There seems to be a new trend in recruitment at the moment; one that takes the popularity of reality television and combines it with the traditional job interview and voilà, everyone’s a winner; competition, entertainment and one lucky candidate with a new job.
The Apprentice obviously leads the way, but any trend in which Alan Sugar, of Amstrad fame, is a pioneer, needs to be viewed with suspicion. The Apprentice is approaching its sixth season in the UK and is syndicated across Europe, becoming one of the most successful TV formats of all time. It is now spawning cheaper, even less realistic imitators.
Last month the BBC showed a programme, called The Best Job in the World and ExecutiveSurf decided to watch it, to see if it could tell us something new about the current state of the job market. Also, what is the best job in the world and how do you go about getting it?
The programme revolved around a global advert, looking for someone to spend six months on a Barrier Reef island, in return for a salary of £70,000.
The Great Escape
The advert appeared in January and 34,000 people applied. The final job interviews were held in Australia, with a shortlist of 50 candidates. The BBC filmed their stories as they underwent the gruelling interview process.
One candidate was Holly, who said the experience would be ‘life-changing’ and wanted to write a novel in paradise; she was very annoying.
Another, Sarah Louise, 25, appeared to be related to royalty and had supplied some very nice photos of herself posing in Peru in a bikini. Not a bad tactic and one that would stand her in good stead in the later swimwear round.
34-year-old Ben, was British and his application video was shot in Canada. He looked like a small version of James Cracknell, the Olympic rower, and said he was adventurous and crazy. He also seemed to think he was a fish, most of the footage was of him swimming or diving into water.
He had left his girlfriend in Canada and fancied the idea of marrying her on a beach. He said his only previous job had been selling turf.
Julia was a Russian porn star, who seemed to be on the wrong programme entirely.
They were filmed together and Ben told a student that if he got the job in paradise he would probably have to give up his paper-round; which seemed patronising.
The contestants had to compete in some swimming races and Ben, the fish, immediately became the hot favourite. It was becoming a bit like a mixture of Big Brother and the X-Factor.
At this stage we were introduced to Glen, the owner of the island, which is called Hamilton. He is off round the world and wants a caretaker. He says he doesn’t know who came up with the idea, but thinks, “it is a fantastic PR gimmick.” So what was advertised as ‘the best job in the world’, is actually ‘the best caretaker’s job in the world.’
We see Ben ingratiating himself with Glen and he says; “It’s not about kissing corporate ass, it’s about making friends with someone.” Unfortunately for Ben, Glen is not one of the judges.
It turns out the gimmick was dreamed up by an advertising agency, called Cummins Nitro, staffed by youngsters who all seem to live with their parents, on behalf of Tourism Queensland.
Interestingly, none of the final contestants are from the Middle East or Latin America; not Tourism Queensland’s demographic obviously.
The contestants are forced to wear shirts and caps, covered with ‘The Best Job in the World’ logos. To his credit, Ben says: “We are all marketing pawns.” His main competition seems to be an American-educated South Korean.
After proving they can all swim, they are interviewed by two psychologists and two marketing directors and have to undertake some psychometric tests, which do not make for good television.
The voiceover tells us that the value of the advertising generated by this stunt is around $100 million and predictably Ben, who had been given the most screentime, wins the competition. We are told his arduous task will be to keep a daily blog, to maintain interest in Queensland as a tourist destination.
We contacted Ben to find out more about him and how he was getting on his new island.
He told us that his name was Ben Southall and that he was an explorer from Hampshire. He had worked as a tour guide in Africa and a charity events manager. Funny that; on television he had said his only previous job was selling turf. I don’t think he was taking the job interview process entirely seriously.
Ben has ridden an ostrich and enjoys scuba diving and bungee jumping. He also hates hangovers. We asked him why he had been suitable for the job and he said: “I am dynamic and hardworking,” which hardly sound necessary for a job lazing around in paradise all day.
When we asked how he was getting on, he said he loved the island and his three-bedroom beach villa. He said he spent most of his time snorkelling, preparing barbecues for his girlfriend and writing his blog.
If you are not the jealous type and want to find out more, you can follow Ben’s blog on www.islandreefjob.com
Meanwhile, in the real world, another advert appeared, this time in the British press, that also promised the offer of an unusual job and generated a lot of media interest. It was looking for a witch.
The previous resident witch of Wookey Hole had retired and the Somerset attraction was looking for a replacement. We went down to see what calibre of applicant the advert had attracted.
The job involves teaching visitors about witchcraft and magic and the advert said applicants “must be able to cackle and not be allergic to cats.” Wookey Hole is run by impresario, Jerry Cottle, and the 500-strong gathering was predictably a cross between a fancy dress party and a circus.
Some had made more of an effort than others, but all of them seemed genuinely interested in the £50,000 job and I met a worrying number of teachers looking for a change of direction.
More scary, were the ‘real’ witches who could cast spells and heal the sick, as were the warlocks who had applied in protest at sexual prejudice. Some were dressed as women, but there were also a few genuine wizards.
The contestants/applicants had to impress the Wookey Hole judges. Alison Dike was a local witch and was kindly handing out herbs that would cure swine flu. She had black teeth and said she had been wronged in love by a monk “with bad habits.”
Ishtar was from Devon and said she had “studied for three years at Glastonbury.” Pressed as to what form the studying had taken, she said: “Going into the woods, visualisation and energy work.” She was with a 17th Century Italian witch, Silvia Moscati, apparently an ancestor of Casanova.
Several had brought ravens with them and threatened to put hexes on the judges if they did not get the job. Two even offered to drink a cauldron of their own urine. 45-year-old Bridget Vallance from Dorset, said she was a transsexual woman looking for a new role, after running a carpet-fitting business. She said: “I am the Wookey witch, here to reclaim my cave.”
They all lost out to Carla Calamity, who eventually got the job and said: “I am going to be a great witch. All it takes is a bit of magic and a little pizzazz. It’s a natural progression from my old job as an estate agent. I have been using my witching skills to sell houses for a long time.”
So whether you want to become Robinson Crusoe, or just scare small children at a tourist attraction, it is worth keeping a lookout for unusual job ads, but be prepared to compete against a bunch of fame-hungry weirdos. The often terrifying interview panel has been turned into entertainment. For most people, the traditional, confidential and understated route to employment might still be the best. Remember, nobody has ever kept their dignity on the Apprentice.