With last night’s final bringing to a close the twelfth series of The Apprentice, the annual quest to find Lord Sugar’s next business partner still has the nation hooked. Perhaps business leaders should be too. The Apprentice’s recruiting process may seem far removed from the corporate world, but there are closer links than you might expect. And some important lessons for businesses to learn.
Apprentice applicants, like other job candidates, are screened beforehand through an application form or CV. Hundreds of hours are spent sifting through the paperwork to identify the candidates who fit the hiring criteria most, based on the way they’ve documented their skills, experience and aspirations. Depending on the outcome of obligatory background checks, the best qualified progress to the next stage.
From here, the show is split into 14 episodes that air over a 68-day period, during which time the candidates learn, develop and are whittled down. The average time to fill a role in the corporate world is not dissimilar to the game show. Today it takes over 12 weeks or 63 business days to get someone in-seat. All the time positions are vacant, firms lose precious money and productivity.
Interviewing the boss
Every stage of the selection process is designed to put applicants through their paces and test them under pressure, whether it’s one-to-one or panel interviews, group tasks or practical exercises to simulate business situations.
Bosses aim to get a holistic view of each candidate, assessing their personality traits, motivational drivers, leadership qualities and future potential, to determine whether they will be a good fit for the role and the firm.
But employers forget that they too are under the microscope. In every interaction, candidates are evaluating whether or not they want the job, like the culture and the people, and want to work for the firm. Interestingly, none of the first five winners of The Apprentice stayed in Lord Sugar’s enterprise for longer than two years.
Much of the show’s appeal lies in watching Lord Sugar deliver some harsh truths to candidates in the boardroom. His feedback on individuals’ performance might be direct, and at times makes for uncomfortable viewing, but the candidates know where they stand. Those who take on board constructive criticism last the longest in the process. And those making an early exit leave knowing why they weren’t successful in getting to the next round.
Most companies, however, don’t provide unsuccessful applicants with meaningful feedback. Having invested their time and energy, failed applicants won’t be able to take anything constructive away. One in four report that a recruitment experience was negative as a result of a lack of feedback, and a similar proportion say that they have stopped using or purchasing products or services from that organisation.
It might not make for good TV, but firms that use objective assessments as part of the hiring process have greater success at getting the right person in the right role and improving the experience for candidates.
When Lord Sugar points his finger for the final time, he knows his business partner will have had to jump through hoops to secure the investment. Businesses should learn from him, and from his mistakes.