Sheffield university boffins review 10 series of footage to find formula to win TV’s The Apprentice

Karren Brady, Lord Sugar and Claude Littner. Picture by Jim Marks.
Karren Brady, Lord Sugar and Claude Littner. Picture by Jim Marks.
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Whether they take the lead on tasks or back away from boardroom battles, the formula for the perfect Apprentice has yet to be worked out – until now.

Impressing Lord Sugar and taking home the title of The Apprentice in the BBC One series has become an annual battleground for aspiring business people for the past decade.

This year's contestants. Picture by Jim Marks.

This year's contestants. Picture by Jim Marks.

The addictive on screen clashes of personalities have become must-watch TV for millions, prompting armchair entrepreneurs to speculate how to impress the boss.

And now boffins at the University of Sheffield claim to have found the best strategy for winning the TV show, which kicks off on Wednesday night.

The South Yorkshire statisticians have conducted an in-depth analysis of the background and performance of 159 previous contestants from over 10 series of the show.

They have found that age is a crucial factor for success, with both the youngest and oldest candidates more likely to be fired earlier in the process. All 10 winners so far have been aged between 24 and 31 but gender and recent job history has little effect on the chances of winning.

Repeatedly volunteering to be a team leader was also found to often be a poor strategy, with team leaders twice as likely to be fired in the boardroom.

Dr Chris Stride, from the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Work Psychology, said: “Having been a team leader, even a successful one, on multiple occasions adds nothing to a candidate’s chances of winning if they survive until the interview stage.

“So I’d advise candidates not to rush into taking on this role unless they possess very specific skills that would make their team the overwhelming favourites to win.”

The researchers also noted a shift from streetwise hustlers with less of an academic background faring well, to more highly qualified graduates with previous entrepreneurial experience progressing. The pattern coincides with the change from the winner being given a £100,000-a-year job to a £250,000 company investment.

It was also found that contestants who had frequently lost tasks but had not been called into the boardroom were typically more successful than regular task winners.

And when in the boardroom, the odds of being fired rose 37 per cent if the contestant had previously been in the same situation.

Dr Stride added: “A candidate’s chances need not be hijacked by incompetent and quarrelsome teammates; despite its team-based structure, there appears to be an inherent fairness in The Apprentice.”

The research, which involved reviewing footage from 102 episodes, has been published by the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) and the American Statistical Association.

RSS executive director Hetan Shah added: “If you’re a budding apprentice hoping to impress Lord Sugar, statistics might just be as important to your chances of winning as your sales skills.”


Michelle Dewburry: The businesswoman from Hull became the second winner of The Apprentice in 2006. She stayed in the £100,000-a-year job 11 months, before setting up her own consultancy firm.

Yasmina Siadatan: Another businesswoman from the East Riding, Beverley-born restauranteur Yasmina was hired in the fifth series of The Apprentice in 2009. She is currently offering start-up companies help to navigate ‘global new markets’.