Interview Tips from BBC’s The Apprentice

I always look forward to the interview stage of BBC’s The Apprentice.  I like a bit of fantasy entertainment.  As others have commented in the past, these overly brutal interrogations are totally unrealistic – nobody interviews like that, and if they do, most candidates under normal circumstances will either walk out or decide not to take the process any further.

The Apprentice is a different situation.  In this case the interview is not a two way process as it should be.  There’s no opportunity to question the interviewers about the organisation and the sessions are designed for confrontation.

But let’s remember that this is TV so we shouldn’t expect anything else.  As the Producers themselves have said in the past following criticism of the interview stage, the programme is not a training course for interviewers.  Nevertheless, it would be good if people could learn a thing or two.

In the end I was slightly disappointed after last nights show because overall there were some useful lessons to learn for job candidates rather than the unrealistic carnage that we’ve seen in previous episodes.

I’ve picked out five points to comment upon, all of which are useful for anyone in the job market.

  • Jamie’s third nipple

Candidates are often advised to make their CV stand out from the crowd.  They are also told that many interviewers like to see some of the candidate’s personality come through.  Making a joke in an application form or CV as Jamie did, claiming he had a third nipple and then later citing the third nipple as his biggest lie was, as Margaret said, puerile.  A CV or application form stands out with evidence of achievements, preferably quantified.  Personality comes through when the candidate writes it him or herself, and writes it as if it comes from themselves and not as if they are trying to say the “right thing”.  Be yourself.

  • Stuart’s overfamiliarity

Greeting Margaret Mountford in such an informal way (Margaret!) was bound to irritate.  Again, the extraordinary circumstances of the show mean that this is unlikely to happen in most situations.  Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that even if the environment appears to be relaxed and informal, the candidate should always behave respectfully.  That doesn’t mean you should be unfriendly, it does mean that the situation of the interview is serious and demands decorum.

  • Joanna’s unfamiliarity

There really isn’t any excuse not to do your homework on the business.  Somebody fell down on this very question some seasons ago so Joanna really should have known better.  However, to take this a bit further, you don’t research the company simply to show that you know the organisational structure, you do it in order to know the issues the organisation is facing, because only then will you understand what is behind the questions and concerns of the interviewer.

  • No requests for examples of achievement

If the interviewers wanted to really see the best prepared candidates they would surely have asked for specific examples of achievements.  They didn’t, or at least none were broadcast, and I can’t emphasise how important it is to go into the interview with prepared examples in the format of Problem – Action – Outcome:  what was the problem or challenge, what did you do, what was the result.  These stories should be relevant to the role and the capabilities you know will be required.

  • Stuart’s embellishments

There is absolutely no excuse for lying on the CV or application. When it comes to facts be very careful not to over claim because, as Stuart saw last night, it’s easy to be found out.  It’s also easy to over claim responsibility or performance and that’s why it’s important to understand your contribution to a project so you can explain exactly what it was you did, rather than trying to pretend the whole success of a project was down to you.

As it happens, I thought the biggest sin was perpetrated by Lord Sugar.  While it’s clear that Stuart survived last week in order to facilitate this explosive scene (they will have known about Stuart’s license status from the start of the series), Lord Sugar showed remarkable inconsistency.  He talked about how angry he was with himself for trusting Stuart and dismissed the young man sharply, yet wasn’t it only a couple of seasons back that Lee McQueen blatantly lied about his qualifications but went on to win the series?

Clearly Lord Sugar knows pretty much whom he wants to win from early on in the process and I doubt lying on the CV has a big impact.  Stuart should have been released from the show weeks ago, and was only kept on for entertainment value.  As I said, let’s not forget this is telly.


If you are in or approaching the interview stage please join my Interview Preparation Masterclass in London on January 11th. Click here for further details.

8 Responses to Interview Tips from BBC’s The Apprentice

  1. Jackie says:

    I once interviewed a candidate who’d listed ‘Swimming naked in the Lake District’ among his hobbies. I asked him about it. He admitted it wasn’t true; he’d put it in for comedic effect. I got a lasting mental picture. He didn’t get the job.

  2. Tim says:

    “Let’s not forget this is telly.” Quite right. In reality, very few interviews are as belligerent as this, where the interviewers are deliberately seeking to provoke and trip up the candidates. But the points you make all hold true.

    I read an interview with Alan Watts where he said they are only given the candidates’ details a couple of days in advance of the sessions. They do not have the benefit of having watched the tasks on TV (this current series was filmed 12 months ago), although I expect they will be briefed on certain characteristics to probe with the candidates.

    Lee should never have been appointed after being caught out in his CV lie. Stuart’s lie was equally bad, but what made him even worse was the fact he bragged about defaming a competitor on his application form. Not just a lie – but illegal too. What sort of an idiot puts something like that on an application and thinks he will get away with it? For sure, the programme has been edited to play up his pantomime villain credentials, but there have been no lies in the editing – only a selective version of a very apparent truth.

    Stuart’s firing was brutal – but, let’s face it, it’s the moment we’ve been waiting 11 weeks to see. And, boy, did it deliver!

  3. The Apprentice constantly disappoints me insomuch as no one ever dies at the end of each episode.

  4. Richard says:

    Baggs embellishment was actually no such thing. He was perfectly entitled to put what he wrote on his CV and should have had the gumption to protect it. Beyond that, the stupid interviewer lorded it over him by gloating about what an ISP license stands for – and getting it wrong. Moronic, cringeworthy and crass. The interviewer came off worse than Baggs on that particular exchange for sure.

  5. buzzmethod says:

    Thanks for another really useful post, Nick.

    Tim: I’m not sure that Stuart actually did lie about his company. What’s certain is that Borden Tkachuk, CEO at Viglen, trusted adviser to Lord Sugar and “stickler for detail,” didn’t know much about telecoms – he slammed Baggs for lying but was patronising to the point of rude when he asserted that ISP means ‘Internet Service Protocol’… it doesn’t.

    The ‘P’ stands for provider, as in Internet Service Provider, which is what SB said his company was. Borden was blatantly wrong and Stuart was ostensibly fired for it.

    Still, that calamitous blunder aside, it was great telly.

    But I digress – thanks again, Nick. What should we learn from Chris Bates’ approach of switching off his personality before entering the interview room?

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