The Apprentice: The interviews stage, and what employers can take from it

Of course, there were still a few choice moments it would be rude not to highlight, even if we are going easy on the Apprenticees.

Chris's claim he was 'one of the most revered theological scholars in the UK for his age' was patently, LOL-ably ludicrous. Particularly as the truth behind this particular flourish was: "I did quite well in my A-level." Right. We won't be setting up a debate on Radio 4 with Richard Dawkins for you quite just yet, then.

And then there was Joanna. Who couldn't pronounce 'Viglen' (the name of Lord Sugar's main company). And, as it happens, couldn't even name his other businesses. Come on - if you're going on The Apprentice, you absolutely need to know who Alan Sugar is and how he's made it big.

Of course, Jamie attributing his academic mediocrity at school to a failing of his parents was pretty feeble too. He could have recovered, though, had he not then pinned the blame for the stuttering and stumbling of his property business on his partner. Take some responsibility Jamie!

Luckily, Margaret's ever-attuned eyebrow raises and asides eased the frustrated spleen of watching that lot make all those embarrassing schoolboy errors. Ah, Margaret, how I do love thee, let me count the ways. If there was some kind of reverse Botox procedure available that could endow any needy person with that chilling eyebrow raise through a minor surgical procedure, I'd be first on the waiting list.

My fave bit of Margaret magic was de-branding the Baggs with a cool, 'and I suppose you would give it 110% as well'. Also, many de-Baggs-ing brownie points to Claude Littner for voicing what we've all been yelling inanely at our TVs these past few weeks: "You're not a brand. You're a 21-year-old boy."

So, plenty of lessons for prospective employees among all the rubble and ruin of the interviews from Hades: always know the company you want to work for well; put things in a positive light but be honest (STUART BAGGS); step up to your CV and don't make excuses; and don't overinflate claims of intelligence to the point of pure ridiculousness (ahem, Professor Chris).

But what can small business owners take from the interview stage? Well, we certainly wouldn't advise going as hard on your prospective candidates as Claude, Margaret, et al do.

For a start, and as you saw last night, interviewees fearing for their lives tend to be less articulate. Yes, you need to see if they can cope with pressure - but you're not interviewing for the SAS. Make interviewees feel at ease for the conversation, and you'll find out what their mind is really made of. And you can start to gauge whether you'd get on with them on a day-to-day basis.

A pressure test is wise though. Some kind of minor skills assessment can show you whether they deal with stress, at the same time as determining whether they are really as talented as their CV might purport.

And, contrary to what goes on behind the scenes at The Apprentice interview stage, don't leave your interviewee waiting for two hours. It's rude. They're sizing you up as well as you them, so be polite, make them feel welcome, and try to demonstrate you're the kind of boss they'd really like to work for.

A little light grilling doesn't go astray though, particularly if you're trying to sift out the stupendous claims from the solid. Feel free to query what you see - but frame your questions more along the 'so what was your day-to-day like in this role, and did you achieve this singlehandedly or as part of a team' to extract the information you need more subtly than blazing in with 'you're obviously a drop out and a quitter'.

All the challenges posed by last night's ferocious interviewers were the right ones in essence, though. Did the candidate really achieve what the CV suggests? What's their fighting spirit like? Do they care about getting this job enough to have done their homework? There's no point employing someone who's not passionate about working for you, because they won't work hard. What are their weaknesses? - so you can assess them fairly. Do they cope with stress well? If they're awkwardly nervous now, could you really trust them to pitch to a client? Do they conduct themselves in a professional-enough manner throughout? (Obviously hats off to Stella for achieving this.)

You can get more advice from our guide on interviewing employees and our advice on recruitment.

As for who will win - well, we'll leave you in Lee McQueen's capable hands for that one, too. We thought it would be Stella, hands down, but his interesting insider insight has made us think twice. Here's to what we're sure will be a thrilling final, either way.

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