October 25, 2006 in Work

Impossible is Nothing

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Here is a perfect example of how not to get hired by your dream employer. It also shows just how easily it is to embarrass oneself on a global scale. As such, while I may watch my share of videos on youtube, I won’t be posting one online anytime soon.

Why this ghastly jobseeker is a model corporate candidate
Financial Times, Published: October 23 2006 03:00 | Last updated: October 23 2006 03:00
Investment bankers have been having a terrific laugh this month at the expense of a solemn-faced Yale graduate called Aleksey Vayner. A few weeks ago he applied for a job at UBS and sent, along with an 11-page CV, a brief video explaining why he was so special.
Within days the link to the video, Impossible is Nothing, had been e-mailed all over the globe, and was playing on YouTube to huge audiences.
Just in case you are one of the half dozen people left in the working world who have not yet seen it, I can tell you that it involves almost as many changes of costume as the other workplace film I watched last week, The Devil Wears Prada. But while that film is mildly funny, Impossible is Nothing is uproarious. And while the fictional über-bitch boss in The Devil Wears Prada rings true, the real-life Mr Vayner beggars belief.

In the course of the video, we see him first in a grey suit, then in shorts lifting enormous weights, then in tennis whites demonstrating a fierce serve, then in a tuxedo dancing with a woman in a spangly bikini top, and finally in a karate outfit, chopping a pile of bricks with his bare hand.
As we watch these stunts, Mr Vayner shares his philosophy of success. “If people tell you you can’t, ignore the losers,” he says in a sinister monotone. “Failure isn’t an option. Always push yourself outside your comfort zone.”
Yet what is even funnier than the video itself is how funny bankers seem to find it. And what is even funnier than that is the fact that there is no queue forming to hire this most gung-ho of employees.
Instead of being snapped up, Mr Vayner has become the internet’s latest victim of mass global ridicule and has crawled away under a stone, from where he is muttering about privacy and law suits.
One might even feel sorryfor him were it not for the fact that he is so irredeemably ghastly.
Yet that very ghastliness is what most top employers claim to want. Mr Vayner’s assertion that impossible is nothing, though an oxymoron, is a belief shared by many companies. Cadbury Schweppes recently issued a staff rule book in which employees were urged to do the impossible every day. Mr Vayner’s work-hard, play-hard line and his fitness obsession are standard for all employers of alphas.
A visit to the UBS website unearths the toe-curling You & Us campaign, which shows a glamorous young man and woman on a deck with snowy mountain beyond. “Freedom is the possibility of making my dreams come true,” it says. “I excel in what I do.”
Mr Vayner evidently excels at making his dreams come true too, so it is odd that UBS appears not to want him.
He would seem even better qualified for a job at JP Morgan, which, a few years back, ran a series of ads on the extraordinary qualities of individual employees. My favourite was an attractive young woman called Natasha Suakanova. Her personal mission read: “I have never settled for better, when best was within reach. I have zero interest in okay. I have frustrated cynics. I have lit fires. I work for JP Morgan.” Natasha and Aleksey are made for each other.
The reason Mr Vayner’s video has caused such merriment is partly because he looks a prat. It is also because there is a difference between corporate guff and personal guff: no one expects the first to be for real. When these motivational visions suddenly become flesh, they look not just weird but monstrous. Companies might want talent, but they don’t want weirdos.
Mr Vayner should serve as a warning to employers. They should be careful what they wish for. He is the logical consequence of an ever more far-fetched recruitment process.
For their part, companies make increasingly inflated claims of what they are looking for. Even fairly mundane jobs require candidates with unrivalled interpersonal skills and outstanding track records in delivering results. Many application forms require people to dream up the situations in which they showed exceptional leadership skills, which are further invitations to take boasting to the limit.
The result is that everyone is
trying to stand out and trying to second-guess what they think is wanted. If one person says they are hardworking, the next says they are Stakhanovite and before long you have someone like Mr Vayner.
This isn’t just a US thing, though doubtless it started there. Thirty years ago in the UK children were still taught that it was rude to boast. Now they know better.
My 15-year-old daughter has recently filled in an application form on which she was asked for three adjectives that describe her. I suggested stroppy, volatile and square-eyed, and got a contemptuous look. Instead she toyed with creative, ambitious and brilliant, finally settling for something a shade more restrained. She already understood the trick – to pretend to be better than you are without raising too many suspicions.
This system of institutionalised boasting has two weaknesses. All of the claims are exaggerated, and all the same, both of which render them quite useless as a way of picking good people. When everyone claims to be a goal-oriented achiever and an outstanding leader, there is no way of sorting out the sheep from the goats.
My fear is that Mr Vayner is ahead of his time and that videos like this will soon be a mainstream way of getting a job. And then recruitment will be a cross between reality TV and video dating. Everyone will be groomed and polished and comfortable with the cameras. Everyone will have two minutes to stand out.
Before we know it, Impossible is Nothing will be nothing. Those who can leapfrog that without managing to look like a prat will be able to land whatever job they like.

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