Five questions from the Apprentice that would never turn up in a real job interview

What is the worst lie you have ever told?

That exciting time in the business calendar is upon us again: The Apprentice graces our screens. Hopeful entrepreneurs line up to throw themselves through the most gruelling, bizarre, often humiliating and sometimes terrifying interview process in the UK. The winner of The Apprentice receives a £250,000 partnership with Lord Sugar. To put this in context, £250,000 a year is near about the salary of a CEO of a city council or a non-partnered lawyer in a large city firm and their interview questions would reflect their skill and expertise in the area. Here are some examples of the kinds of questions they're asked at interview:

Share a good example of the way you could motivate employees or co-employees.

Describe a choice you've made that wasn't popular and just how you handled applying it.

Maybe you have made a mistake that costs your company as loss? How have you handled it?

They are certainly never asked the following (taken from the Apprentice selection interviews). Here's my best shot at answering them.

  1. What is the most interesting thing about you?

Admittedly, you may have been asked this before, or something similar. Always a difficult one, especially if you’re a particularly boring person. If the most interesting thing about you is that you can balance a spoon on the end of your nose (after years of solitary practice) consider making something up. Or try ‘this one time I applied for The Apprentice, I know crazy right?) You probably wouldn’t be too surprised if you were asked this in a normal interview, but you should avoid mentioning your Apprentice candidacy.  

  1. What makes you different from all the other people applying for The Apprentice?

Not only does this require you to think up something ‘different’ about yourself but also second guess all the other contestants on the show. Don’t say ‘I’m not your average candidate,’ because just by saying this you are. The only thing that you can say to this is ‘I don’t want to be in business, I have no innovate ideas and I’m not intimidated by Karen Brady’s hair,’ you might just confuse them enough to get in there. Generally, normal interviews don’t encourage you to speculate on the other candidates for the job, this would in fact make you more nervous and prone to say something out of turn- especially if you personally knew the other candidates.

  1. Who is your role model (excluding Lord Alan Sugar,) and why?

Well of course your role model IS Lord Sugar, he created that really famous company who did…something or other with computers. And Karen Brady, who’s a woman working in football – what an inspiration. Oh and yes the other guy, Nick Hewer, the bloke who presents Countdown now. No but seriously, Steve Jobs, Richard Banson, Donald Trump and all other celebrity business names. ‘Who is your role model’ can sometimes come up in job interviews, but not generally in a high paying position as it’s not a technical or industry specific question: more designed to acquire sound bites of the candidates comparing themselves to James Caan.

  1. What makes you angry?

Don’t say: those times you’re watching The Apprentice and the candidates can’t work out the simplest thing, for example that driving through central London at 6pm might actually take longer than five minutes or that people on the streets at lunch time don’t appreciate bagpipes IN their face or no I don’t want to buy a five way foot file for £7. All while you sit on your sofa, eating cheesy snacks and pondering on how the winner will gain £250,000 while the average retail or bar job in London pays £6.25 per hour. Or maybe do… ‘What makes you angry’ isn’t usually something potential employers wish to know, rather how you would deal with a stressful situation or anger of another colleague.

  1. What is the worst lie you have ever told?

Never once have I ever heard of this question being asked in an interview. Of course the interview process not only has to wean out the wheat from the chaff but also which candidates are reality TV ready, because after all, this isn’t a real business interview; its an opportunity for people who wouldn’t ordinarily get a look in for a £250,000 job to humiliate themselves for the precious opportunity.

Alan Sugar Photograph: Getty Images

Katy Maydon is a journalist for Retail Banker International

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.