are fully aware of what is driving this newest generation, what engages them, motivates them. There are many ways a candidate might come to know about Disney, like obviously on-campus recruiting.

We strive to expose people to our leadership through many venues, by speaking at conferences, leading panel discussions, or leveraging our alumni connections. We will be looking at our programs and our practices to make sure we attract young people and retain them. Those things are in development.

What in particular do you think draws undergrads to Disney?

I think there are a lot of reasons. The caliber of our leadership is definitely a reason people are drawn to us. We have a diverse base of opportunities and a broad range of experiences, from startups to established businesses.

It's not any one thing, but a host of opportunities. It's the quality of our brand, the content, the fact that it's a fabulous place to learn, our foray into family entertainment. We focus so much on storytelling. Our company was founded by an individual, and that personality is still very much here today.

What structures do you have for moving up in the workplace?

We have a number of people who started with us who are here many years later in executive roles. Many execs can certainly work side by side with new recruits, really help to bring people along through the organization.

You can look at people who have joined us and risen to senior roles within the company. We're a different organization from what we were when these leaders joined us. We're going to be very different 10 years from now, vs. the company that people join today.

With so many divisions at Disney, where do most people start?

Theme parks probably have the most opportunities for attracting interns and entry-levels. Every unit has the ability to attract entry-level hires and hire off of campus in four major areas. The volume depends on the size of the business unit and workforce.

But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities elsewhere. In some cases we recruit for groups focused on those programs. It speaks to the nature of the culture.

With social consciousness so important to this generation, what kinds of environmental initiatives do you have?

Disney's very vested in community service and has a highly regarded volunteers program. We do a lot through our giving and worldwide outreach. We offer global roles with international assignments. All that makes us very attractive to this generation, but that's not new to this generation. It's something that's more prevalent in this generation, but it was very important two or three generations back—new is a relative term (see, 9/18/06, "The Corporate Springboard for Community Service").

What are some of the organizations that you recruit from?

Writing programs, National Black MBA, and various professional conferences. Some of our leaders speak at major forums. We don't really recruit, but we post jobs on blogs. This is where people come together.

We want to be mindful of how people are assessing opportunities, sharing information, which is very important. We have technical teams constantly looking at ways to engage this workforce.