What the Aleksey Vayner comedy tells us about recruiting writ large
By Travis R. Kavulla
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October 17, 2006
Few things could be more hilarious or timely than Yale student Aleksey Vayner’s desperate attempts to find himself employment on Wall Street.
Like thousands of graduating seniors at the height of the recruiting season last month, Vayner sent out a resumé. In his case, it catalogued a bizarre but impressive array of accomplishments—Aleksey had a 140-mph tennis serve and a 500-pound bench press, he had authored a book touted as “a unique gendered perspective on the Holocaust,” and he was CEO of a non-profit that helped disadvantaged children get a leg-up.
It was, in short, an extravaganza of a curriculum vitae. And to top things off, Aleksey also distributed to his prospective employers a seven minute video modestly entitled “Impossible is Nothing,” in which he imparts his “principles to personal development”: “success must first be conceived internally before it is manifested externally” and “failure cannot be considered an option” among other vacuities.
The video was riotously funny, and a UBS employee soon leaked it to the wider world. But beyond the chortles, young Aleksey’s credentials and “drive to succeed” also struck a chord with the e-recruiting ethos. The video was featured on MSNBC, whose Donny Deutsch declared “I would hire this guy sight unseen.” Credit Suisse, and possibly other firms, gave Vayner an interview.
Soon thereafter, Vayner was exposed as a fraud courtesy of the sleuthing of an anonymous website, http://www.ivygateblog.com, that’s quickly becoming the most amusing Ivy-related read online. Vayner’s monograph on the Holocaust, “Women’s Silent Tears,” turned out to be non-existent, its online sample pages plagiarized from an encyclopedia; Vayner Capital Management and Youth Empowerment Strategies were, likewise, make-believe; and his claim to have “fixed [the] injured backs of 5 athletes” on Yale’s varsity crew squad—he claimed to be adept at what’s termed “Chinese medicine” on his resumé—suddenly seemed dubious.
In the portrait of Aleksey Vayner, two themes can be found: the pathological telling of lies, which is unacceptable, and vacuous self-aggrandizement, which proves one is “driven,” in the words of Donny Deutsch.
Consider some of what the recruiting season has lately brought to our campus.
A PowerPoint presentation that Boston Consulting Group (BCG) made to a capacity crowd in the Charles Hotel’s ballroom makes a host of self-conscious comparisons to the company’s leading competitors. But BCG is particularly proud of its employees’ lengthy corpus of corporate self-help works published under the company imprimatur.
There’s Hardball, with its imploring subtitle “Are you Playing to Play or Playing to Win?” And there’s a truncated edition of Carl von Clausewitz’s “On War,” the book jacket of which asks itself the obvious question before promptly providing an answer: “What can a nineteenth-century Prussian general teach a twenty-first century executive or entrepreneur about business strategy? Everything!” And who could forget the classic “The Change Monster,” whose premise goes “change is a monster that can’t be slain, but it can be made less ferocious.” (I saw one girl in attendance write down some of the titles under block capitals: “skim these.”)
At McKinsey & Co.’s introductory session—held several days later in the same ballroom with the same faces in the audience—attendees were given a 42-page hardcover book, “The Key to Leadership,” which creepily intimates, “[McKinsey] is the key that has opened doors for people like you to positions of leadership.”
Another firm boasted in its advertisements in this newspaper about how it “put a poet in charge of designing an automated trading block.” I can see Emily Dickinson scrawling slant rhyme over a life of corporate drudgery now—I had never entertained the thought / of running Lehman’s automated trading block.
Was Aleksey Vayner’s talent as a purveyor of one-line mantras on success really so off-base?
It really comes back to the annual recruiting charade’s enduring paradox: how the corporate job frenzy can be so amusingly vacuous and yet loom so large in seniors’ post-graduate options that investment banks, consulting firms, and hedge funds comprise over half the Office of Career Services’ list of recruiters.
Like many of my classmates, generous remuneration is a temptation to give into an 80-hour/week existence as an Excel and PowerPoint jockey. But as I sat staring at the OCS’s e-recruiting forums last month, I started feeling guilty about my motivation—what could only be described as my crass, money-hungry impulse. I was haunted by that nagging question: Is this what my liberal arts education at Harvard really prepared me for?
This type of reticence is not what recruiters are looking for. The spirit is better enshrined in Aleksey Vayner’s declaration in his cover letter, “Impossible is just someone’s opinion.” How ironic that this gung-ho attitude, even if expressed with slightly more modesty in the typical Harvard student, is used as a rallying cry by those who would consign themselves to such a dreary desk job.
Travis R. Kavulla ’06-’07 is a history concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.