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

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
Show Hide image

I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war