The Apprentice 'interview' round: we smell a rat

The Apprentice may be great viewing, but it's not exactly a model of interviewing best practice.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 07 Mar 2013
You may have noticed that MT is something of an Apprentice-free zone, generally on the basis that while the show is brilliant entertainment, it doesn’t actually do much to present the business world in a positive light. Lord Sugar may be a good game-show host, but his 'direct' management style (on TV at least) can leave a little to be desired. Last night, though, was the ‘interview’ round – the part of the series where the prospective Apprentices supposedly  reveal their true colours in the bit of the show that bears the greatest resemblance to real life. And call us tedious old bores, but we found it slightly painful viewing…

If you’re unfamiliar with the format, it goes like this: instead of finding another way for the remaining hopefuls to ritually humiliate themselves, Sugar leaves them in the care of four of his ‘closest’ Rottweilers, tasked with interrogating them into submission. It’s eye-watering stuff: for example, the moment where former Amstrad CEO Claude Littner pointed out that Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs is ‘not a brand – you’re a 21-year-old kid’ (to which Baggs mumbled ‘um. I think I might be a brand’) might have yielded yells of support from sofas across the country. Not as many, though, as when Baggs followed the exchange with ‘The thing is, I’m a big fish in a small pond’. ‘You’re not a big fish,’ Littner shot back. ‘You’re not even a fish’. Hah.

Laughs aside, the interviewing process was outrageous. The interviewers – Littner, lawyer Alan Watts, Viglen CEO Bordan Tkachuk and the effervescent Margaret Mountford – were massively aggressive, seeking to weed out every weakness and inconsistency in each candidate, and humiliate wherever possible. Consequently, banker Stella was described as a ‘glorified PA’ and Jamie, a property developer, was described as ‘puerile’ (admittedly, he had just laughed at his own joke about having a third nipple).

Meanwhile, having been given the option of being ‘ripped to shreds, or having a no-bullshit interview’ (he sensibly went for the latter), first-class honours student Chris was accused of being ‘a quitter’ because he had decided early on during a law degree that it wasn’t for him and ‘cleaner from Leicester’ Joanna was chastised for not wanting to grow her business. As for Baggs – suffice it to say that on his return from an interview with Littner, his lower lip was quivering. ‘I felt like I’d knocked on his door and said: "Sorry Claude, I’ve run over your dog",’ he trembled. Ah.

Special mention must be made of Sugar’s firing of Baggs, which would have sent any HR department into a spiral of despair. Having discovered that Baggs asserted on his CV that he ran a ‘fully licensed’ telecoms company, when in fact he only owned a broadband license, Sugar was appalled. ‘You’re full of sh*t, basically,’ he raged, without giving Baggs a chance to explain. In fact, he seemed more embarrassed for having ‘the wool pulled over my eyes’ than angry at Baggs. The Brand’s reputation could have done with some PR when he was sent out with his tail between his legs – but it left us with a peculiar feeling of sympathy.

Sugar seems to have forgotten that one of the primary roles of job interviews isn’t just to decide which candidate is right for your business – it’s to work out the candidate's potential, and help them decide whether your business is right for them. And being belligerent and accusatory isn’t the best way to achieve either. Perhaps it goes some way to explaining the high turnover of the recruits he’s made from the Apprentice. How many of them are actually still there?

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