a post-GPA world

Why Google doesn’t care about hiring top college graduates

February 24, 2014
February 24, 2014

Google has spent years analyzing who succeeds at the company, which has moved away from a focus on GPAs, brand name schools, and interview brain teasers.  

In a conversation with The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, Google’s head of people operations, Laszlo Bock, detailed what the company looks for. And increasingly, it’s not about credentials.

Graduates of top schools can lack “intellectual humility”

Megan McArdle argued recently that writers procrastinate “because they got too many A’s in English class.” Successful young graduates have been taught to rely on talent, which makes them unable to fail gracefully.

Google looks for the ability to step back and embrace other people’s ideas when they’re better. “It’s ‘intellectual humility.’ Without humility, you are unable to learn,” Bock says. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.”

Those people have an unfortunate reaction, Bock says:

“They, 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. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’”

People that make it without college are often the most exceptional

Talent exists in so many places that hiring managers who rely on a few schools are using it as a crutch and missing out. Bock says:

“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.”

Many schools don’t deliver on what they promise, Bock says, but generate a ton of debt in return for not learning what’s most useful. It’s an “extended adolescence,” he says.

Learning ability is more important than IQ

Succeeding in academia isn’t always a sign of being able to do a job. Bock has previously said that college can be an “artificial environment” that conditions for one type of thinking. IQ is less valuable than learning on the fly, Bock says:

“For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not IQ. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

A behavioral interview, in contrast with those that ask people to figure out how many tennis balls fit into a tennis court, might ask how you’ve reacted to a particularly difficult problem in the past. They can also help find people who fit the company’s definition of leadership. It’s not about leading a club at school or an impressive prior title, Bock says, but the ability to step up and lead when it’s necessary.

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