Interview Tips from The Apprentice

Thursday, June 4th, 2009 - Employment, Job Advert, Professional CV, rich & famous, tutorial

Interview Tips from The Apprentice

copyright BBC/Talkback Thames

copyright BBC/Talkback Thames

Last night was annual The Apprentice UK episode where the five remaining candidates are interviewed by four of Sir Alan’s associates.

As someone involved in the recruitment industry, I always love watching this particular episode. However, as this is the fifth series, you would have thought that the job applicants/reality TV stars would have learnt from the previous five series. No, not a bit of it!

So here are the Interview Tips that non-reality TV star Job Applicant I think should pick up from last nights 1hour lesson.

Interview Format:

There are only three basic forms of the interview:

  • One on One: most normally found in SME situations, where one job applicant meets one interviewer
  • Two or more on One: most commonly found in corporate situations, where two or more people interview one candidate. It puts the candidate under more pressure, and means that the interviewers – normally the prospective line manager and the HR professional – can have a common view of the candidate
  • Multi-interview: a mixture of the above two formats, where you rush between rooms to be grilled by one or more interviewers. This format puts the candidate under much more pressure, and promotes mental agility

There may also be pre and post in-interview written and presentation assessments, with many corporates now only interviewing candidates who have first been screened by tests of mental agility and numeracy, often undertaken en mass by third parties


Like many a classical multi-interview format, The Apprentice had a good cross section of interviewer types:

  • Claude Litner, Sir Alan’s former “global trouble-shooter:” like watching a raw steak cook, everything is flipped 180degrees to skewer you at minimum. Always draws the conclusion, always has the last word. Really puts you under pressure!
  • Bordan Tkachuk, CEO of Viglen: less aggressive than Claude, to me he says his most devastating comments in the boardroom after the interview. Doesn’t start out to grill the candidates, but does purposefully apply pressure and distance
  • Alan Watts, partner at Herbert Smith: as a lawyer, I thought Alan would be more logical and process orientated/cold, and clear in thought. Didn’t see many tricks, and good in boardroom feedback
  • Karen Brady, MD of Birmingham City: probably the most deadly and dangerous of the interviewers, as she is nice! Note how she always keeps the tone of her voice and the speed of delivery constant. Draws you in, asks you to justify everything, but always assessing in an open manner

CV Mistakes:

There were also the interview “characters.” But as always, each of the candidates had extended/fudged/out right lied on their CV, or at least placed a man trap or two in their words. Why don’t people learn: Never, never ever lie on your CV!

Her are some of the classic quotes and comments I picked up:

  • Debra: I get on with everyone. I rang one of your colleagues, and he says people either get on with you or not? I think people confuse making targets with personality
  • Lorraine: Seems you have over stated your last employment by 12months. That’s a typing error. Afterwards: really made me think about my CV in the future!
  • James: Your CV says “I bring ignorance to the table.” Who wants or needs that? silence…
  • Kate: why couldn’t you work in a group of women? I love working with women! It doesn’t say that on your CV! where is the passion? You don’t get where I am without the passion
  • Yasmina: what is turnover? Oh, argh, err – Gross Profit, or Net Profit….

After the Job Interview:

Panel interviews and multi-person interviews are the worst – hence why the apprentices felt so tired and battered afterwards. However, in part that is what to expect in this format, and secondly the job being applied for is executive level – so what did they expect? Job Applicants should expect to feel tired and mentally bruised after an interview – not because interviewers set out to be horrible and nasty, but because interviews are meant to test you to the limit in one hour sessions or less. Be prepared for the after interview effect!

Your Fired!

So why did they get to the final or get fired? It was all there in the boardroom feedback:

  • Debra: presented well in interview, but was she giving answers interviewers wanted to hear? Learnt from 10 week process, but references were BRUTAL, tough person, will deliver but will upset a lot of people, but with age could change. Fired because of the highly negative references – Debra’s lesson: check your references first before forwarding them
  • James: a bit of a joker, got phased, touchy on those subjects, committed to his job. Fired because he was too corporate. James’s lesson: apply for jobs where you have social fit with the organisation. James’s ambition was never likely to get him the job, the fact he couldn’t suppress his humour even in the last boardroom the killer
  • Kate: impressed, controlled, precise, but possibly too robotic, unflappable = won’t let you down. Kate’s lesson: got to the final because her 360degree view was wholly consistent – performance, interviews, and references
  • Lorraine: keeps talking, special gift and could be Mystic Meg, lied on CV Lorraine’s lesson: never ever lie on your CV, and was doubted in corporate fit. Employers look first for reasons to exclude over reasons to employ
  • Yasmina: entrepreneur, but not credible – why does she want to work for Sir Alan? Confident, good personality, would fit well. Yasmina’s lesson: could answer the one big question as to why she wanted the job, removing the doubt from Sir Alan’s mind; while Debra was still a risk

I look forward to Sunday’s final. It is still 50/50 as we don’t know the job Sir Alan has lined up, but Kate’s featured in too much media coverage for that not to be enough of a hint.

Good Luck to both candidates!

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Interview Tips:

  1. Always do research on the company before you apply. Check for culture and hints towards social fit as much as future strategy
  2. Ask via a telephone call once you have an interview date for the interview format
  3. Before providing references, always contact and brief them. Ask them to be honest with you over what they would say about you
  4. The best training for interviews is mental agility. You could buy one of many 1001 typical questions for interview books, but the £1 mental tests books from your local supermarket are better for improving mental agility and hence interview performance
  5. The best question to have a thought through interview answer for is: Why do you want this job?
  6. At least three days before, check where the interview is being held, and the transport links/timings. I always recommend that you use public transport over driving, as it removes the issues of nerves/accidents. Always make sure you allow a spare hour at the location before your interview time
  7. At least 2days before the interview, get your clothes laid out. I always buy a new shirt for every interview, you may also want to buy something new
  8. During the journey there, or while waiting for your interview, read your notes
  9. Accept that nerves are respect for the occasion
  10. Walk in with confidence – look the interviewer in the eyes. Make sure you know their name, have your paper on the desk and access to a glass of water
  11. Listen to the interviewer, listen to the questions!
  12. Don’t drivel on. Keep your words to answering the question, and no more
  13. Have at least ten questions prepared to ask the employer/HR person – but only use three
  14. Once the interview is formally over, ask about next steps
  15. Never accept an offer on the day. Say thank you, ask to call them the next morning before 10:00
  16. Accept the after interview exhaustion
  17. Follow up with a thank you letter the day afterwards


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