Guest Post, Interview Tips

Cutting through the bravado

So The Apprentice is back for the ninth series, and with it the usual crew of Sugar idolisers puffing out their chests and expelling nothing but hot air.

Some classic self-important statements from the programme include:

“I rate myself as the best salesperson in Europe.” Jenny Maguire, from series four

“My first word wasn’t mummy, it was money.” Shibby Robati in series six.

And lastly, how could we possibly leave out the ultimate Apprentice wannabe Stuart Baggs ‘The Brand’, with one of his classic quotes:

“I’m not a one-trick pony, I’m not a 10-trick pony, I’m a whole field of ponies – and they’re literally running towards this job.”

Granted, The Apprentice is geared towards entertaining the masses, and therefore we cannot literally compare Lord Sugar’s extravagant selection process to the real world of recruitment.

However, every recruiter or hirer has come across an interviewee who is over-confident and prone to exaggerating their experience with no tangible evidence to back up their supposed success. This also applies to CVs that we see day-in, day-out. Hands up who’s read a resume that details that the individual is ‘extremely hard working,’ or has ‘excellent leadership skills/ attention to detail’ etc, etc.

In today’s climate, businesses need to recruit commercially savvy individuals who are able to present and articulate themselves clearly, and who can cut to the chase with none of the fluff.

So how can we cut through the bravado, and find the best candidate for the job?

When screening CVs, look for the facts. If a CV is full of vague statements rather than specific examples, alarm bells should be ringing. A smart candidate will have read the job/person specification inside out and will fill their CV with relevant examples of how they can perform the job.

Whatever your team culture is like, you should be looking for a balance of character – confidence is a positive attribute, but arrogance is not. If in an interview a candidate is over-confident in your opinion, it is up to you to ask the right questions that get to the root of their overblown statements.

You need to ask them probing questions about each of the strengths that they outline. For example: “So you are the top salesperson in your department – how much revenue did you earn the business last year?” “Why do you think you are strong salesperson?” “How did you achieve this?”

By asking probing questions using key words such as how, why and what, you should be able to uncover whether their confidence is backed up by evidence or whether they are wildly exaggerating their skills and experience.

Use other tried and tested interview techniques to help you to assess a candidate in relation to a particular role and get to the bottom of their actual experience. The competency based interview format will provide a structure for the interview by you asking the candidates for specific examples that demonstrate their abilities. An interviewee who has not prepared well, or who is lacking in the experience required for the role will struggle to bluff through this style of interview.

Another useful exercise is to use a role-play. This is particularly useful if you are interviewing someone for a customer or client-facing role. It is also a good test of how quickly they adapt under pressure and think on their feet.

Lastly, be aware that the candidate will be nervous. Someone who may come across immediately as too forthright or full of themselves may well just be displaying their anxiety, so give them a chance to recover from this. As the interviewer, it is down to you to give the candidate time to relax and uncover their true personality and abilities.

About the author

Anna Gibbons works as a Marketing Assistant for Sellick Partnership, a recruitment agency specialising in the finance, procurement and legal sectors. Established in 2002, the firm has expanded to six offices, offering recruitment solutions nationwide.


  1. The classic Apprentice quotes gave me a chuckle this morning, great post!

    It’s an interesting discussion point for hiring managers to consider when interviewing candidates. With the recruitment process being thrust into the spotlight from shows like The Apprentice, candidates may be prone to succumbing to the pressure of the situation.

  2. It’s true, you can always spot somebody that has a CV that is full of hot air, but now there are ways that you can use during your recruiting process that will make reading through a whole bunch of resumes obsolete. Applying pre-screening tests can sort through those candidates like crazy and allow you to talk to those that actually have a chance at doing the job. And if the numbers from the tests are right (and usually they are) you will not be in a room trying to corner a guy that has obviously lied in his resume. It’s part of a simple recruiting process that now it’s available to everybody.

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