What ‘The Apprentice’ can teach us about the workplace


By Laura Little, Learning and Development Manager, CABA

It’s that time of year again, where one of the nation’s favourite programmes returns to our screens. Each year tens of thousands of people apply to take part in Alan Sugar’s The Apprentice, and whilst the blunt ‘you’re fired’ may not be typical of every workplace, there are some valuable lessons for anyone who wants to be a success in the workplace.

For starters, each episode of the show focuses on a different task to test the contestants skill set. These are all based on common attributes successful employees would likely have; leadership, teamwork and organisation. What’s more, the contestants have to learn how to collaborate successfully with other people in their team that they wouldn’t necessarily interact with if they had the choice. Similar to that of a typical working environment.

Yes, the arguments and gossiping provide a great source of entertainment, the programme provides a wonderful insight into business, as well as tips on how to succeed in the workplace:

Work is competitive

The Apprentice is infamous for its cut-throat, opinionated contestants. While it’s unlikely that everyone you work with will be cut from the same cloth, it’s important to remember that there will be times where your ideas and aims clash with those of a colleague. You’ll need to learn how to resolve those conflicts professionally and amicably to succeed.

TIP: Establishing and maintaining good work relationships are the key to a positive workplace. It’s fair to say that we don’t get on with our colleagues every minute of the day, so the solution to a successful working environment is striking the balance between having fun and working productively.

The clock is ticking

On the show, there are artificial time constraints because it’s TV and there is a need for tension. In real life, you’ll often find yourself working to a deadline that can’t be adjusted or moved if the task is proving difficult to complete.

TIP: If you’re feeling as though there’s not enough hours in the day, then you’re not alone. Tight deadlines are a source of stress for many people, but there are practical things you can do to remain calm and focused. Be sure to prioritise your tasks and don’t be afraid to say no or ask for help if you’re asked to start something new when you just don’t have the time. 

Focus on the bigger picture

When a task isn’t going to plan, you’ll often see contestants on the show get distracted by trivial jobs or fixating on something irrelevant instead of focusing on the problem at hand. This is an important lesson to learn – ensure you take a step back sometimes and look at a project holistically – understanding the key tasks that need to be done to make sure things run smoothly.

TIP: It’s easy to get distracted if something isn’t going to plan, but it’s important to remember that lots of the little things you do during the day will ultimately add up to a huge waste of your time. Identify your time-wasting habits by writing down everything you do during your working day and you’ll realise how much time you’ve spent procrastinating rather than working through the task at hand.

Learn from your mistakes

The history of The Apprentice is filled with contestants who try and get themselves out of trouble and blame other people for their mistakes – it’s part of the fun – but in the real world, you need to take responsibility for your failures in the same way you celebrate your triumphs.

TIP: The phrase ‘if at first you don’t succeed, then try and try again’ is famous for a reason. Mistakes are all part of the learning process and you shouldn’t be upset if something goes wrong. Analyse what went wrong and why, and use this to help shape processes in the future.

Next time you sit down to watch The Apprentice, keep an eye out for anything you think has been done particularly well, and make a note to see if there’s any way to incorporate this into your working life. Remember, each contestant has been through a rigorous selection process, not too dissimilar from interviews in the real world. For further information on how to supercharge your career, visit: cabacareers.org.uk