Business advice from Lord Sugar

To millions of people, he's the grizzly old tycoon who gives hapless job candidates a dressing down on BBC1's 'The Apprentice'. But there was plenty of life to Alan Michael Sugar before the TV cameras rolled into town, catapulting him back into the media glare. He might now be one the UK's best-known business personalities, but there's a reason for this profile -  and it's nothing to do with his 'You're fired' catchphrase. The fact is, over a distinguished 50-year career, Lord Sugar has proven himself as one of our top entrepreneurs.

Having started out selling aerials and electronic goods from the back of a van, the Londoner built up a vast technology empire - amassing a multi-million pound personal fortune in the process. His most successful business venture - Amstrad - went from a start-up enterprise to an industry-leading IT giant in the space of 15 years. Not a bad achievement for someone who left school aged 16.

It's often the case that the contestants on 'The Apprentice' think they know best, but there's plenty to learn from someone like Lord Sugar. He's not just an entrepreneur but also an employer - one who has taken on thousands of people over the years. So naturally, the peer has much to offer in terms of career advice and guidance for the next generation of business professionals.

Not everybody can run their own multi-national, but there are various ways to achieve great things as an employee, whatever your industry sector. With this in mind, here are some of Lord Sugar's top tips for career success and business advice to help you making the most of your potential:

Have ambition

Lord Sugar says ambition and motivation are crucial pieces of business advice for achievement. In his view, the desire to achieve needs to come from deep within - it really isn't something you can fake. If you're going to work hard everyday to perform at a high level, your heart needs to be in it.

Lord Sugar adds that it's important to have a clear vision for success and a plan for reaching your professional goals. He claims the top performers are able to train their brain to focus on where they want to go, and remain committed to professional development.

Experience counts

Qualifications may be a prerequisite for some professional roles, but Lord Sugar believes it's practical experience that counts in the end. "I think the most important thing is the experience the person has amassed in what jobs they've been doing up until now, what they've achieved up until now," he told the BBC. "Certificates and qualifications, all they tell any employer is that the person's got a brain." Lord Sugar added that "you can't learn business practices out of a book" - claiming that active involvement in business is the best way to learn and progress your career.

Lord Sugar factfile

  • 1947: Born in Hackney, East London
  • 1968: Sets up Amstrad to sell electronic goods
  • 1980: Lists Amstrad on the London Stock Exchange
  • 1991: Buys Tottenham Hotspur FC
  • 2000: Knighted for services to the home computer and electronics industry
  • 2005: Becomes the star of BBC1's 'The Apprentice'
  • 2009: Appointed a peer in the House of Lords

Be prepared to work your way up

According to Lord Sugar, too many professionals are after instant success - seeking promotions and glamorous positions no sooner than they have entered the workplace. He says there's nothing wrong with having aspirations, but thinks people need to be realistic about what they can achieve in the short term. In his view, you have to be prepared to enter a business at ground-level and work your way up, learning as you go.

Be persistent

Persistence is a vital quality for business professionals, Lord Sugar claims. He says that no matter how hard you've been trying, the things you believe in are worth sticking with. At least until a point at which it becomes evident that the approach isn't working. Nobody should expect to be an overnight success - it can take years to amass the skills and experience you need to move onwards and upwards.

Keep up-to-date

All professionals should be well aware of the importance of keeping their skills and knowledge up to date, ensuring they remain up-to-speed with the rest of their industry. In Lord Sugar's view, this is one of the best pieces of business advice to succeed, given that markets and organisations are constantly evolving. If you're unwilling to learn new skills, you'll quickly find yourself stuck in a rut, he warns.

Perfect your CV

You've got to get your CV right. It's a simple point, but one that many professionals still fail to take on board. According to Lord Sugar, job applicants often make a hash of the CV-writing process, missing out key information, wasting space with irrelevant details and - worse still - embellishing the facts on their resume. "Some of the funniest CVs I’ve read are from people who left my company, and I’ve been sent their CVs afterwards," he said. "I’m reading their so-called achievements when they were working for me, and their claims to fame are a total load of [rubbish].”

Prepare for interviews

Then, of course, there's the interview process - this is what 'The Apprentice' is all about. Many talented professionals come unstuck when they're put in the spotlight, and not just when faced with somebody as daunting as Lord Sugar. This makes it all the more important to prepare thoroughly in advance and come armed with the information you need.

He urges candidates to do their research prior to attending an interview - learning not just about the organisation they are looking to join, but its business leaders and - where possible - the interviewer themselves. "Try to understand the person’s culture, nature and how they’ve achieved what they’ve achieved," he urges, as reported by Shortlist.com.

Candidates need to ask questions about the company, find out where it is going and where they would slot in, Lord Sugar advises. He says it's also important to impress upon the interviewer that you are genuinely excited about the job in question. If an employer suspects you're just after the money, they may well be inclined to choose somebody else.