The news: After years spent recruiting some of the best and brightest young people in the world, Google has learned an important lesson: GPA doesn't matter.
In a June 2013 interview, Laszlo Bock, the tech giant's senior VP of people operations, told the New York Times' Adam Bryant that GPAs and test scores are "worthless" and "don't predict anything," and in fact, the "proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time."
Hold on. Is he saying that your $50,000/year college education is totally worthless? Not exactly: "Good grades don't hurt," he told the Times' Thomas L. Friedman, especially in technical areas where math and programming proficiency are necessary. But more importantly, Google has chosen to focus on "general cognitive ability," or a prospective employee’s capacity for learning and processing "on the fly" and "[pulling] together disparate bits of information."
How do they determine these attributes? "We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they're predictive," Bock said. So much for the notorious brainteasers – i.e. "How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?" or "How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?" – we've come to associate with Google hiring.
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But what is it about the most accomplished college grads that fail to meet these criteria? Here are three elements in particular:
1. "School is used as a crutch."
Many colleges can be summed up as great opportunities to "generate a ton of debt" without learning "the most useful things for your life," according to Bock. "It’s [just] an extended adolescence." On the other hand, "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."
Basically, Google wants to emphasize your capacity for learning over what your diploma says you've already learned. In many cases, brand-name colleges aren't the best predictors for future success.
2. They lack "emergent leadership" qualities.
Were you class president? Did you found your school's first beekeeper's club? Google doesn't care. These are examples of what they call "traditional leadership," and if you haven't figured it out by now, Google likes to eschew tradition:
"What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you're a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead," Bock said. "And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power."
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3. Not enough "intellectual humility."
"Successful bright people" are unaccustomed to failure, Bock said. As a result, they don't know how to "learn from that failure," but instead "commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it's because I'm a genius. If something bad happens, it's because someone’s an idiot or I didn't get the resources or the market moved." For many hotshot brand-name college grads, success is attributable to natural talent instead of hard work and flexibility.
"Intellectual humility" is akin to "emergent leadership" in that it fosters adaptive learning and collaborative problem solving. It means learning from mistakes and being able to step back when faced with a better idea. This is what Google is looking for more than anything.
Where do I sign up? There's something refreshingly egalitarian about the qualities with which Google is bolstering its ranks. Does this mean they'll hire just any "adaptive learner" off the street? Probably not. But it does give many aspiring Googlites an advantage where before they felt under-qualified.