Another recruiting year, another job applicant humiliation. This season, Yale senior Aleksey Vayner went far beyond the usual misaddressed e-mail or keyboard-in-mouth embarrassment.
Vayner, an aspiring investment banker, sent a video entitled "Impossible is Nothing" along with an 11-page resume and glamour shot to financial services powerhouse UBS. Within hours scores of investment banks noticed his application, as bankers e-mailed the seven-minute video and turned Vayner into the biggest joke on Wall Street.
As long as there have been job applicants, there have been application gaffes. Today, with e-mail as the preferred mode of corporate communication, that embarrassing camera phone picture or salacious IM to a coworker quickly travels far beyond company walls. So too can a boastful resume or cover letter.
That’s certainly what happened to Vayner. UBS is launching an internal investigation to figure who, if anyone, within the company leaked Vayner’s cover letter, over-the-top resume and video. Regardless of how it ended up in the Internet, Vayner's video has been passed from Bain Consulting, to Barclay's Capital, to Bank of America, even into Congress. The video quickly went viral, traveling from several blogs and onto YouTube, which eventually removed it from its sight, reportedly at Vayner's request.
In his video, Vayner shows off his varied skills: lifting a 495-pound weight, ballroom dancing to Latin musak, serving a tennis ball at 140 miles an hour, and, as a dramatic conclusion, breaking seven bricks with a karate chop.
"Ignore the losers, bring your A-game, your determination and your drive to the field and success will follow you," advised the budding management guru in his slight Russian accent. "If you want to dance, dance," he says, before expertly waltzing a scantily clad woman around the room.
Vayner probably won't be hired on Wall Street any time soon, but e-embarrassment doesn't have to be career ending, says hiring experts. "You certainly have a reputation," says Richard Castellini Vice President of Consumer Marketing at CareerBuilder.com, "but still being young, someone might take a chance on you."
Vayner isn't the first young employee to become a cyber legend. In 2001, Peter Chung, a 24-year-old Princeton grad working for The Carlyle Group in Korea, detailed his 2001 sexploits with Korean women. "CHUNG is going to f--- every hot chick in Korea over the next 2 years (5 down, 1,000,000,000 left to go)." He resigned soon after the e-mail hit inboxes worldwide.
Younger employees, often devotees on MySpace and reality TV, are predisposed to online missteps in the workplace, says Castellini. "Voyeurism is an aspect of their lives," he says, "and they don't understand the ramifications of it." Employers often check out potential hires on social networking sites, so consider deleting that picture of you funneling beer or flashing the camera. "What we tend to tell our students about using new technologies," says University of Pennsylvania Career Services Director Patricia Rose, "is beware."
University counselors generally advise students to follow standard employment channels and e-mail a basic resume and cover letter to companies. Scented paper may have worked for fictional Harvard Law student Elle Woods in Legally Blond, but in real life keep it simple. "Don't use ballerina pink or avocado green paper," says Stanford employment services director Lance Choy.
If you do make a mistake, own up to it and move on. Apparently, that’s not Vayner’s style. He recently sent cease and desist letters to Web sites showing his video, but bloggers piled on more mockery. "If you stand by the fact that you are the greatest thing since sliced bread it is going to turn people off," says Castellini. A better idea is to suck it up and start kissing up with a sincere apology.
That worked for law firm summer associate Jonas Blank. The Harvard Law School grad mistakenly sent an e-mail about his summer job to the 40 or so members of Skadden's underwriting group. "I'm busy doing jack s---," he wrote. Blank quickly sent a second e-mail, apologizing for the first which, "showed a total lack of discretion, responsibility and judgment, and undoubtedly did my reputation and my future here no favors." His begging worked: Blank now works full-time at the firm, making a salary over $150,000. Company policy forbade him from commenting on his e-mail.
But avoiding embarrassment completely is better than a hundred apologies. So tailor your application to the industry, says Rose. Some fields, like advertising, fashion or entertainment, are more tolerant of creative applications. Vayner's video would be great, if he was applying to write satire for The Onion. But for banks, it's a flop. "The more conventional the industry, the more they want more conservative business practices demonstrated," says Choy. Before you apply, learn about the company and talk to alumni so you understand the industry.
Fortunately for Vayner, e-errors have a built-in delete button. The fall-out, while permanently archived on the Internet, doesn’t last as long with employers. "People have short memories," says Rose, "Wait until the smoke clears, and then you'll realize that people have relatively short attention spans."