Do you have what it takes to be the next "Apprentice"? No, I don't mean the polished interview suit, friendly patter, firm handshake, glowing resume, and Ivy League MBA. All that and three letters of reference aren't going to get you very far in Donald Trump's organization.
If you want to get anywhere near Trump Tower, you'll first need:
- A stash of granola bars
- The closest Domino's Pizza on speed-dial
- Twenty bucks in small bills
- A three-quarter-length down coat and a fully insulated wool cap (preferably one that doesn't flatten your hairdo)
- Strong calves
- An even stronger bladder
- A quirky back-story
- An opinion on legalized prostitution and/or right-to-die legislation
And that's just for the first interview.
Real-world job interviews are for wimps. "Reality"-world job interviews are what separate the pencil-pushing kiss-ups from the. well, from the more photogenic pencil-pushing kiss-ups. So when The Apprentice set up an interview boot camp just miles from The Motley Fool offices last Friday, I had to find out: Would Donald Trump hire a Fool?
My fellow applicants.
After testing the limits of my snooze button, I found my way to the Mercedes-Benz of Alexandria car dealership where the open Apprentice casting call took place. Visible from the street was a gaggle of wannabes at the dealership's front door, all with the typical groupie survival kit: blankets, folding seats, thermoses, rolling suitcases, and a whiff of desperation.
Not until I rounded the corner was it clear that the desperation they'd felt when they set up camp at 2:30 a.m. had turned to smug triumph by the time of my leisurely 9:30 a.m. arrival. I made my way to the end of the line -- past a row of live mannequins modeling a warehouse's worth of Brooks Brothers merchandise -- and got a numbered wristband.
I was Apprentice interviewee No. 464.
I had a few minutes to practice my smug victory face before other late risers started filling in behind me. Their arrival was a relief -- finally, some bodies to block the wind whipping through the nearly freezing air.
This crowd definitely had a few standouts. The 6-foot-something drag queen, for example. The wind occasionally picked up a few strands from "her" blonde beehive and deposited them onto the wool coats of other contestants. There was the soccer mom with her subordinate in a stroller. And there were other candidates dotting the line with their various craft projects. It was pretty evident who was a "Martha" and who was a "Donald." The producers combined the casting call for the fourth season of Trump's Apprentice and the post-prison debut of Martha Stewart's Apprentice. (This season, Trump's show pits book smarts against street smarts; last season, it was men vs. women.)
Apprentice interviewee No. 79 was clearly not a "Martha." His audition preparations were the subject of a segment on the previous night's evening news. As a pre-interview "thank you" to his dream boss, he sent a box of Godiva chocolate cigars to Trump Tower. Although his Apprentice experience was over by noon, he managed to stretch it out for another four hours by casually catwalking up and down the line with an expanding array of businessman accessories coming out of his briefcase. Still, thanks for the chocolate, No. 79. My blood sugar needed a boost.
Then there were the parking lot entrepreneurs. The human resources lady using the cattle call as a chance to recruit contract specialists. The peddlers of coffee ($2), doughnuts ($5 for a box of 12), hand warmers ($1), and playing cards featuring Republican characters (2 packs for $10, after some haggling). Anyone offering foot massages, toilet paper, and hugs (near the exit door, of course) would have made a real killing.
I had plenty of time to size up the competition, since Apprentice candidate No. 463 -- a Georgetown law student who arrived at 9:29 a.m. -- didn't make it to the front of the queue until 4:30, after seven hours of standing in line.
I could have beelined to the "Press Entrance" and mingled coatless inside the warm showroom, eavesdropping on interviews, sipping coffee, and munching on glazed Krispy Kremes. But I kept my "press" card in my pocket and aligned myself with the masses like a true Motley Fool. We're "individual investors writing for other individual investors," after all. Darn straight! And this day, those of us in line were also "inadequately prepared last-minute Apprentice candidates standing in line like lunatics in the freezing February cold with other inadequately prepared last-minute Apprentice candidates standing in line like lunatics in the freezing February cold"!
I'm down with the masses. I stick with the masses. (Although had the Martha line been markedly shorter than the Donald line, I would have dumped the masses faster than a penny stock.)
My immediate Apprentice masses -- well, at least the five guys in line by me -- were tailor-made for sweeps week. No. 463, the Georgetown law student and founder of a small technology firm, missed an afternoon team presentation to stand in line. I promised not to tattle by revealing his real name, but his real name is so TV-ready, it's hard to resist. So let's de-Google-ize his identity and just say that his actual, on-the-birth-certificate-true name is what completes a good batch of French fries. Or a spice that launched many lucrative pharmaceuticals. A great name for a Dalmatian. Or -- this one's such a gimme -- the completion of the phrase "Pass the salt and.." Yup. His easygoing demeanor, imperviousness to the elements, and ability to discuss the best TV show of all time -- What Not to Wear -- made him a shoo-in. (By the way, Stacy and Clinton, he stuck to "the rules" when picking out his interview outfit.)
In front of him was Apprentice candidate No. 462, a consultant with the day's most ironic job: He fires people -- or, in his words, he "gives people the opportunity to try something new." You get the feeling he could fire his mother if her job became obsolete. But at least she'd be in stitches the entire time.
Right behind me, Apprentice candidate No. 465 was at the tryouts at the behest of his 6-year-old daughter. He was the senior member of our group -- but not by much. He started a technology company that does application design, development, integration, and management. In a Brooklyn accent and with Borscht Belt humor, he shared some tips on optimizing my digital video recorder. He married a smart woman: His wife called and suggested we have pizza delivered to us in the Benz parking lot.
Like me, candidate No. 466 thought we'd be there for two hours, at most. After the second time the line lurched forward in false progress (Surge. Stand still one hour. Surge. Stand still one hour.), he borrowed No. 465's cell phone to reschedule a real job interview. Around 2:15, I learned that 466 was a former professional beach volleyball player (a one-man team) who traded his beachfront Miami digs for a place in Virginia and a career in phlebotomy.
Over those seven hours we swapped stories, conducted business via cell phones and Blackberries, ordered pizza (we were first-to-market with that idea and watched while other Apprentice teams struggled to mimic us), talked about hair gel (the guys chose that topic), and took turns heading up fact-finding missions. I learned that one person was short Krispy Kreme (NYSE: KKD ) and in and out of a Fool love, Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) . I talked to the phlebotomist about improving his credit rating, and we reveled as one candidate took a Mercedes for a 30-minute test drive, just to warm up. Over the course of the work day, I listened in on one side of various conference calls where clients on the other end had no idea that they were being called from an Apprentice audition.
It wasn't freaks, geeks, and Omarosa I met, but a much more interesting real-life mix of curious individuals who will do just fine in their careers without help from The Donald, thank you very much. So it was no surprise that the experience of standing in line easily trumped what happened when we finally came face-to-face with one of the casting directors.
Are you ready for your close-up?
In groups of 10, we were ushered into the Mercedes showroom to sit at one of three tables manned by a young casting associate. Only one of my fellow parking lot Apprentice hopefuls was in my group. Candidate No. 460 was a CEO of a bulk trash company that he started in college. What began with a hollowed-out 1968 VW bus that he bought off a struggling surfer has in 10 years turned into a successful company with a few dozen hauling trucks and a booming franchise business. He has five kids and wants five more (his wife has agreed to seven total), a quick sense of humor, a strong set of values, and a commanding 6-foot-4-inch presence.
At my table, seated from right to left, was a Boy Scouts of America recruiter (in uniform), an accountant, another accountant, me, an accounting student, the trash man, an optometrist, a military security advance man (in uniform) for the president and vice president, a real estate agent (in uniform), and a Department of Defense guy. Four blondes and six brunettes.
Jill, our doe-eyed, trash-talking Angelino, had us make introductions and reveal something quirky about ourselves. Round 1 went to the optometrist and No. 460, the bulk trash business owner. In his spare time, the eye doc was making a documentary film about a person going blind and a puppy being trained to become a seeing-eye dog. My trash-man teammate revealed that he had competed in the Tough Man competition, where average Joes, Jacks, and Kevins are thrown into the ring in front of 3,000 screaming fans to fight dirty for three rounds. He went down in the first round of fights -- but at least he lost to the eventual winner of the competition.
Round 2: Pick one of two topics to debate -- the right to assisted suicide or legalizing prostitution. Sex, please. Our advance man started the debate, and we all chimed in for the next 10 minutes while Jill sat back and watched for one of us to show that Apprentice-worthy sparkle. Our DoD guy had the right look, but he was too mild-mannered. The accountant to my left was downright shy, while the one to my right spotted an opening, but soon found himself conversationally steamrollered by the advance man. Then I took the floor and said it wasn't even worth debating: The public is outraged by a nanosecond of flashed nipple on TV, even though it was TiVoed more than any other moment in television history.
The Boy Scout guy sat silent throughout the main event. Then Jill, sensing ratings gold in having a "Boy Scout" face The Donald in the boardroom, asked him to take a stand. And. he choked.
Before the next wave of wannabes was ushered in, we went around the table and gave Jill one word that described why we would make a good Apprentice. The expected interview-safe words got tossed around -- "reliable," "entrepreneurial." (I said "photogenic." Hey, it's a TV job, right?)
When it came around to the Tough Man trash-mogul family guy, his one-word encapsulation was quite possibly the only interview answer all day that was not an exaggeration. What would he bring to the Trump organization? "Integrity."
And you know what? It was true. After seven hours of standing in line, I knew that this was Trump's guy -- or he would be, if this were the real world. But in a 10-minute casting call, you can't easily separate the real risk-takers -- the true entrepreneurs -- from those of us just along for the ride.
I'll be watching the next season of The Apprentice, but I suspect that Mr. Integrity won't be in the running. He's got a lot more important things to do in the real world.
Dayana Yochimis sure that the Apprentice casting directors tried to call her back, but she must have left the wrong cell phone number. The Motley Fool is indeed reality TV fans writing for other reality TV fans. Want to talk about Trump? The Apprentice discussion boardis a 24-7 boardroom debate.