7 Key Career Lessons from ‘The Apprentice’

Source: LinkedIn

May 09, 2013

This week we saw the start of the 2013 series of The Apprentice here in the UK. The popular and award-winning reality TV show sees 16 business-hopefuls compete to become Lord Sugar’s apprentice. Each episode we see candidates fighting for survival by competing on business tasks. Over 12 weeks we will see one after the other being fired until one is crowned ‘The Apprentice‘ winning a £250,000 investment into a potential business venture as well as the opportunity to work in partnership with business tycoon Lord Sugar. I love the show!

Why do I like it so much? It’s like being a fly on the wall in an assessment centre for three months. Candidates are split into two teams who then compete on tasks to demonstrate their business skills such as leadership, organisation, financial acumen, negotiation and sales. Tasks vary from selling a container load of different products for the most profit, to setting up a shop or developing a brand new product. The winning team is rewarded with a treat (helicopter flights, meals out, cocktail parties, etc.) while the losing team has to face Lord Sugar in the board room for a ferocious grilling. Ultimately one of them gets fired. This continues each week until a handful of candidates remain and those lucky souls are treated to some ‘interviews from hell’ with Lord Sugar’s most trusted aides.

Watching 16 candidates trying to make a good impression while fighting for survival is not only very entertaining (there are lots of tantrums and personality clashes) but is also great for picking up dos and don’ts for your own career or business venture. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from previous series:

1. Don’t be overconfident – There are few people that have succeeded in their careers without a sound level of self-confidence. However, being over-confident can be detrimental. Candidates on The Apprentice are given every opportunity to sing their own praises and do so with great gusto! They are always the best negotiators, the best financiers, the best presenters… I remember (with a slight smile on my face) a candidate saying ‘As a salesperson, I would rate myself as probably the best in Europe.’ Whilst entertaining for the viewer there are serious lessons to be learnt. Their exuberant confidence often leads to over-promising on tasks, it makes them less likeable and they often find it difficult to listen to other people’s ideas (even if they are better ideas). What we can learn from the show is that those who succeed have an air of confidence and conviction about them without being overbearing and that the line between confident and smug is thin.

2. Be a team player – Success in your career nearly always depends on your ability to be an effective team player. It is important to recognise that sometimes you have a specific role to play within a team. Sometimes you might be required to lead and sometimes you will be asked to work in the background organising things or delivering specific sub-tasks. On The Apprentice we see time and time again individual candidates who ignore their designated role and instead aim for a leadership position. This often causes tension and friction within the team and can have a negative impact on task delivery . A good team player can lead when required but ultimately puts the team’s objectives above their own.

3. Pull your weight – People that are successful in their career make sure they pull their weight and contribute effectively to any task they are involved in. In each and every series ofThe Apprentice we see candidates that just stand back or hide in the background hoping they won’t be noticed. For some candidates it’s part of a game plan i.e. not to stick their neck out in the fist 2-3 episodes and therefore avoid being blamed for any failures. This strategy has backfired in more recent shows with candidates being fired for not contributing enough. It is key that we get involved in tasks, take on some risk and responsibility and get noticed for our input.

4. Be likeable – Candidates that get promoted and move up in their careers are generally well liked by others. It is much harder to fire someone you really like and have built a relationship with. Each year on The Apprentice we see one or two candidates who rub everyone up the wrong way. It’s often their downfall, especially when it comes to confronting Lord Sugar in the board room – fellow candidates gang up on the ones they don’t like, even if they have performed well. It’s crucial to form good relationships with your colleagues. Be friendly, helpful and interested in other people… and not just those in management but colleagues performing different roles across the organisation.

5. Speak up – If you think something is not going right or could be done better then say so – don’t just watch your team fail in silence and then lay blame. Make sure you put your point across but accept it if the team decides to go in a different direction to the one you think is best. On The Apprentice we see candidates fired for claiming (after the event) that they would have done things differently. It’s important to contribute your opinion while there’s still a chance to influence the outcome. However, if you can’t convince the other team members that your idea is a good one then take it on the nose. Sometimes you have to admit defeat and just continue to be a great team player regardless.

6. Don’t forget the task at hand – Successful candidates remain on task – they always have the team objective at the forefront of their minds. Those who take their eyes off the ball and focus too much on promoting themselves or standing out from the crowd often end up getting fired because they failed to focus on the important issue and got side-tracked with less important or even trivial or counter-productive elements of the task. Many tasks on The Apprentice involve making more money or profit than the other team – the candidates and teams that make decisions always with this objective in mind normally do very well.

7. Don’t lie – Every year on The Apprentice we bear witness to candidates who have ‘stretched’ the truth in their application forms and CVs… e.g. the candidate who went to university (but only stayed for four months). There is sometimes a fine line between creatively promoting yourself and telling blatant lies. In my opinion honesty is the best policy as a little bit of digging and one or two phone calls will very quickly reveal the truth.

Do you watch The Apprentice? Have you picked up any career tips from the show?

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