The penultimate episode of The Apprentice hits our screens tonight, and the candidates are facing their most formidable challenge yet: the interview round.
The nail-biting semi-final sees a panel of four interrogators, including Stylist's very own CEO Mike Soutar, grill each of the hopefuls and wheedle out their weaknesses.
In previous years, even the cockiest contenders have been reduced to rubble after Lord Sugar’s advisers tear through their dubious CV claims and wildly over-egged business plans.
And this year's interview episode comes with an extra flame in its cannon.
The newest – and most imposing – addition to Lord Sugar’s phalanx of advisers is interior designer and steely businesswoman Linda Plant.
To paraphrase Nicki Minaj, Linda is a boss. After starting out working on market stalls, she now owns a luxury design company, and has a notoriously low tolerance for “bullshit”. So low, in fact, that she leaves one of tonight’s interviewees on the floor. Literally on the floor, in the foetal position, asking for his mum. Literally.
We caught up with Linda ahead of tonight’s episode to find out why she doesn’t get on with shy people, why you should never cry at work – and why the worst thing you can do in an interview is stammer. Plus, her verdict on each of the remaining Apprentice candidates...
What are the best and worse things people can do in an interview with you?
The worst thing they can do is stutter and stammer and not be confident in what they’re saying. I pretty much get people on first impressions, so the best thing they can do is be honest, open, and tell it like it is – and don’t be afraid to tell the truth about everything.
What would make someone immediately stand out in an interview with you?
Your personality would be the very first thing I would notice about you. Obviously I would look at the way you were dressed, because if I’m employing someone in the realms of a fashion business or an interior design business, how that person is put together is very important to me. It shows what kind of a creative streak they might have.
And your personality – I like upbeat people, I don’t get on well with shy people. I’m not a shy type, so I like people I’m going to have a rapport with. So how you dress, how you’re put together, your personality. And then I’ll know quickly if you’re giving me bullshit or if you’re telling me the truth. So I read what’s on the paper, but I like to read the person much more.
We had a lot of conversations about the show and crying in the boardroom. What do you think about crying at work?
Well, I don’t mind people letting their emotions out, I really don’t. But I think at work, or if you’re round a table of people, you can’t cry. You’ve got to hide those tears. There’s nothing wrong with showing you’re a real person – I like that. But you’ve got to be careful where you cry.
How would your assistant would describe you?
I’m fair, I join in. I’m not scared to get my hands dirty, therefore I think I earn their respect and loyalty, I think I’m fun to work with because I’m always stimulating. […] Without sounding conceited, I think I stimulate my staff, which is what a leader needs to do. You need to keep your staff interested and stimulated and if you’re that way in business – I’m passionate about business, all kinds of business, and I’ve been in more than one. But I’m very passionate about it, so if you have that feeling - if they’re your leadership skills - then that’s what you get from your staff.
What do you think it does for the candidates’ future hiring potential having been on the show?
I think it does a lot, because on the show, over the weeks that you watch – and especially the ones that have longevity – you can see their personalities, can see their tenacity, you can see quite a lot about them. So I think if they want to broaden their business horizons and they’re going on the show as business people, it’s a very good forum for them. And I think if they’re still inclined and they’ve got a bit of a business brain that’s very good, they can expand on that.
Money on the table: would you ever invest any of your own fortune in any of the candidates that you met?
And I’m assuming you would hire one of them?
I might. I would invest, put it that way.
Who have you tipped to win The Apprentice?
I don’t think I can answer that. I have to be very careful, I don’t want to say anything that would tip the scales or give anything away.
The Apprentice: Linda's first impressions
What was your first impression of Richard?
Smart, polished, cocky, smarmy, bullshitter.
Motivated, driven, tenacious, smart girl, not realistic goals.
Gary is your corporate guy, talks a lot, lots and lots of waffle, not sure how much is behind that waffle. Nice guy, warm friendly personality, but I’m not judging whether he’s a nice guy or not, you know?
Accomplished, smart, prudent, driven, capable, liked her a lot.
Love Joseph. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I love Joseph because he’s a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s the boy that... worked his socks off, got a business plan, works 24-7, got a dream, wants to achieve it, in my opinion can achieve it, will achieve it. Loved him. As you can see, there’s no half ways with me!
The Apprentice is on tonight, Wednesday 16 December, at 9pm, on BBC One. Grab a taste of tonight's interviewers in action with the trailer, below.
Interview: Jamie Klingler, words: Moya Crockett. Photos: BBC