This year, for the first time, I’m watching each and every episode of The Apprentice; finally I get what all the fuss is about! (Yes, it’s in its tenth year – I’m not exactly an early adopter…) I find it strangely compelling, painful at times and hilarious at others. It’s particularly interesting to ask myself how I think I would have fared with a given task, as a business owner and marketer myself.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the programme, The Apprentice is a reality TV show with entrepreneur Lord Alan Sugar at the helm, throwing various product, sales and marketing challenges at the candidates with the aim of identifying the best person to be his business partner in a new venture.
What I find most fascinating is the confidence with which all the candidates have put themselves forward in the first place, and their unwavering self-assurance even in the face of having demonstrated their complete incompetence.
“I can sell ice to Eskimos!” is the standard claim made by the candidates, using their own more ludicrous metaphors. This year, the most confident of all was, rather unexpectedly, a social worker, Steven. “I am excellent,” he declared again and again, “I would be excellent if you put me on Mars,” and he simply couldn’t fathom why his colleagues didn’t want to work with him or why Lord Sugar ended up firing him.
Of course, to put yourself forward for a position – any position, though the situation is amplified by the public nature of a reality TV show – you need a certain degree of confidence. You need to believe that you can do the job, and you need to convey that conviction to your would-be-employer or client. A person who doesn’t know you is not going to take a risk and believe in you when you don’t even believe in yourself.
When I was in sixth form, aged 10, I put myself forward for form captain. On election day, I stood in front of the class with the other candidates as we were asked if we would be able to do X, Y, Z as required for this most prestigious of roles. “Um, well, I think so, I don’t know,” mumble, mumble, nervous laugh. Not a very convincing performance. The result? A big fact ‘0’ written in stark white chalk against my name when not one of my friends raised their hand in support of my candidature.
A generalisation is often made that men will overstate their abilities while women understate them. Coming back to The Apprentice, another candidate fired by Lord Sugar was Gemma: the self-proclaimed “nearly girl”, who worked diligently and without a lot of fuss behind the scenes while other more vocal but not necessarily more capable candidates made themselves heard. A classic error, thinking that you can get on quietly with your work and this will be noticed and rewarded.
A model that we used in one of my previous jobs was PIE: in order to do well, you need Performance (great results are fundamental to long-term success), Image (it matters what people think of you, not just what you’re actually doing), and Exposure (you and your work must be visible to your management, or it’s all for nothing). Results alone are not enough, while empty talk that you fail to back up with substance will never work in the long run. To progress, you need to not only deliver results but also think about networking, having an elevator pitch prepared on the impact you’re having on the business, making sure that you’re getting the exposure that you need to the people who are making decisions on your possible promotion, salary increase, or contract extension.
Fast-forward 22 years from that fateful day in the classroom and, faced with a similar barrage of questions, I would now respond with a resounding YES: I would be good at this job, I’m confident that I can deliver great results and make a valuable contribution to the business. This is thanks to some years of personal and professional experience, seeing what I’m capable of, getting positive feedback from managers and clients, and witnessing the comparatively unjustified confidence of peers who resemble some of the worst candidates on The Apprentice.
Some of the things I’ve discovered along the way:
- A job interview is not just about whether the employer wants you to work there, it’s also about whether you want to work there. It’s a two-way relationship so ask questions and don’t sell yourself short.
- If someone tells you “Well done!” the appropriate reply is, “Thank you, I worked hard and I’m pleased with what I’ve achieved.” Don’t dismiss it, “Oh, it was nothing.”
- It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. No one is perfect, and no one expects you to be perfect.
So while I’m not quite at the stage of telling everyone how excellent I am, I do have more confidence in myself and my abilities.
Oh, hell, let me say it, just this once: I am excellent.