The Google guide to getting the most out of college

Lower grades in harder classes can lead one to Google.
Lower grades in harder classes can lead one to Google.
Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip
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Google’s Laszlo Bock, who leads hiring for the company, has in the past (paywall) said that it puts less emphasis on finding graduates of prestigious schools, and that many of the most exceptional candidates have succeeded despite not having a degree at all.

But in a new interview with Tom Friedman in the New York Times (paywall), Bock clarified that it’s not that he thinks people shouldn’t go to college, but that most don’t put enough thought into their choice of degree and their time spent at school.

“The first and most important thing is to be explicit and willful in making the decisions about what you want to get out of this investment in your education,” says Bock, whose title is senior vice president for people operations.

Here’s his best advice for getting the most out of school and positioning for a successful career:

It’s ok to get average grades, just study something hard

One of the first things that most companies look for on a resume is GPA. Bock has previously said that it’s rather lower on Google’s list of priorities.

 “I was on campus speaking to a student who was a computer science and math double major, who was thinking of shifting to an economics major because the computer science courses were too difficult. I told that student they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load. That student will be one of our interns this summer.”

A quality Google looks for include is ”grit,” which is better demonstrated by somebody who stuck with a major that was difficult for them than somebody with perfect grades who switched to something less demanding.

A degree is no longer a proxy for ability, so pick courses that teach specific skills, Bock advises.

Not everyone needs to be a world-class coder, but know your way around a computer

Google looks for “general cognitive ability” in all of its hires, and college is the place to demonstrate it. Not just with grades, but with what courses you choose. For Bock personally, taking statistics in business school and learning to look at the world analytically was transformative. Now he suggests that college students at least understand what’s going on in computer code, even if they’re not going to be writing all of it themselves.

“A knowledge set that will be invaluable is the ability to understand and apply information—so, basic computer science skills. 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.”

If it’s not computer science, at least take some courses that have that kind of analytical rigor. “Analytical training gives you a skill set that differentiates you from most people in the labor market,” Bock says.

The liberal arts aren’t dead, they just need a partner

Bock, himself a graduate of a liberal arts school, says that the liberal arts are “phenomenally important,” but that they’re most so when combined with something else.

“Ten years ago behavioral economics was rarely referenced. But [then] you apply social science to economics and suddenly there’s this whole new field. I think a lot about how the most interesting things are happening at the intersection of two fields. To pursue that, you need expertise in both fields. You have to understand economics and psychology or statistics and physics [and] bring them together. You need some people who are holistic thinkers and have liberal arts backgrounds and some who are deep functional experts. Building that balance is hard, but that’s where you end up building great societies, great organizations.”

As we wrote yesterday, Bock also has a specific formula for how you should structure your resume as well. You can read more about that here.