Kelowna: The key to success

Ian MacRae, 25, graduated from UBCO in psychology, moved to London to do his master
Ian MacRae, 25, graduated from UBCO in psychology, moved to London to do his master's degree and has now written a book which could help small business owners right here in Kelowna
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

When Ian MacRae left high school, he knew he wanted to get into psychology.

He went to UBCO. Then he landed a coveted spot in the University College London’s master’s degree program and knocked on doors until he found his supervisor, Adrian Furnham, a leading researcher in organizational psychology.

Furnham is beyond prolific. In addition to writing over 500 feature articles for newspapers and magazines and publishing upwards of 40 academic papers annually, he has stacks of textbooks and popular psychology books to his name.

This might help explain how MacRae found himself with orders rolling in as he was wrapping up his first book—High Potential: How to Spot, Manage and Develop Talented People at Work—while on a brief sojourn in Kelowna.

“It stressed me a bit. There were pre-orders before I even finished writing. Pre-orders started in September and the deadline was Oct. 1,” he said.

There wasn’t even a book cover to launch an advertising campaign at that point.

Nevertheless, MacRae can now say the book is headed for the shelves in Europe and North America and he has some very interesting information in his back pocket.

First, it never hurts to find yourself a successful mentor and second, it helps to have some idea of the elements that help one thrive in a career path. And thankfully, this is what his book is all about.

The controversy on smarts

Are there talented people? Partly, according to MacRae and Furnham.

“There is a component that is talent, but it’s relatively small and needs to be developed,” said MacRae.

“It really depends on what type of domain or career type it is…So, to say someone has high potential, the first thing you really have to say is high potential to do what.”

This doesn’t mean there are different types of intelligence.  There are some key components that make for smart people who are likely to succeed, he contends. And that’s not a very popular notion.

This is not a popular idea. If you’ve ever heard of the New Yorker’s popular essayist Malcolm Gladwell, you’ve likely paused to consider his work on how that it takes 10,000 hours to really get good at something. This is not really so, MacRae and Furnham point out.

“Intelligence is sort of a general mental capability that involves ability to reason, plan, solve problems, understand complex ideas and learn from experience,” he said.

“You do need to practice and you do need experience, but someone who is five-foot-three can’t be a high-jumper by practising. And the same is true of intelligence models too.”

In other words, not everyone is suited for every job, MacRae says.

Combinations of traits

There are six attributes MacRae and Furnham focus on when talking about likelihood to succeed. How they are emphasized depends on the job role involved. And what’s good for one job, can be a detriment to another.

Their six include:

1. Conscientiousness: This refers to goal-oriented thinking, planning and long-term planning. We tend to think of conscientiousness as a good quality, but those who are conscientious are not always best suited for every position. Those with low conscientiousness tend to be more spontaneous and, while they might be late for work, they adapt to new situations well and are often more creative.

2. Curiosity: It addresses one’s openness to new information and new ways of doing things. Someone with low curiosity is more bound by convention and sticks to their own way of doing things. Those who are highly curious are open to exploring.

3. Stress: Stress reactivity is the threshold a person has for tolerating stress before it becomes a problem. Those who tend more to the neurotic side are constantly worrying about what others are saying about them and wondering if they are doing things right. Those who can tolerate a great deal of stress can function effectively for a long time with distressing distractions before becoming overwhelmed.

4. Courage: This is the term the pair used for having an ability to take risks. This is about having the difficult conversations up front, taking risks in one’s one work or, conversely, avoiding it. Those who are low on the courage scale tend to avoid conflict, so they can be a real asset in a collaborative work environment with a defined task.

5. Competitiveness: A competitive edge is a challenging trait because it can be helpful or it can be a hindrance in a given job. Ideally, someone with a middle of the road approach to competition is most likely to succeed in the average job environment and those who focus on team success are least likely to upset the apple cart. Every once in a while, however, there’s a position where a taste for competition is really just the key to success.

6. Ambiguity acceptance is about a person’s capacity to handle complex situations, like sorting through two different versions of events. People who thrive in ambiguous situations can make great leaders, but there are also times when it’s a good idea to find a person who enjoys a really defined, less complex environment.

These are the people who want to have a job, get it done and not have to deal with multiple competing commandments.

The route to success involves figuring out what traits best describe yourself and then matching that to jobs where those traits are really needed.

It’s certainly happened for MacRae. He’s planning a new book addressing generational difference, which he believes should dispel the myth that people of his generation are lazy, entitled and believe they are owed something in the job environment.

In the meantime, his current book, available on and in book stores this spring should help prospective employers and employees determine how to be a superstar at work.

Job interviewing tips for small businesses —By Ian MacRae

Interviews are one of the  least reliable sources of information for making hiring decisions, particularly when they are unplanned, unstructured, done by people who are inexperienced or if the interview isn’t really tailored for the position.

One of the mistakes many small employers make comes out of the best intentions—doing research, looking for good questions to ask, or guides on how to do an interview. It’s an easy mistake to make. Finding an article online like “Top 10 Interview Questions Google/Apple/Successful Company Asks Their Employees” seems intelligent.

However, while they may be good questions for that particular company, with an experienced interviewer, to ask, as a small business owner, the same skills and personal  attributes aren’t likely to thrive in a small business.

These 10 points are based on 12 best practice tips for interviews we have identified in my book High Potential: How to Spot, Manage and Develop Talented People at Work.

1. Identify key characteristics. Interview questions should be based on the key, important characteristics associated with success on the job. They should be directly applicable to performance in the job.

2. Ask consistent questions. Have a list of questions prepared and ask the same questions of every candidate. Asking different questions of different candidates will make it more difficult to accurately compare results.

3. Make sure questions are specific and relevant. Ask questions about knowledge, past experience, particular skills or abilities. Where possible, ask people to demonstrate knowledge or understanding instead of asking whether or not they have the skills. Asking vague questions will get vague results. Are you hoping the person will be with your company for 20 years? If not, don’t ask interviewees where they see themselves in 20 years.

4. Answer questions after the interview is finished. Manage the structure and flow of the interview to keep it consistent between job candidates. Leave time for interviewees to ask questions at the end of the interview, but don’t let questions derail the planned questions in an interview.

5. Use numbered rating scales to rank characteristics. Rank the importance of your desired characteristics before beginning interviews then numerically rate candidates for easier comparison. Take detailed notes.

6. Use multiple interviewers when possible. More raters improves reliability of overall ratings. If possible, Interviewer A should be responsible for all Interview A Questions, Interviewer B responsible for all B questions. Don’t mix and match.

7. Keep the process consistent. Use the same interviewers to ask the same questions, try to schedule interviews at similar days and times when possible. If you’re not a morning person either schedule all or none of your interviews in the morning.

8. Use research and evidence. Base job descriptions and interview questions on evidence instead of personal opinion where possible. Look at similar job descriptions from other companies or regions. Ask colleagues and employees what are the most important characteristics for their jobs.

9. Don’t ask silly questions. If the interviewee had superpowers/had to be a type of fish/was a copyright protected fantasy character they wouldn’t be applying for this job. You have limited time and are making an important decision. Ask questions that are specific, relevant and targeted to the work.

10. Be kind. Interviews are a demanding and nerve-wracking experience for many people. They take much more time, energy and emotion than just asking or answering a few questions. Acknowledge and contact unsuccessful applicants, even in a group email thanking unsuccessful applicants is better than ignoring people.

Twitter: @jaswrites

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