Hi Nick. Your background in PR, and more recently as one of Sir Alan Sugar’s advisors on the UK Apprentice program, mean that you regularly come into contact with people who are trying to make a good first impression. What do you think are the three most important factors people should take into account?
I think, frankly, that as soon as they start talking and in the interview process, as soon as one gets in to the interview, I think that there are three key factors. You’ve got to be confident that they appear to be honest and not slippery and sly but they should be straight forward and should answer the questions in a straight forward fashion. Secondly, I think this is often overlooked, it’s sort of likeability factor. If your employing somebody, you’ve got to like them a bit, feel comfortable with them; feel that you can work with them. And I think the third quality is persuasiveness because they’ve got to persuade you that they’re good and honest and likeable and competent to do the job and that ability to persuade they will almost always need in the job that you’re offering them. And one fourth one, I know you only asked for three, but the fourth one is the ability to listen and not just bang on and on and on but feel that you can actually sit back and listen quietly to what’s being said to you.
And do you consider appearance and body language to be important in the interview?
You’ve got to have the armory. But then, you’ve create that good first impression and I suppose appearance and presentation and body language are the first things that an interviewer sees as you stroll in the door.
Do you remember a specific example when someone made a fantastic first impression and what was it that they did to stand out from the crowd?
I remember many, many years ago a chap who’s since become a great friend of mine and I suppose in those days he was probably, possibly not yet thirty and he’d got a job as a Marketing Manager or Marketing Assistant; he was very junior. And the company that he was about to work for, or indeed had just started to work for, was sponsoring the tourists cricket tour against the counties. And he was talking to the Marketing Director and the Chairman, who together had organized this sponsorship, and he told them he thought it was the biggest waste of money he’d ever heard of and had he been involved would have vetoed it and he can’t imagine what they were thinking about and it was a dreadful waste of money and they should be ashamed of themselves. He put it slightly more succinctly than that, but not much to be honest with you. I was amazed that this young chap would have the nerve to say it. The fact it, he was right. And when he got the job, and a year or two later, he cancelled the sponsorship because it did absolutely nothing. It was just a vanity project for the Chairman and the Marketing Director and good for him. He went on to do great things, has made many millions of pounds and I think his forthright approach to business, his directness, his clear-headedness has seen him through and I first saw all of those qualities when he was shooting from the hip over that cricket sponsorship.
Can you spot these people if they have don’t the confidence to be forthcoming, is possible to see through that to a degree?
Hmm, possibly you can. On The Apprentice, what is interesting is, that at the very beginning of the process I will spot somebody, or one of my colleagues on the show will spot somebody, you think that young chap or that young girl…it’s a full gone conclusion; they’re going to steam roll through and win this and it’s all going to be rather embarrassing because she or he will be spotted as the obvious winner. And that may well be true…until week three when they disappear. They just collapse, they can’t take the heat, or they just evaporate. They lose their confidence. I know in the last series, Ben, a young chap from Northern Ireland, a trainee stockbroker, appeared to have bags of confidence they suddenly he was sort of broken. And I remember in the very first series, nobody spotted Tim Campbell, the final winner, until about episode nine or ten of twelve in all, and suddenly there he was, coming up fast on the rails and won, and won absolutely correctly, and is a tremendous young bloke and is a great role model and a delightful chap.
What one piece of advice would you pass onto people setting up a business?
If there was one single piece of advice I think it’s, stay honest; the client is the most important thing. If I had any advice, which I wish somebody had told me, would be more confident about your abilities because when I actually sold my company and all the rest of it, many, many of my friends are old clients. They now say to me, ‘ah Nick, you always under charge.’ I wish they’d told me at the time. And they say, ‘well, you know, you should have charged more, you were worth more.’ So that was a lack of confidence.
What do you think has been your greatest strength as an individual?
I think, possibly, that whilst the company was always profitable, was never enormous, maybe I wasn’t, in that sense, a great manager. If I had one quality, I think it was that people liked to work for me and clients liked to employ me and if there was one quality, I think it was that I quite creative; I came up with creative ideas and solutions to problems. I say that without wishing to appear big headed because Lord knows I’m not as I’ve got nothing to be big headed about. I was very creative, I was very creative in product launches and also I think quite brave, in other words, I would take difficult decisions. I wasn’t afraid of really going in heavy when it was necessary.
Thank-you Nick for your time. Make sure you subscribe to the careers magazine to keep updated on new podcasts.