Apartment Shops and Railroads

Early on in my shopping career, I had a route of apartment shops that consisted of eight different locations in five cities over some 300 miles of interstate highway.

Sounds easy enough until the mystery shopping company said they were all for the same client and once you visit one property, you’re in the system at all their locations. Keep in mind that apartment shops require you to show a government issued photo ID and fake IDs are not allowed. I told the scheduler on the phone that it wouldn’t be a problem.

I know all the experienced shoppers are thinking, “Boy, Bond has really gotten himself into a jam this time.” The secret is knowing how certain industries handle job applications. In this case, railroads, specifically Norfolk Southern, would save the route.

Outside of new hires, railroads assign jobs through a process called “bidding.” They list the available jobs and the minimum qualifications. As long as you meet the qualifications, you can “bid,” or apply for, the job. The person who gets the job is the bidder with the most seniority, the person who has been with the company longest.

Obviously, your first shop everything is going to go as normal because you’re not in the system. Shop two, same city, okay, just looking at a different apartment complex. Now, when you go to city number 2, and they find you’re in the system. This is where the bidding on a job comes into play. You give a brief explanation of the bidding process and say something like, “Yes, I was looking at [city 1] but I’m also looking here in case I don’t get the job there. When I got to the third city, I simply added one to the above story.

Another advantage to this is that it gives you the “out” to stop the phone calls and emails. You can say that you should know if you got the job a couple of days after the deadline for follow-up from the apartment. If they call you after the deadline, it’s easy to say, “I didn’t get the job.” End of calls since the move was contingent upon getting the job.

Each of those shops was accepted and none suspected [to the best of my knowledge] that I was their mystery shopper.

As an aside, should you ever need to use this ploy…East of the Mississippi you’re fairly safe using CSX Transportation or Norfolk Southern as your employer. West of the Mississippi either Union Pacific or BNSF [Burlington Northern Santa Fe] will fit the bill. And the real beauty is that most people just look at railroads as obstacles that block roads so they don’t associate the names with anything.

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