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Barbie, Oppenheimer : Who Would You Hire?

Since July 19th (and even before), they are the only ones we talk about, the only ones we see!


Of course, I am referring to the inevitable Barbie and Oppenheimer, two films, two characters that, on the surface, seem diametrically antithetical, but fate has made them meet in the heart of the summer.

This unprecedented situation (partly due to the catch-up of blockbusters after the halt of film productions following health measures) has fueled the imagination of many fans.

barbenheimer, qui recruterBarbie and J.R. Oppenheimer, what kind of professionals are they?

Although this blog is not intended to provide film critique, it is, on the other hand, interesting to study, from a strictly professional point of view, what Barbie and Oppenheimer mean as professional personas or Candidate Persona, i.e., a fictional representation of a candidate for a specific position?

Spoiler alert: this article contains elements from the plots of both films!

Barbie: a solid gold HR Director!

The character of Barbie is much richer and more complex than one might imagine, even though it comes from a "simple" plastic doll.

Let's analyze her characteristics to guess what role she might play in an organization.

Benevolent leadership

The character portrayed by Margot Robbie is, indeed, the true leader of Barbieland as the original Barbie (she calls herself the “stereotypical Barbie”).

Even if she does not hold any particular position (although there are lawyers, workers, “Nobel Prize winners,” etc.), she is sort of the soul of the organization (or its fairy godmother, if you prefer).

Faced with new challenges, she does not hesitate to ask for advice. In general, she is liked by everyone and does not seek to impose her ideas.


Emotional and situational intelligence

Greta Gerwig, the director of the film, did not want to portray Barbie as an empty and brainless doll, quite the opposite!

On numerous occasions, Barbie demonstrates great intelligence, especially when she arrives in the "real world."

Indeed, even if she does not immediately understand the disconcerting codes of this place, which is the polar opposite of her own universe, she can sense the toxicity of people who watch and judge her.

When Mattel's executives try to put her back in the box, she immediately senses the danger and flees.

A genuine sense of strategy

Barbie proves to be a clever strategist when it comes to ending the patriarchal coup led by the Kens.

Instead of directly confronting the horde of plastic masculinists, she finds a way to turn the situation around by multiplying alliances with other Barbies and introducing doubt among the enemy.

She manages to resolve the biggest crisis in Barbieland without any violence.

barbenheimer, atomic
Barbie, a moral leader, and a likable personality

In light of these three qualities, I believe Barbie embodies the Candidate Persona of a high-level HR director... within a small organization (SME or ETI at most).

As a benevolent leader, she genuinely cares about the well-being of her team and is essential in creating a positive and productive work environment.
She knows how to handle delicate and complex situations, such as conflicts between employees, while showing compassion.

She also has a strategic role, especially in workforce planning, organizational development, and change management.

Would she demonstrate the same qualities as an HR director in a large group? Perhaps, but let's note that she sometimes shows a certain naivety towards the so-called corporate world, or at least a misunderstanding of its codes.

Not sure that the inevitable political games inherent in large structures would suit her!

J.R. Oppenheimer: the ultimate Project Manager!

Unlike Barbie, Robert Oppenheimer really existed, his actions profoundly changed humanity, and the major subject of his life is not very... rosy (the development of the first atomic bomb for those who really did not follow).

What should we remember from the representation of this American genius as imagined by the no less brilliant Christopher Nolan?

Immense self-confidence

It might not jump out at you immediately, but the famous New Yorker with the Porkpie hat shows remarkable aplomb even when facing intimidating people, like General Leslie Groves, played by Matt Damon.

Indeed, when the latter first mentions the Manhattan Project, in a sort of hidden job interview, Oppenheimer does not hesitate to turn the situation around: he not only calmly details his objective qualities (advanced knowledge of science, stakes, people to mobilize), he brilliantly explains that he will "think" about the job offer that Groves never directly formulated.  Brilliant!

However, be careful with overconfidence, which will later provoke a particularly hurtful remark towards Lewis Strauss (played by the excellent Robert Downey Jr) which will be partly the cause of his downfall.

Cillian-Murphy-OppenheimerOppenheimer, great self-confidence with the ability to doubt when necessary

A skilled sense of negotiation

At the core, what is a project manager? 

Someone capable of mobilizing human, material, and financial resources to achieve the goals of a project. And Robert Oppenheimer is a true master in this field. In the end, he manages to secure nearly $2 billion (equivalent to $30 billion today!) while convincing the greatest minds of his time to join the venture.

Note that he is innovative when he decides to ensure a certain work-life balance by bringing the scientists' families to the Los Alamos site. To top it all off, he even manages to get the wives of all these brilliant men to work on tasks such as typing or accounting.

Granted, the feminist scope of this information pales in comparison to the message conveyed by "Barbie," but this decision allowed some women (notably Lilli Hornig, whom we see portrayed by actress Olivia Thirlby) to effectively participate in the scientific project... as scientists!

A true accessibility

Julius Robert Oppenheimer comes from the New York high bourgeoisie. A graduate of Harvard and Göttingen, he is friends with (and considered an equal, even though he did not win a Nobel Prize) the greatest scientists of his time: Einstein, of course, but also Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr.

With such a CV, one might think he would have little regard for mere mortals like us. Yet it's quite the opposite: on screen as in his real life, Oppenheimer has always been seen as a simple, humble (even knowing his worth) and genuinely accessible person.

We see this when he explains the principles of quantum mechanics to his future wife Kitty (played by the excellent Emily Blunt) or when he personally cares about the well-being of the workers at the Trinity site, the first atomic bomb in history.

In short, he can talk to the most important person of his time just as easily as to the simple "janitor." This is an essential quality of an excellent project manager.

oppenhiemrA visionary leader

All the combined qualities, described above, make Robert Oppenheimer an unparalleled project leader, capable of leading initiatives of unmatched scope while remaining deeply human.

Yet, as the mathematician Edward Teller (father of the H-bomb) maliciously said, Oppenheimer would be "simply incapable of running a hot dog stand" (which he willingly admits). Indeed, this type of profile needs a project to his (dis)measure. He would be deeply bored without constant intellectual stimulation.

As such, his position would be more likely within a large multinational, with considerable resources, rather than within a small company.

Inbound Recruiting et IA générative

The "secondary" personas: Gloria and Lewis Strauss

Barbie and Oppenheimer both possess exceptional qualities that are rarely found in real life (especially for Barbie...) However, the whole point of persona work is to be somewhat realistic when thinking about a profile for a job.

In this respect, I would like to discuss two characters who are ultimately more interesting, from an HR perspective, than the heroes of our two blockbusters.

Gloria, the perfect imperfection

In my opinion, Gloria is the most important character in the "Barbie" film, both in narrative and symbolism.


Embodied by the impeccable America Ferrara, Gloria is a forty-year-old mother, an employee at Mattel (and seemingly the only woman) going through a small depressive episode, marked by "morbid thoughts" that will affect Barbie herself.

She plays a central role in protecting Barbie from her own company's iniquitous ambitions (Mattel) and in delivering her now-mythical monologue "It is literally impossible to be a woman." In this respect, she is much more believable as a figure of female empowerment, including from a professional standpoint, than the too-perfect Barbie.

Lewis Strauss, the self-taught enthusiast

The character played by Robert Downey Jr. clearly has the villain role in Christopher Nolan's film.


Egocentric, he imagines that the two greatest brains of his time are plotting against him. Vindictive, he secretly organizes a sordid investigation to drag the father of the A-bomb through the mud.

However, despite these characteristics let's say, "human... too human", Lewis Strauss is a true workaholic and undoubtedly deserves real consideration.

During his first encounter with Oppenheimer, he presents himself as a "shoe salesman" (which he really was) and underlines that he doesn't have any major university degree.

To put it bluntly, he perfectly embodies the person who has managed to climb the ladder without the benefit of a privileged family background or exceptional intelligence (unlike Oppenheimer).

In real life, you are infinitely more likely to meet a Lewis Strauss than an Oppenheimer during a job interview. Reassure him about his skills and he will undoubtedly be a huge asset for your organization!


Topics: Inbound Recruiting