MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. â€” LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google â€” i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the worldâ€™s most successful companies â€” noted that Google had determined that â€œG.P.A.â€™s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they donâ€™t predict anything.â€ He also noted that the â€œproportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over timeâ€ â€” now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, â€œHowâ€™s my kid gonna get a job?â€ I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.
Donâ€™t get him wrong, Bock begins, â€œGood grades certainly donâ€™t hurt.â€ Many jobs at Google require math, computing and coding skills, so if your good grades truly reflect skills in those areas that you can apply, it would be an advantage. But Google has its eyes on much more.
â€œThere are five hiring attributes we have across the company,â€ explained Bock. â€œIf itâ€™s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles.
For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and itâ€™s not I.Q. Itâ€™s learning ability. Itâ€™s the ability to process on the fly. Itâ€™s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure theyâ€™re predictive.â€
The second, he added, â€œis leadership â€” in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We donâ€™t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and youâ€™re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because whatâ€™s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.â€
What else? Humility and ownership. â€œItâ€™s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,â€ he said, to try to solve any problem â€” and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. â€œYour end goal,â€ explained Bock, â€œis what can we do together to problem-solve. Iâ€™ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.â€
And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, itâ€™s â€œintellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.â€ It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau.
â€œSuccessful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they donâ€™t learn how to learn from that failure,â€ said Bock.
â€œThey, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, itâ€™s because Iâ€™m a genius. If something bad happens, itâ€™s because someoneâ€™s an idiot or I didnâ€™t get the resources or the market moved. … What weâ€™ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. Theyâ€™ll argue like hell. Theyâ€™ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, â€˜hereâ€™s a new fact,â€™ and theyâ€™ll go, â€˜Oh, well, that changes things; youâ€™re right.â€™ â€ You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.
The least important attribute they look for is â€œexpertise.â€ Said Bock: â€œIf you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone whoâ€™s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: â€˜Iâ€™ve seen this 100 times before; hereâ€™s what you do.â€™ â€ Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, â€œbecause most of the time itâ€™s not that hard.â€ Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while theyâ€™ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.
To sum up Bockâ€™s approach to hiring: Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many nontraditional ways today, hiring officers have to be alive to every one â€” besides brand-name colleges. Because â€œwhen you look at people who donâ€™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.â€ Too many colleges, he added, â€œdonâ€™t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you donâ€™t learn the most useful things for your life. Itâ€™s [just] an extended adolescence.â€
Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about â€” and pays off on â€” what you can do with what you know (and it doesnâ€™t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills â€” leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 23, 2014, on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline: How to Get a Job at Google. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe