IT recruitment Midlands

What we can all learn from the candidates on The Apprentice

Yay! It’s The Apprentice!

If ever there was an example of people of average ability gaining temporary unmerited inflated status above their natural career level in life, this is it.

I love this show. It’s a highlight of the television year for me, even more than the Bake Off is for my wife. And having seen the series a few times before, I know pretty much what to expect. Here’s how I think it will go:

  • An ethnically diverse group of eighteen people meet in a room.
  • Lord Sir Alan divides them into boy and girl teams and sets them a challenge that involves selling.
  • The candidates go into separate rooms to plan the first task, but there is a conflict between their egos (pushing them to take centre stage), and the knowledge that being the project manager of the losing team in episode 1 spells certain doom (holding them back).
  • Both teams return spectacular losses at the end of the first task.
  • The project manager of the losing team in episode 1 gets the boot.
  • There is one nerdy type with actual brains, but who has a modest view of their own ability and isn’t good at sales. This person will get the sack in week 4 or 5.
  • When there are five people left there is an interview round, designed to highlight the candidates’ astounding lack of attention to detail. Three of them are fired.
  • One of the final two is appointed the winner and the ego festival is over at last.
  • Oh – and the victor’s career will not end up being quite as glamorous as the opening credits suggest.

Ho, ho. We can all laugh at the incompetence of the candidates. But are they actually that bad?

I’d argue that they are not, because it’s quite likely that just being on the show will have done their career some good, one way or another. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, after all!

Career advice

So if you consider that you haven’t quite fulfilled your potential in life, then you might be guilty of committing one or more of the following five career mistakes – mistakes that the Apprentice candidates are NOT making.

Let’s see what we can learn from them.

Not having a plan

When I went to university I chose the path of least resistance, and NOT the path that would lead me to where I wanted to be. This was mainly because I didn’t know where I wanted to be! In fact I had no career plan at all at the age of 18 because all I really wanted was to leave home and have a good time.

And now, in my recruitment role, I speak to people every day who have never made a plan either. They are looking only at the next step, and that usually only happens when circumstances make change unavoidable.

The most successful people in life tend to be those who have a clear idea of where they want to go. Even if the target is out of reach, at least they know the direction. And general intelligence has little to do with this.

Joseph Valente, who won the big prize last year, knew what he wanted to achieve alright. He set out his stall early on when he declared:

“I am the definition of success, I’m a godfather of business and I’m here to make Lord Sugar a lot of money.”


Saying yes too often

If you are good at your job, others will turn to you for help. It’s flattering to be considered somewhat of an expert, so it’s easy to say yes to requests like this. But the danger is that you’ll become so busy doing work for others that you lose sight of what is actually good for you.

Help others, of course, but be selective with what you take on. Be like Ricky Martin in 2012, who clearly puts his own interests first. He describes himself (somewhat boastfully) as follows:

“I’m like a shark, right at the top of the food chain. I take what I want, when I want. I truly am the reflection of perfection.”


Not pushing yourself

Do you consider yourself to be good at your job? If so, do others know? It can happen that competent employees are not encouraged to think well of themselves because if they knew their true value they would ask for more money – or go elsewhere!

If you are good, then consider if you’re in the right place for your career. If you’re nearly there but you think that you need some training in order to get to the next level, then get some training. Either ask your company to send you on a course, or pay for one yourself. And one key skill that will set you apart from the competition is some knowledge of marketing.

So: invest in yourself. Market yourself. Be proud, like Zeeshaan Shah in 2013, when he said:

“My ambition in life is to make history. No human in this world intimidates me. I’m a believer in myself. I’m a believer in Zeeshaan Shah”


Being influenced by others

They say that you earn approximately the same as the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Why might this be? It may be because you are subconsciously influenced by their attitudes to wealth, i.e. their earning expectations and their spending habits.

Wealth is related to career success, so if you want to get ahead it pays to be aware of this. I’m not advising you to ditch your friends, but just to be conscious that peer influence is real.

Mergim Butaja doesn’t care much for the opinions of others, as evidenced by his words from 2015:

“Why am I a worthy business partner for Lord Sugar? I’d be a challenge to him. Everyone he’s met probably sucks up to him. I won’t, I’ll tell him like it is.”


Taking the first thing that comes along

Back to me. At the age of 18 I had no career plan, and not much had changed four years later. Even in my final university year I hadn’t given the future any thought, mainly because I was doing OK at my studies, I was having fun, and I assumed with the arrogance of youth that I could decide later on what to do.

But a job found me. I landed a training contract with an accountancy firm almost by mistake, and certainly without planning it beforehand. In hindsight it wasn’t a good career move; I wasn’t suited to it, I didn’t particularly enjoy it, and I don’t do it any more.

We see some hindsight being employed by Bianca Miller in 2014, when she reflected:

“I regret not becoming a scientist so I could clone myself and be more successful in half the time.”


So don’t be like Bianca, or like me. Whatever stage of your life you are, think about your career choices. Really plan your next move and make sure it aligns with your long-term goals.

So – to summarise:

  • Have a plan. It’s never too late for this.
  • Don’t work too hard at things that don’t align with the plan.
  • Invest in yourself, and make sure that others are aware of what you’re good at.
  • Know your own mind and surround yourself with people with positive attitudes if you can.
  • Plan your moves, making sure that they align with the plan.

And if your plan is to win this year’s Apprentice, then good luck!

I’ll be watching.