What The Apprentice can teach us about getting a graduate job

The BBC show not only entertains, but also offers some useful careers advice… about what not to do.

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Watching The Apprentice is like observing a 12-week panel interview and assessment centre, with Alan Sugar, flanked by Claude Littner and Karen Brady, leading the team of recruiters. A key difference between the show and real life is of course the fact that the 16 candidates are competing not for a job but the advice and guidance of a multimillionaire businessman and a £250,000 investment in their own business.

‘I’ve had them all in here,’ Lord Sugar declared in one opening episode, ‘chancers, posers, brown-nosers, moaning Minnies, big-time Charlies and half-pint Harrys…’ It’s these kinds of characters, echoed in each year’s crop of candidates, that keep the show popular. Congratulations to Carina Lepore, the 2019 winner – we look forward to seeing her bakery empire. Here are eight lessons The Apprentice 2019 taught us about what to do and not to do during the application process (and even once you’ve got your graduate job):

1. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver

The boys’ team got into trouble in the very first task of the series because their sales pitch guaranteed their safari clients a sighting of the Big Five (no, not professional services firms, but lions, African leopards, rhinoceros, African elephants and Cape buffaloes). On the big day, after only rhinos (mistakenly referred to as elephants – yikes!) and elephants (actual elephants this time) had been spotted, they decided to prolong the outing in the desperate hope that they would see more animals, meaning the safari took two hours longer than planned and shortened crucial spending time in the gift shop. The result was a trip to the losers’ café for the boys. When applying for a graduate job, don’t be tempted to exaggerate or make false claims; for example, don’t state in your application that you can speak fluent French when in fact you can only order two beers and ask where the loo is. Your prospective employer will find out, and knowing you lied about or exaggerated one thing will make them trust you less in general. There’s nothing wrong with being honest and saying that you have basic conversational French.

2. Quality matters

In episode two, when the boys’ team presented an embarrassing pale pink mess to their corporate client, asking her to fork out £3.85 for each ‘premium’ ice lolly, it was hard not to cringe. No one was surprised when they lost the task. They’d stinted on ingredients and failed to ensure that their product looked good. If you send in your application without reading through it to catch any mistakes, or fail to give your CV a proofread, you’re doing the same. Take the time to make sure that you’re presenting yourself as a polished, professional candidate throughout the recruitment process

3. Follow instructions

The writing was on the wall for Team Unison when, in episode three, they were tasked with creating a new children’s toy aimed at six-to eight-year olds. Sub-team leader Thomas had them create a toy more suitable for an 18-month-old, and the accompanying video, in which various team members dance around awkwardly in animal onesies, was painful to watch. If only they’d thought to follow the brief’s very clear instructions about the target audience! If you’re given any instructions about how to fill out an application form or present your CV, or you’re issued with any instructions during tasks at an assessment centre, make sure you Pay. Attention. Instructions are there for a reason, most often to help you.

4. Be positive

If the recruitment process includes a group task and you find yourself having a different opinion to the other members in your group, don’t choose the path Souleyman did. He was fired after the toy task episode not because he disagreed with his teammates – in fact he was totally on the money when he pointed out that a fake tortoise that sits on your hand and says nice things was too babyish for its destined market – but because his attitude let him down. Lord Sugar pointed out that constructive criticism is good, but negativity is not. Working in a team involves diplomacy, patience and excellent communication and interpersonal skills, especially when bad news needs to be delivered, and recruiters will want to see that you can do more than point out what is wrong.

5. Have a strategy

If you’re presented with a case study, either individually or in a group, or set a group challenge, it’s always beneficial to take a bit of time – even just a few minutes – to make a plan of action, even if it’s just in your head. Having a strategy will keep you organised and on track when it comes to timekeeping. After the chaotic Oxford-Cambridge scavenger hunt, strategy-less Riyonn found himself in the infamous black ‘exit’ cab (wrapped up warmly in his scarf, of course!) because he’d failed to plan ahead and keep his team on track.

6. Participate

‘Being quiet will not get you anywhere,’ is a piece of advice that almost all recruiters echo when discussing participation in group exercises at assessment centres. Staying silent, not taking risks and not really participating at all sealed Iasha’s fate in the theme park task. Embarrassingly, two of her colleagues pointed out that the progress of their task would not have changed in the slightest had she not been there. Her colleague Lottie was criticised for making the wrong decision when it came to the marketing of the team’s roller coaster, but at least she had made decisions. The ideal scenario at an assessment centre is to achieve a good mix of taking charge and taking a back seat, and knowing when to do both. Being silent is not an option.

7. Consider the big picture and analyse the situation

Ryan-Mark neglected to consider the needs of people with dietary requirements when taking the helm during the corporate event task, a key element of which was lunch. Complicating matters was the fact that the event took place on a moving train, so his team were unable to source an alternative meal for a client with a wheat allergy, meaning she was offered a fruit salad – and a rather measly one at that – for her expensive lunch. Ryan-Mark should have demonstrated some more lateral thinking. Recruiters want you to be able to see the big picture and anticipate any problems or issues in advance.

8. Be polite

It sounds obvious but being polite will take you far in the working world… and that of graduate recruitment. In episode nine, the music task, Tommy got his walking orders after failing to turn on his usual charm with the auditioning musicians, choosing to talk money as soon as they’d finished performing instead of sparing a few seconds to praise them for their efforts. This meant that when it was time for the artists to choose which team to partner with, Tommy’s team lost out, despite offering them a slightly better financial incentive than the other team. Equally, recruiters are looking for people they’d feel happy spending potentially long hours with, and being polite and courteous counts.

So there you have it. It’s easier to learn from The Apprentice what you shouldn’t do as a graduate candidate, rather than what you should , but that’s TV for you!

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