The Apprentice – a recruitment catastrophe.

The beginning of October marks the return of one of the highlights of the BBC’s Autumn TV schedule – The Apprentice.

I have a confession: I love this show!

But why would I? From a recruitment point of view it is a TOTAL DISASTER. Imagine actually having a process like this! In case you haven’t seen the show before, I will sum it up for you.

The format

The situation is that Lord Alan Sugar needs to hire a new boy or girl apprentice to join his business. He’s in no hurry, as he is going to take 12 weeks to decide which person to take on. And he invests an awful lot of time in the hiring process himself. No wonder he gets frustrated.

This may look like a direct recruitment hire, but it isn’t. The recruitment agency in this case is the BBC. And they have done a cowboy job of it, I must say!

BBC recruitment present a pre-selected shortlist of 18 candidates to the recruitment panel, and the confrontational nature of things is apparent from the very start. Lord Alan Sugar and his henchpeople sit on one side of an enormous desk, with all the candidates on the other. There are nowhere near enough chairs.

Next Lord Alan Sugar discusses the job description in extremely vague terms. No-one asks any questions at all. And at no time does Lord Alan Sugar talk about using objective assessments to give him an idea of what the candidates’ behaviours or motivations are. He has clearly received no sensible guidance from his recruitment partner on these matters.

Instead of following basic recruitment principles he decides instead to divide the candidates into two teams with bombastic one-word names like ‘Antiquark’ and ‘Upgrayedd’, and he sets them against each other in a series of challenges that consist of selling things, buying things, or navigating around London.

When each task is over, all the candidates are summoned to the massive desk room again where Lord Alan Sugar pretends to listen to the advice of his people and then publicly humiliates the candidate who was deemed to have come last on that day.

Then the whole thing then begins again, and so on until only one person remains. That person gets the job.


This whole process is flawed from start to finish. If Lord Alan Sugar was serious about recruiting himself a good apprentice, he would simply do the following:

  • sack BBC recruitment for providing him with such poor service in the past;
  • engage a proper recruitment company who would sit down with him and take a proper job order, including a complete job description and a profile of the behaviours required to do the job;
  • work with the recruitment company to compile an appropriate technical test;
  • allow the recruitment company to do more of the work, providing him with a much better and shorter shortlist of candidates, with personality assessment reports and technical test results;
  • dispense with the confrontational task-based recruitment process that exists at the moment;
  • try to avoid taking on people whose personality profiles resemble his own.

There is nothing wrong with setting a group activity, as long as candidates are judged using appropriate criteria. Simply shouting the loudest isn’t good enough for most hiring managers, in my experience.

But Lord Sugar isn’t like most hiring managers. And it’s his company, so he can do what he likes. And he gets 8 million viewers a week, which is more than I get when I interview candidates for a job.

In fact, he should definitely carry on and not change anything about the format of the show at all.

Because I love it!

If your name is Lord Alan Sugar and you’d like to talk about improving your recruitment processes, please get in touch on 01283 530923 or via