As one of Lord Sugar’s dreaded interrogators, Mike Soutar can find things out about candidates they probably don’t know themselves.
During last week’s interview episode of The Apprentice he helped grill five contestants and whittle their number down to two.
His excruciating cross-examination had viewers wincing, but the Dundonian media executive admitted he doesn’t feel sorry for the flustered candidates – saying it’s his job to turn the bluster into fluster.
“I’ll always give someone the opportunity to come clean and, if they don’t, I will be merciless,” said Mike, the chief executive officer of the Evening Standard in London. “I’d only feel sorry for someone if I felt I was being unfair to them. But I’m always scrupulously fair.
“I really try to be respectful, and respect the process they’ve gone through up to that point is exhausting.
“And just at the point where they can almost smell the money they have to meet me and my interviewing colleagues. Crikey!
“I genuinely admire them for doing that.”
Mike believes avoiding the interrogation pitfalls can be straightforward.
“People tend to get caught when they pretend to know things that they don’t.
“My advice is to not be scared of not knowing things, and to not be scared of asking what seem like simple, dumb questions – it’s difficult to go wrong with that approach.”
On Wednesday Scarlett Allen-Horton will go head to head with Carina Lepore to become Lord Sugar’s Apprentice and win £250,000 of investment.
Mike on Carina
Chain of artisan bakeries
I told Carina after I’d tried her coffee and cake I’d give it seven or eight out of 10. I’ve drank a lot of coffee and eaten a lot of cake so it would’ve had to have been special to make it to 10!
She runs a family bakery where everything is made by hand and they obviously care.
She is a proper self-made person though. Her family bakery burned down but the businesses she created in the last two years has literally risen from the ashes of what happened.
Carina is really determined and she had the most wins out of any candidate in the process going into the final. I liked her a lot, she was just honest.
The challenges for Carina are scaling up.
Unless you have a central bake house where you can centralise your equipment, it’s very expensive to open a new bakery.
To set up a coffee shop, it’ll cost you £3,000 for equipment. To set up a new bakery costs £50,000.
So the challenge will be scaling up the business, and taking on Greggs. Underestimate them at your peril. They are very, very good at what they do.
Mike on Scarlett
Executive recruitment company
Scarlett is very articulate and is good at keeping her emotions in check to stay focused, without being cold.
She had a real charm about her – she’s a nice person to meet. At the same time, she’s very determined to make the points she wants to make, and does it efficiently and directly, which make her a very good candidate.
It’s also a very investable plan. Lord Sugar has invested in recruitment business ideas twice in the past.
Scarlett’s plan is to target recruitment in the so-called “C-level”, which is the highest level of the corporate ladder.
There aren’t very many of these roles but it is high margin and can be very lucrative.
Perhaps Scarlett isn’t quite at that C-level yet. It takes a while to get there, and she’s not quite at that position.
Being part of The Apprentice process might actually help open doors for her.
In saying that, chairmen who want to hire headhunters like Scarlett wants to be aren’t that impressed by profile – they’re only ultimately impressed by results.
These things take a while to prove but Scarlett has the tenacity to do that.
Mike on Lottie
One candidate who made headlines during the process was librarian Lottie Lion.
The 20-year-old’s attitude riled fellow contestants but Mike says her self-confidence will serve her well.
“Lottie was a very impressive candidate,” he said. “It’s impossible to fluster Lottie. I found her to be intelligent, approachable and not stand-offish. And we can’t forget she was 19 going into this process – really young. People around her were older and more experienced yet cracked much earlier than she did.
“She’ll learn and grow from this.”
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