I had the pleasure of meeting Neil Clough recently, a young man currently developing a great reputation as a motivational speaker but who is best known for his appearance on series 9 of the BBC’s Apprentice programme. I’ve included a clip below from the programme showing Neil addressing a group of bank managers as part of a team-building exercise.
What struck me at the time was how well he connected with his audience, especially when he explained that his driving motivation in business came from his father, who sadly passed away when Neil was 18. Clough didn’t go on to win the series, but Karen Brady later fed back to him how much he had impressed the client in that exercise – his honesty and openness had clearly touched even the bankers’ hearts!
I remember blogging about this some time ago but it came back to me recently when series 10 was shown in the run up to Christmas 2014. One particular episode struck me as interesting – the scary interview stage when Lord Sugar wheels in his rottweilers to make the poor apprentices squirm.
One of the finalists was Bianca Miller and at one point the interviewer asked her to reveal something about herself, something which might not be apparent from her CV. She clearly struggled, stating that her friends and family were an important motivation for her, but giving nothing more away. “You hide behind a mask,” the interviewer claimed, clearly exasperated by Bianca’s unrevealing responses, at which point the aspiring candidate became a little upset and confused.
The contrast between the two candidates, Clough and Miller, is interesting because it says something important about communication and connection. In a subsequent interview, Miller claimed that her character was being questioned. It was, but the issue wasn’t one of worthiness – it was about identity. The interviewer wanted to know who Bianca really was.
You can claim to be motivated, determined and ambitious, but it’s actually much more interesting to know WHY you are the way you are. What influenced you to set off down this path? Was it an individual (like Clough’s father)? Was it something you experienced or read or watched? Clough often speaks of the yellow shorts his father insisted his son wore at school, despite the fact that other kids playing in the same football team trained in black or blue shorts. It was, claims Neil, a lesson in the importance of standing out in a crowd.
Sometimes people struggle to explain such things. For some it’s an intrusion into personal territory. Others fear it could be perceived as weak or vulnerable. Or perhaps they’ve just not really reflected on their lives in a way that reveals such insights.
But it’s interview gold because it helps us understand who you really are – not just what you do and where you want to go, but why. In that sense it creates trust and connection and if you can do that you’re well on the way to persuading others to buy you.
One final point – this doesn’t just apply to interview candidates. Companies also have to convey who they are – their values, motivations and ways of doing things. It’s all part of what they’re selling and helps buyers feel more comfortable about their purchasing decision.
Here’s Neil Cloughs’s Apprentice talk (go 32 mins, 30 secs into the clip)
Watch Bianca’s interview (27 mins, 37 secs)