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Lessons from "The Apprentice"

Posted on June 01, 2006

by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM, CMP

Planning tasks are often used as ideal testing grounds to determine the skills and savvy of job candidates on “The Apprentice”, and regular readers of the MiForum discussion group (or the MIM list before that) have thoroughly discussed that there is plenty we could teach those reality show cast members about our profession. But what can we learn from the program?  Plenty, if you consider that each of the “Apprentice” candidates is essentially a third party.  After all, they are not employed by Donald Trump or by the companies for which they are assigned tasks.  Their “16-week job interview” (as Trump regularly calls the competition) can easily be compared to the proposal and selection stages of hiring third parties.

Here is some advice for third parties that is aptly demonstrated on every episode of “The Apprentice”:

Listen to what the hiring manager is saying. On “The Apprentice”, there is always one cutaway segment in which Donald Trump discusses his one major business lesson for the episode. Inevitably, it relates to the task at hand – and the team which we do not see heed the advice he gave is usually the one that fails.  It’s only one man’s advice, and you may not agree with it. But he is the one doing the hiring, so doesn’t it make sense to pay attention?

Know the strategic goals of the host organization. What’s the first thing the (typically) winning team does before completing the task they are assigned? They meet with executives from the company hosting the task to make sure they understand exactly what the business message and objective is for what they are about to do.  And don’t forget to refer back to the first lesson:  you have to truly listen to what is being said and align your plans with it. Even great ideas flop if it’s not what the customer wanted.

Don’t try to make yourself look better by making someone else look bad.  We often see candidates try to coerce the firing of a competitor in order to save themselves. It usually backfires.  Each person, though on a team, is judged by their own performance.  An attempt to manipulate that and make the others look bad for their own purposes is completely transparent.

Finally, I will say that yes… I know this is only a reality show, and not the actual business world. But what better way is there to learn anything than through our choices of entertainment?


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Bonnie Wallsh, CMP, CMM

Liz, I concur with your observations about the Apprentice. I assigned the program to my students in the Event Management class at Johnson & Wales University. Whatever one may think of Donald Trump, he is a very successful business entrepreneur and we can all learn from him.The program usually features events and your points on listening and responding to the client's objectives are crucial for success. I am looking forward to watching Monday's program to find out who will be hired. Each of the 2 team leaders is confronting challenges which parallel what we face in reality.

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