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    MARCH 24, 2005
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Fox students audition for ‘Apprentice’

Kia Allen (left), talking with casting director Maddy Sloan, was among the Fox School students who interviewed for a chance to be on “The Apprentice” recently.

Competition for what NBC calls “the dream job of a lifetime” — being a highly paid “apprentice” to Donald Trump or Martha Stewart — is tough.

Just ask any one of the more than 50 students, alumni and staff of The Fox School of Business and Management who tried out for these shows at a Feb. 17 audition exclusive to Fox.

Since February, casting crews for “The Apprentice” — for both the Trump version and a new Martha Stewart version — have been auditioning for cast in cities across the United States.

“The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” which will begin filming mid-April, will follow the same format as Trump’s “Apprentice,” testing participants’ business expertise, but the tasks will center around Stewart’s design and entertaining empire.

So how tough is the competition? Just consider that seven casting crews are interviewing applicants in 29 cities in 28 days. In each city, crews visit one or two top business schools, and also hold an open casting call that can attract as many as 600 applicants. That means about 200,000 hopefuls all vying for only 16 to 18 available slots for each show. Each person who auditions must choose the version of the show he or she is trying out for — Stewart or Trump.

At The Fox School audition, applicants got about five minutes to showcase their business savvy and sparkling personalities. That’s five minutes more than applicants get at the open auditions.

In open auditions, where the lines of people waiting are long, casting director Maddy Sloan says she interviews up to 15 people all at once, sitting around a table for five minutes.

But even when applicants get their own five minutes, they really need to stand out. Sloan said she usually gets an immediate “gut feeling” about a candidate. Even so, a few prerequisites apply: the right applicants must be “business-minded, smart, born leaders, charismatic and at least 21 years old.”

Throughout the afternoon’s interviews at Temple University Center City, she coached applicants, saying, “This isn’t a job interview. Be yourself.” Sloan’s qualification for her own job? “I was the class chatterbox,” she said. Now, she uses her chattiness to get people to open up.

Despite her youth, 23-year-old Nikkia (Kia) Allen, an international M.B.A. student, seemed the perfect candidate — poised, professional, attractive and smart. Dressed in a black pinstriped suit with a gold shirt, with her long hair perfectly coifed, she looked ready for prime time.

Before the interview, Allen, who used to be an adjunct computer science faculty member at Temple, explained why she was trying out. “My Fox education has given me the confidence to go after the things that I want out of life,” she said. Because she considers herself “a domestic diva,” Allen decided to try out for Martha Stewart.

Sloan got Allen to open up and talk about her dancing, her purple belt in tae kwan do and her engagement to her high school sweetheart. But then she challenged, “You’re young. What are you going to do when people say, ‘Who are you? What do you know?’”

Allen, who later reported that she had expected this question, didn’t miss a beat. “I’m Kia. I’m fresh, young and innovative.”

The interview continued.

“We’ll be here for another week,” Sloan said. “If we’re interested, we’ll call you back later this week.”

Exploiting his status as a former Enron employee, first-year M.B.A. student Scott Ernst, who currently is employed as an energy consultant, also applied for Martha Stewart.

“I’m the only ex-Enron employee you’ll find here today,” Scott said.

His comment, along with his bright green tie featuring tiny golf clubs in a geometric design, got Sloan’s attention. “So, how do men pick ties?” Sloan began.

Ernst was good at the banter. Later, he interjected, “I’m applying because I see all the mistakes people make. There are simple processes they could follow, right out of Kotler, straightforward project management, that would put them on the right track.”

Sloan also advised Ernst about a possible callback. But the Fox alumnus who did get a callback was a total surprise.

“I applied on a lark,” said Joe Morris, a 2001 grad and independent financial consultant. “I came to say hello to Hilary,” he said, referring to Hilary Silver, The Fox School’s assistant director of development, who, along with Jared Stauffer, president of the M.B.A. Student Association, helped to coordinate the auditions.

Morris made his interviewer, assistant casting director Aaron Roos, laugh. “You look like that comedian on ‘Entourage,’” Roos said. Morris attributed his success to his ability to read people.

“I can feed off their energy level,” he said.

His second interview was a 30-minute taped interview at a Philadelphia hotel. Afterward, Morris was asked to follow up with his own videotape and now is waiting to hear back.

After the auditions, Executive Director of Fox M.B.A. Programs Bob Bonner reported, “The casting team said they had an outstanding visit and that we were by far the most hospitable business school they visited.”

- By Lisa Z. Meritz

How much does it have to do with a business school education?
Though the auditions don’t seem to have much to do with a business school education, “The Apprentice” itself does. Even the American Management Association concurs.

“The Apprentice” Web site includes a weekly analysis of “Lessons Learned” by the AMA on issues ranging from “Communicating in Stressful Situations” to “The Creative Brief: The First Step in Marketing.”

Fox School Vice Dean Raj Chandran agrees. “The common themes underlying ’The Apprentice’ match what we emphasize at Fox in our curriculum: teamwork, negotiation, communication, leadership, entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately providing the best possible quality product or service within time and budget, while maximizing profit in an ethical manner,” he said. “Although the tasks assigned in ‘The Apprentice’ are very short-term and project-oriented, the same common themes apply in the long run, as well.