Getting hired: How to be Alan Sugar’s ‘all-rounder’

The highlight of our annual TV calendar is once again returning: The Apprentice. In the 11th installment of the series we are presented with 18 new candidates to love, loathe, and laugh at. This year sees a few changes to the familiar structure, with new judge Claude Littner replacing Nick Hewer, and controversial gender-mixed teams from the outset.

But aside from becoming a regular fixture in your TV timetable, The Apprentice raises business questions that every entrepreneur wants the answer to.  In the run up to this series’ launch (tonight!), Lord Sugar said he wanted and ‘all-rounder’ this year. Sugar has set a diverse range of tasks over the course of the competition: from marketing a new shampoo, to making a new health snack, and even working at the national pet show. Each one requires very different entrepreneurial skills —some at completely different ends of the business world. But does this really reflect what is now required for success in our modern economic climate? Or is it simply a byproduct of the arrogant ‘I can do everything’ attitude which supposedly equals business acumen?   


Being a jack of all trades: have entrepreneurial skill levels blurred?

Every year we hear the same bold claims and incoherent metaphors from desperate Apprentice candidates trying to communicate their innumerably varied skill set. This year was no different, with 31 year old Richard describing himself as the “swiss army knife of bouncy skills”, and operations executive Elle touting that she has “never not been able to do anything in my whole life”.

When searching for advice on how to be a successful entrepreneur, many sources list a diverse set of features which you should aspire to possess, and ‘vital’ skills you must acquire. Entrepreneur Magazine for example gives us a 17-deep list on what is required to succeed as an entrepreneur. It’s lengthy and demanding, ranging from marketing, to sales, to management, and even technological skills such as SEO optimization. Whilst arguably each requires its own job title, now it seems they are collectively grouped under the all encompassing umbrella of ‘entrepreneur’. The entrepreneurial skill levels which once divided the business world are arguably being subject to significant blurring: becoming increasingly diversified.

Does this mean specialist skills now have no value?

It’s all well and good to be a jack of all trades, but if it’s a given that everyone is competent at everything, how will you stand out? After all, a business is driven by the strength of an initial idea, which often is spurned from a field of specialist knowledge. For instance, look at real-time temperature monitoring system ‘Fever Smart’, which was created after Becca Goldstein, one of its co-founders underwent chemotherapy. Based on her specific, niche knowledge of this area, Becca was able to properly understand her audience, and bring them a fresh, new idea perfectly geared towards their needs.

Back in 2012, the show highlighted how important ‘specialist’ skills are to success.  Duane, a contestant in that series, however failed to champion soft and adaptive skills to rise to a video editing challenge (episode five, for all you aficionados): something he didn’t have experience in. His poor directing of the team’s video was said to be the reason he was booted out. Specialist skills can certainly help you find a niche, and come up with a cracking idea, but without the soft skills and basic competencies to support it, your business is unlikely to go far.  


So, how do you get ‘hired’?

There are most certainly pros and cons to being a good entrepreneurial ‘all-rounder’. Having a one-track skill set in the business world means you could potentially miss out on a golden opportunity, a great new marketing trick, or become completely off-trend in your field. While having the ability to juggle and an awareness of many different areas of business is useful, no business is built in silo. Specialist skills are what differentiate you from other entrepreneurs, and ultimately showcase what you have to offer. Successful entrepreneurship is as much about your own skills as knowing when to delegate, and seek the expertise of others. Arrogance here might seem the way to ‘wow’ others on how serious, and sure you are in your venture, but it’s not going to be enough to make up for diminishing returns. What goes on show, in short, isn’t going to help you better understanding your audience, or develop your product or service.

Although running solo and claiming to have every skill may get you hired, staying that way could end in those dreadful two words: “you’re fired!’.