Learn how to get hired by watching people get fired

The Apprentice isn’t one of the most popular shows on British television for no reason. Watching candidates make seemingly stupid and obvious mistakes, embarrassing themselves and receiving a dressing down from Lord Sugar all provide gripping entertainment.

However, the show has also produced several very successful business people including Mark Wright, who is the only winner so far to turn over more than £1 million during his first year of trading with his company Climb Online.  Ricky Martin recently topped this when his recruitment business reported a profit of over £1 million, as did Leah Totton whose two successful cosmetics surgery clinics also reported a profit of over £1 million.

Aside from the entertainment factor, these success stories suggest there are a number of valuable lessons we can learn from the programme about how to be more successful in our own careers. As laughable and unlikely as many of the candidates may seem, the rigorous selection process they go through often parallels the challenges of job seeking in the real world of work.

In The Apprentice it’s not necessarily the most confident or intelligent candidate that succeeds at the on-screen challenges. Those who flourish are often the ones who do the most preparation and really take the time to properly understand the tasks.

For any jobseekers out there watching, The Apprentice provides a great lesson in how proper preparation before diving into an interview is so often the key to being successful.  Before attending an interview, take time to prepare. Research the company and make sure you fully read through and understand the job description.

During the interview, listen to the questions carefully and take a few moments to properly formulate your answer. Too many former candidates on the show have crashed and burned after not taking the time to fully understand what is being asked of them.

From a business perspective, The Apprentice set-up emulates a lengthy and elaborate group interview or assessment centre – something which is often particularly daunting for jobseekers.

You want to stand out and impress, but there’s always the challenge of navigating the overly confident loud-mouth in the group as well as the silent participant who contributes nothing at all.

The Apprentice teaches us that it’s not always the loudest, most outspoken person who is successful. But equally if you step back too much and don’t contribute you won’t make it far either.

Tom Pellereau, the winner of series seven of the show, is a perfect example of how you don’t have to be a dominant extrovert to win the top job.  Tom was labelled ‘geeky’ during his time on the show and his intelligence and creativity certainly helped him to land that winning spot. But what gave him the edge over the other candidates was that he spoke with purpose and only contributed when it was beneficial. He was non-confrontational with other members of the team and was considerate when listening to others and he made a point of including them.

These tactics hold the secret to standing out in a group setting and ensuring you are remembered in the right way and for the right things. Although the super brazen and outspoken candidates provide excellent entertainment during the show, their overconfidence is often what lets them down.   A big mouth will lead them to make mistakes and come into confrontation with other candidates and this, ultimately, is what prevents them from winning.

For many on the show, they are aspiring to be the next Lord Sugar and so this ‘process’ is the ultimate mentoring experience. Even if they don’t win, they will gain valuable advice, criticism and feedback. I am a huge advocate of having a career mentor. I have one myself and on many occasions I have acted as a mentor to others.  It’s my belief that guidance from a mentor can contribute significantly to your career success.

In your career you may find yourself making mistakes and missing out on opportunities due to a lack of experience just as the candidates on the show do. Having a mentor can help to minimise these mistakes because they can advise you through difficult situations. Someone with many years of experience can be well placed to assist you with the professional choices you must make.

Lord Sugar’s style of mentoring on the programme may be harsh, but honesty is key when it comes to finding the right mentor. You want a mentor to question your thinking about an idea or career move and to help you test whether it is a good idea or not. Good mentors will constantly question and challenge and in doing so they will help you to begin to reach your full potential – as Lord Sugar does.

So, as you sit down next Wednesday to watch Lord Sugar put the candidates through their paces, remember to keep an eye out for the actions and behaviours that make them successful. There is certainly what I like to call ‘take home value’ here.  Value that you can apply to your own career.