By Henry Schiller

For those unfamiliar with the oft-used by Nickelodeon message of, “Hey kids, don’t get involved in a pyramid scheme,” Vector Marketing may be looking to hire you. Anyone who graduated from high school after the advent of social networking sites like Myspace is likely to have received an invitation to become a part of the Vector Marketing team.

Vector’s logic is reasonable enough; invite recent high school graduates–often eager to find a job so as to earn enough money for leisurely pursuits while in college (students consume a wide range of expensive tapiocas and exotic snuff, both a huge drain on the proverbial bankroll)–to become a part of a semi-futuristically titled company, the purpose of which is obscured by the word “marketing.” The bottom line, and this often isn’t revealed until the interview, is that Vector employs these students to sell knives door to door.

Actual door-to-door salesmanship has been lampooned since the 1930s, and for many students this revelation is a deal breaker. A job is a job, however, and one might reason that at least selling knives isn’t flipping burgers. Except Vector, a sales firm for Cutco Cutlery, forces the student employees in their sales division to buy or rent their own knives; and it is necessary for sales representatives to place a $139.00 deposit on a sample set of knives.

Student employees are encouraged to set up knife-vending relationships within their communities and amongst their close friends. Salespeople are also required to provide their own shoddy knives to be tested against the vector ones (a la every infomercial) for the seemingly impossible occasion that someone actually lets the knife-brandishing teenager from down the block into their home.

Vector’s business model, it would seem, is more nearly based around extorting money from their so-called employees (who have been strong armed into persuading their friends to join the Vector family) than selling knives to willing customers.

That is not to say Vector Marketing is unable to sell knives; Vector allegedly sells Cutco knives at a relatively high rate, citing worldwide rates of over 250 million in 2009 according to their website. The fact of the matter is, however, that a portion of these knives is being sold to prospective salespersons, who have no hope of getting rid of them (with fiscal gain) through the antiquated door-to-door system.

Vector is not technically a pyramid scheme because the money you used to buy or rent their knives with sees an immediate return; in the form of knives you have bought or rented. They are not using the money you used to buy a knife set with as artificially produced returns on someone else’s investment in the company. Technically, Vector is not doing anything illegal.

Corporations like Vector that force employees to purchase the goods they are selling, are a vaguely irritating problem on college campuses. Companies of this nature often employ a policy of taking down the number of everyone in a prospective student-employee’s phonebook with the promise that these numbers will not be called, and are for social assessment purposes only, and then calling these numbers in search of new prospective student-employees. For anyone with several friends desperate to make a buck, these calls (I’ve gotten several) can be a pain in the ass. Vector’s own website refers to their referral program as being “based on a ‘friends of friends’ approach, which has proven to be quite effective.”

Getting roped into one of these schemes is not uncommon, and it is difficult to break the chains these companies might throw over you if you’re indebted to them–especially if it seems like they’re giving you the opportunity to make your money back. Ultimately one should shy away from any job that forces its employees to pay the company before they even see a dime. The prospect of selling cutlery door-to-door should set off some alarms as well.