· 2 min read · Features

Uncommon Sense: A free spirit versus Frankenstein


Far too many recruiters favour corporate clones over entrepreneurial, creative individuals.

If you have not yet encountered Aleksey Vayner on your internet travels,can I recommend a visit to YouTube.com or simply run his name through aGoogle search. There will you find Vayner, a Yale University student, ina video made to support his job application to UBS, the investment bank.His thoughts include 'always push your comfort zone' and 'bring yourA-game, your determination and your drive to the field'.

I have seen Jack Welch, the former head of General Electric, issuingsimilar platitudes. But there is something very creepy about hearing astage-managed delivery from this bumptious student.

Accompanying this are shots of Vayner performing ski stunts and karatechops, pushing weights, playing tennis and ballroom dancing. It is allso larger than life, a caricature of the American wunderkind. It hasmade Vayner a laughing stock on the internet.

But at least one senior manager has declared he would be prepared tohire him 'sight unseen'. It's hardly surprising because Vayner is onlysaying the kind of things that many businesses are seeking in graduaterecruits.

In defining the image of the 2:1 graduate who displays evidence of teamleadership, presence and ambition, companies have created a corporateidentikit. Vayner's words could have been lifted from 100 leadershipbooks. He's the Frankenstein's monster of corporate management.

The so-called search for talent is beginning to pursue a narrow paththat is in danger of marginalising those who cannot live up to suchexacting standards or who work to a different set of standards. So whomight recruiters be overlooking? Let me introduce you to Matt Harding, a29-year-old who describes himself as a 'deadbeat from Connecticut'.

Harding was a games designer until he decided to travel the world. Hetook along a digital camera that included a video mode. A friendsuggested he could do a dance in every place he visited. The record ofhis trip, set to music, proved so entertaining it attracted a cultfollowing on YouTube. It also attracted sponsorship from a chewing gummanufacturer that paid for him to travel the world again.

You can see the results on his website, WherethehellisMatt.com. If itdoesn't make you chuckle, then I don't know what does. Behind thesimplicity of the idea is a lot of organisation, not just in thelogistics of travel arrangements but in bringing together sessionmusicians for his backing track, choosing the right locations and makingthe music fit the dancing.

Any company would benefit from his organisational and creative skills.But they won't get them, not because their sifting mechanisms wouldreject his CV - although they would - but because his CV is not going tobe in there. The Matt Hardings of this world do not want to work withthe Aleksey Vayners.

Some recruitment processes are recognising the need for diversity,represented by the list we all know so well: ethnic, gender, disability,possibly age. But that is only one kind of diversity. There is also adiversity of values, personalities and characters. How can any companythat has developed its competency, behaviour and personality modelsaround a perceived ideal hope to identify with the wider population?

Is it any wonder that investment banks face so many sexualdiscrimination cases? Too many City organisations have closed themselvesto the wider society in the same way the Bourbons did before the FrenchRevolution.

The role of HR in diverting companies from the path of distortingelitism is crucial but I fear that too many HR professionals have beensucked into models of talent management that border on C-suite cloning.It's time to rethink recruitment and development policies around humanvalues, not solely corporate values.

Too many creative and entrepreneurial spirits are being lost tocompanies just now. These are the people that can move a businessforward with new ideas. The alternative is to watch them build their ownventures, growing ever larger in your rear-view mirror. Just listen tothem roar as they pass.

- Richard Donkin is employment columnist at the Financial Times.richard.donkin@haynet.com.