What can we learn about careers from watching Donald Trump and The Apprentice?
1. Recognize that job tests don't always correspond to job realities.
Hundreds of companies screen candidates through psychological tests, stress interviews, group interviews, role-playing and a whole lot more. Do these tests make sense?
* Martin Seligman found that optimism often outweighed raw sales talent when he tested Metropolitan Life sales representatives.
* Lawyers tell me that law school tests have little relation to what they do on a day-to-day basis, especially if they're litigating or negotiating.
* And most of us would agree: The way we act during an interview or role play doesn't predict how we'll survive and thrive on a day-to-day basis.
So we can't fault Donald Trump for creating elaborate scenarios that force candidates into roles they'll never need once they're safely inside real boardrooms.
2. Prepare to confront sexism in the 21st century.
Critics -- and Caroline --may raise their eyebrows when women use sex to sell. Season 1 brought overt flirting and short short skirts. Season 2 brought Ivana Ma, who will unfortunately be remembered for downloading her skirt to reveal some flowered bikini something or other.
But let's face it, folks. Who chose these contestants?
Twenty-something women wear tank tops and short skirts -- no big deal, they would say. They mostly have long straight hair and they're above-average attractive. Trump regularly brings up gender issues -- even dividing teams along male vs. female lines -- and obviously has an eye for the ladies. He's another generation.
But even the young men on the show aren't immune. Discussing the magnificently blond Jennifer, one young man summarizes: she's a lawyer, she's smart -- and she's beautiful.
Season 1 introduced a couple of men who weren't GQ material. One was sort of a teddy bear, the other a cold fish who tried to overcompensate during the task. When will we see a blunt-speaking, slightly overweight woman with glasses?
3. Choose environments where you'll shine and stay away from situations that bring out your worst side.
It's easy to criticize the Apprentice candidates. After all, they're supposed to be the best and the brightest.
But lots of bright business whiz kids don't want to take three months off from their lives and their businesses. Riding around in Trump limousines can be fun, but they'd rather start working to buy their own fleet, thank you very much!
Who wants to sleep three feet away from the competition in a crowded loft, while cameras show you sleeping, eating and brushing your teeth? Not everyone can handle this type of living arrangement and the resulting pressure.
What's amazing is not that these candidates seem rather weak, but that candidates of this caliber showed up at all.
4. Keep your cool, no matter what.
Trump -- and most of life -- rewards people who can promote themselves professionally. Emotions and cat-fighting don't cut it, here or anywhere. In my opinion, Ivana's conduct in the boardroom was worse than her street scandal. Instead of promoting her own qualities, she turned on fellow contestant Jennifer -- who wasn't even present.
They could all take a lesson from Season 1's Bill Rancic, who never raised his voice and yet managed to put forth his own case, powerfully and calmly.
5. Expect some smoke and mirrors.
Sure, reality television isn't very realistic. Each episode ends with a cab ride -- to a Manhattan hotel, where contestants hole up till the taping ends and the "losers" no longer have to hide their identity. (Hopefully they get single rooms!) Some Boardroom episodes reportedly have taped voice-overs of Donald Trump.
Real companies don't send executives out to the street to hawk candy bars or lemonade. Their executives get more than a few days to create advertising campaigns.
But real companies operate with smoke and mirrors, too. They place ads for positions when they have a a pretty good idea who they'll be hiring. They have agendas: sometimes people are set up to lose. And they participate in staged dramatic scenes.
A Fortune 50 VP (now retired) once told me about a tough labor negotiation. "The union leader and I agreed on our position in the afternoon. We announced we'd be negotiating all night. I slept in my office; he slept in the conference room. The next morning, we emerged, claiming a hard-won compromise."
Not so different from reality television, is it?
I offer one-to-one consultations on career and business strategy.
About The Author
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., is an author, speaker and career/business consultant, helping midlife professionals take their First step to a Second Career. http://www.cathygoodwin.com.
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