In the Google economy, how relevant is a top-tier education?
This is a serious question.
This year, top-performing high-school seniors were turned away from elite colleges at record rates. Meanwhile, Google — according to some the world’s most desirable employer — has gone on record to question the value of stellar transcripts from top schools.
Like it or not, the attributes that Google seeks out in job candidates challenge some central paradigms in both K-12 and higher ed.
In two op-eds (in February and this weekend), New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explored the factors that contribute most to employee success at Google according to Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of human resources. (No, sorry: Bock is Google’s head of “people operations“).
In case you missed Friedman’s columns — which are holding steady on the Times‘ Most Emailed list — here is a primer.
(Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting a bunch of Google metrics should be used as a benchmark against which schools are evaluated. But I am saying that what Google thinks — and goes on record to say — is important because of the company’s vast influence as a new corporate trendsetter.
Analytical thinking is Google’s number-one hiring priority, but applicants who demonstrate both analytical and creative ability rise to the top of the pile.
One of Google’s key measures of candidates’ analytical ability is their computer science skills. Says Bock: “I’m not saying you have to be some terrific coder, but to just understand how [these] things work you have to be able to think in a formal and logical and structured way.” (And half the jobs at Google involve coding.)
Strong applicants have chosen challenging course loads and stuck with them. According to Bock, Google values the grit that it takes to earn a B in a difficult class, particularly for students accustomed to earning A’s. “Successful, bright people rarely experience failure, and so [most of them] don’t learn how to learn from that failure.”
Strong applicants also demonstrate “intellectual humility” — the willingness to defend an idea fiercely but also the ability to let go of it in the face of new information. Says Bock: ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.”
Strong applicants view their successes objectively by not taking them as evidence of their own genius. They also for take responsibility for failures that occur on their watch — and learn from them.
Applicants who are skilled at collaborative problem solving tend to take ownership in the work and are willing (and able) to lead others. But again, they must also have the humility to relinquish power and embrace other ideas. Says Bock: “Innovation is increasingly a group endeavor… [requiring] a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn.”
Mastery of two distinct disciplines is highly attractive at Google. Says Bock: “The most interesting things are happening at the intersection of two fields. To pursue that, you need expertise in both fields.”
Google is looking seriously at nontraditional talent, including people who don’t go to college at all. Says Bock: “When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.”
So what are the factors that Google considers the least relevant? Single-area expertise, straight-A transcripts, and diplomas from elite schools.
It’s time to wake up and smell the Google.