ALTI's Apprentice Boardroom Report For 5/20/05 (Episode #18)

Practical Lessons From The Apprentice
Lessons From a Casting Call (and How to Beat a Million Other Applicants).

So you've got your eyes set on becoming the next Apprentice, cutting multi-million dollar deals, overseeing mammoth projects and enjoying the six figure salary that goes with

Allan's 2˘
The Final Boardroom
running time 5:00

Yahoo's Apprentice Fantasy Game
Allan's Results:

160th place out of 18,757 participants (ranking top 1%)

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becoming Donald Trumps next apprentice. Find out what you would have needed to do to beat over a million reported applicants in what Donald Trump proclaims is "the worlds toughest job interview". What inside secrets can we take away from watching quietly from the sidelines during these past three seasons, and how can you use this knowledge to excel, in any environment, including becoming Donald Trump's next apprentice.

For three seasons now, Mr. Trump has drummed on about how there has been over a million applicants to become his next apprentice. The show, now in its third season (and with a fourth planned), pits some 18 candidates into a weekly performance based contest. Each week, the failing team is sent to the boardroom, and a candidate is "fired". The show rewards a "winner" with a prestigious job in the Trump Organization and a quarter million dollar salary. 

This third season we were treated to an all female showdown, one each from the street-smarts and book-smarts teams. Kendra Todd, 26, managed her way to become Donald Trump's third apprentice. 

So how have all three winners managed to beat the odds? 

--- SIDEBAR ---
Listen to my brief audio commentary of the final boardroom events and my reactions to the boardroom surprise that could have cost Kendra the job. 

In conducting research for this column, I attended the open casting call in Phoenix, (one of 22 cities the casting call traveled to over a 2 week period). I feel it is very important to note, there were only 400 people who showed up for the casting call, which leads me to believe that the "over a million applicants" is made up more of PR Hype than reality. 

The Greater Phoenix area is the 5th largest market in the U.S., so lets say that all 22 markets (of which 17 are smaller markets) managed to show equally strong attendance to the open call. 22 cities x 400 attendees = 8,800 prospective casting call attendees. But what about all the online applications you ask?

The online applicants were required to submit a video, or attend an open casting call (verbiage in the online application made it sound that the open casting call was much more a requirement than an option). But lets say that for every one person at an open casting call, there were 50 others who did not come to any of the open calls, (8,800 x 50 = 440,000 which I feel this is a "best case scenario"). By counting the more likely reality, we've just eliminated 50% of the competition. Your half way to becoming the next apprentice!

Casting agents on behalf of Mark Burnett issued wristbands and numbers between 9am and 11am. A wristband and number entitled you to attend an initial screening session. Initial screening sessions were run in groups of 12 to 15 people. 

My group was full of likable and not-so-likable characters. We had a self made e-Bay auction entrepreneur millionaire dressed in white pin stripe double breasted suit and converse high tops and was quick to flash his W2 tax returns; the salesman who is so pressed and polished you'd better check for all your valuables when leaving his presence; the woman with the smoking body, boobs falling out, short skirts and stilettos; the "angry" black person with a chip on her shoulder, something to prove and a convenient racial accusation ready to fly; a few realtors and mortgage people, a couple other genuine entrepreneurs and a couple recent college grads. 

Everyone was asked to sit at a table forming a half circle, with a facilitator (casting agent) alone on the other side. I positioned myself in the middle, and in direct line of sight of the casting agent. Our facilitator was a gentle, mild mannered, soft spoken young lady with pretty blue eyes and could not have been any older than 24. She started the screening process by asking everyone to give a 15 second introduction as they handed their application to her. 

Next, we were presented a highly controversial topic, and asked to debate the issue for a period of 10 minutes. Exit interviews revealed topics that included:

  • Implementation of a national ID card, good idea or big brother?

  • Legalization of recreational drugs, new tax source, or addiction of a generation?

  • Prostitution, legitimate career choice, or the exploitation of women?

Once our group was given a topic, a couple people suggested we organize to insure everyone would have an opportunity to speak, our facilitator quickly quashed this motion. What remained was a 10 minute free-for-all verbal wrestling match with 15 other egocentric people who either think they should be the next apprentice or are desperately seeking to claim their 15 minutes of reality TV stardom. Needless to say, getting a word in edgewise was very difficult, completing a well thought out coherent position to the controversial topic was nearly impossible.

My tactic was to observe the foundation of both sides before declaring my own position. I asked each side why they thought they were right.  Ultimately, I offered a compromised "solution" to the issue that I felt both sides could be happy with. The facilitator then stopped the debate and closed the session with everyone giving a one-word response to why they thought they should be the next apprentice. By the time we got the end of the table, thinking of something memorable and unique was a deft challenge.

Callbacks were made the following day. Of the 15 people in my group, and some 20 people I connected with while in line or commiserating with after, none of us made call backs. As a ratio, (based on my sample), the casting team selected fewer than 12 people for call backs.

What could the casting team be looking for?  Did they actually read all 400 résumé's and applications? I doubt it, from my perspective, the purpose of the casting call was to find people who fill a couple "roles" that each show tends to always have present. To increase your odds of being selected, you must fit yourself into one of these roles. The more convinced a casting agent is that you fit an open role, and can ratchet your personality to shine to a factor of 10, you stand an excellent chance of making local callbacks (where its just you and maybe 50 others). 

The easiest roles to recognize tend to be the more negative, but here is my shot at it: you have the villain, the victim, the person whom success comes easy, and the person for whom success has been a grueling battle, the slacker, the over achiever, the diplomat and the equal opportunity offender, the person who wants the "job" and the person who wants the "fame", the person who acts first, thinks later, and his nemesis, the over thinker.  

In the world of "casting" these roles create tension points, and according to dramatic plot theory, tension is why we watch, its why we are interested, and in seeing the tension resolved is what entertains us.  The first priority is to assemble an "interesting" cast, not to find the most suitable job candidates for Mr. Trump.  

Its the only reason we can take comfort in knowing that if they really interviewed over a million people that characters like Danny, Craig, Brian and Chris (Stacie J, Ivana, or Pamela from season 2) ever made it to the show. There is no way they were the most qualified, but, they were the most qualified among those that were the "most interesting" in each of the "roles" that needed to be cast.

Once in callbacks, don't abandon the role, after all, its what got you there. Do  become a little more subtle, casting agents in open casting calls realize everyone is dialed up, so, genuine subtlety of the role, integrated with your more interesting personality traits. Do play up your experience and your qualifications for the job since this is the point where casting agents become job interviewers. 

Only a couple hundred qualified candidates will be flown to a multi-day interview at the studio for test shots, screen tests, and more interviews. With 18 roles up for grabs, your odds of making the show are better than 11%. Think of it this way, your not competing against 200 people for one spot, but against just 11 people to fill the one role you chose to play.  

At this point, the studio must perform its due diligence, and will eliminate two to 4 candidates in each role based on background checks, reference checks and other factors that create concern for liability or embarrassment. Your now 1 of 7 people for the role. You must convince several people that you "are" the role they are looking for, get several casting people to think of you as that role... your in! Casting people are human, and when they collectively like someone for a role, they will create reasons to eliminate your competitors.

If you've selected a common role, where they may cast 2 or 3 people, then your odds just got better, going to 1 in 3 of being cast.  Be genuine, be real, and be the role they need to make an interesting contribution to the cast. Being among the top 3 to get on the show is about the same as beating over a million people out for the job, isn't it?

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