Education

Why Google doesn’t care about college degrees, in 5 quotes

Image Credit: Shawn Collins/Flickr

Google isn’t big on college degrees, although the search giant is inundated with applicants touting perfect GPAs from Ivy League schools.

Google’s chairman and head of hiring, Laszlo Bock, has given a few insights in the New York Times on how he sorts through a multitude of bright applicants.

The upshot is that Google values the skills and experiences that candidates get in college, but a degree doesn’t tell them much about talent or grit.

You don’t need a college degree to be talented

“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,” Bock said.

Many businesses “require” a college degree; at Google, the word “college” isn’t even its official guide to hiring. With the rise of self-paced college courses and vocational learning, plenty of driven people can teach themselves all of the necessary skills to work at the company.

Demonstrate a skill, not an expertise

“If 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 HR person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do,'” Bock said.

College degrees are, almost by definition, a certificate of expertise. A degree in journalism is a giant badge meant to tell the world that you know at least a little bit about the trade of telling stories and interviewing people.

But a degree really doesn’t say what a graduate can do. Can they present an idea in front of a crowd? Can they build a website? Can they think interestingly about problems, or did they just pass some tests?

Logic is learned, and stats are superimportant

“Humans are by nature creative beings, but not by nature logical, structured-thinking beings. Those are skills you have to learn,” Bock said. “I took statistics at business school, and it was transformative for my career. Analytical training gives you a skill set that differentiates you from most people in the labor market.”

Logical thinking goes way beyond programming. For instance, back in 2010, Facebook put up a blog post claiming that political candidates with more fans were more likely to win their race, implying that getting more Facebook fans would improve their chances. In no uncertain terms, this was a phenomenally bad argument.

Maybe candidates who were already more popular just happened to have more fans. And what about candidates with fewer fans that won their races? In these cases, why did fans not matter?

The Facebook employees who ran the statistics understood some basic logic, but they didn’t demonstrate analytical thinking. Sifting through data requires training in the latest techniques for understanding causality and creatively exploring patterns (FYI: Facebook has gotten a lot better about these types of political claims since 2010).

Prove grit

“It looks like the thing that separates out the capable students from the really successful ones is not so much their knowledge…but their persistence at something,” Google chairman, Eric Schmidt said.

For some people, college is just really easy. They can play 10 rounds of beer-pong until 4 a.m. and still ace an organic-chemistry exam the next day while their studious roommate is up to their eyeballs in color-coded flash cards and squeaks by with a B.

A college degree can’t tell Google whether an applicant is naturally smart or is a hard worker. Apparently, Google would rather mold someone with grit rather than someone who is a lazy high-achiever.

If you go to college, focus on skills

“My belief is not that one shouldn’t go to college … most don’t put enough thought into why they’re going and what they want to get out of it,” Block said.

Both Bock and Schmidt are adamant that most people should go to college but that skills and experience are more important than the stamp of expertise. Bock says Google is looking for the kinds of projects candidates completed or what they accomplished at an internship.

I honestly can’t remember the last time someone asked me what my major in college was. If you want a job at Google (or some other prestigious company), don’t focus so much on your major, and make sure you graduate with all the skills and experiences you need to do awesome things in the world.

184 comments
Ken Mandel
Ken Mandel

That's all they use to care about in the past.

Dan Keldsen
Dan Keldsen

The World is My Classroom - college isn't everything indeed! One of the Six Forces of The Gen Z Effect.

Zohray Brennan
Zohray Brennan

This advice may have been true years ago when developers and code geeks were few and far between but that's not the case anymore. Plus the non-degree person will lose out to the degree'd person in a heartbeat Google.

Al Jungle
Al Jungle

Maybe Google doesn't the rest of the world does, good luck getting anywhere without one.

Corby Fine
Corby Fine

Then why is the GPA and transcripts still a key component of their process?  I don't think the new methodology of hiring has permeated the entire organization.

Stefan Caliaro
Stefan Caliaro

They still look at college degrees, it's a mandatory requirement for people 2 years out of college/uni.

Will McCormick
Will McCormick

Only if you are a developer does google not care if you have a college degree. How many people in the legal department don't have college degrees? SMH

Volkmar Kunerth
Volkmar Kunerth

Congratulations. You must have exceptional skills and can do things they were looking for. May I ask how you got the interview.Officially through the online process or through a connection?

Joseph Crosley
Joseph Crosley

If your below 25 and haven't worked for 7 years in the industry then let see a degree... otherwise let see your experience! All employers everywhere around the world. Gave up School @ 17. Best choice I made.. no dept same job and pay. :)

Christopher Neil Bradley
Christopher Neil Bradley

Gonna call BS on that. I have no degree, was interviewed with Google, and was even offered a job as a lead programmer in their systems division. No one asked me about it, either.

Christine Bhatkar
Christine Bhatkar

That is such a lie. They require one and they ask you for your grade scores.

Volkmar Kunerth
Volkmar Kunerth

Oliver: agreed.But if you do the normal online recruitment process it is very likely you get scanned out by a machine. You will be asked what college you attended and your GPA. If you know someone at Google and get recommended it might be different.I lived in Silicon Valley and know people who work there.They are very selective. They highly prefer PhD's and Stanford or other ivy league school graduates. They pretend to be a lot of things but they are certainly not an open organization. And people have to undergo up to 8 interviews.As you said exceptions may apply for certain positions.

Alex Gammelgard
Alex Gammelgard

Oh now they don't care. Too bad when I was graduating if you weren't Ivy League you had no shot at working here.

Tracy Runge Wickens
Tracy Runge Wickens

Sometimes it's not always about a degree where your knowledge comes from

Shanit Khachi
Shanit Khachi

Exactly! Half there recruitment process is about the school you went to!

Sim Gennie
Sim Gennie

why just make statements Google hotshots? Walk the talk! Pull your children out of schools!!!!

Timothy Pham
Timothy Pham

I think you've missed the point. Depending on what awesome things you want to do in the world, those skills will vary. To tell someone, "Learn these 5 things." doesn't help you when a new situation calls for additional skills or perspectives.

Oliver Antonio Fajardo
Oliver Antonio Fajardo

My friend got hired there as a QA engineer without a college degree, but he had work experience from JP Morgan and Pandora in QA. I would say you have to be exceptional.

Volkmar Kunerth
Volkmar Kunerth

Pavlo. Before you comment it as bullshit I recommend to apply to Google online.In the US.

Dilan Eda Emeklioglu
Dilan Eda Emeklioglu

well, they've told me that they don't hire people with GPA's lower than 3.00/4.00 :D

Pavlo Vovk
Pavlo Vovk

Bullshit. My friend has a medical(!) degree from Ukrainian university. Had an offer from Google, but decided to go with a smaller startup.

Julie Boston
Julie Boston

Now that I have 2 degrees it seems I am not employable, so not a fan of education these days!

Marc van Zee
Marc van Zee

"If you want a job at Google (or some other prestigious company), don’t focus so much on your major, and make sure you graduate with all the skills and experiences you need to do awesome things in the world." If you are not going to say what those skills are, this advice is completely useless!

Greg Thompson Jr.
Greg Thompson Jr.

This is a bunch of absolute bullshit. Apply to Google. Talk to Googlers. Then, write about what Google cares about. This doesn't speak to the majority who're there. Stop publishing articles like this.

Alex Avery
Alex Avery

Yep, totally misleading bullshit. Not only do they care if you have done a.4 year degree somewhere good, but they will cull you out early if you have any fails or less than brilliant GPA. Unless things have changed dramatically since Marissa Mayer left, l call bullshit on this article.

Batoor Khan
Batoor Khan

This been posted multiple times because no one have asked that "what does Google care about if its not college's qualifications? " yet. This article can be very discouraging for many individual like myself. Don't you all wonder why are financing colleges for?

Rocky Ratan
Rocky Ratan

college is outdated,doesnt help makin strategies nd dealing with chaos nd volatility.Be a dog,just jump into the water nd learn how to swim,without even knowing if the water is hot or cold.

Fdl Lcr
Fdl Lcr

Students are paying customers. College is for profit business. There's your problem. Google is right. As degree doesn't mean the most talented. It's just investment.

Tony Griego
Tony Griego

Remember that time when almost every job post of theirs had degree requirements? Volkmar is right, if you haven't seen this requirement... you've never applied.

David Blau
David Blau

"look how organic and credibly intellectual and even CREAAAATIVE we still are, we promise we're not a far worse hypercaricature of anything MSFT ever was, with far uglier incestuous trade-personal-data-for-separate-antitrust-standards as conscious explicit long-term strategy"

Tim Dick
Tim Dick

Employee retention is better for employees without college degrees: less opportunity elsewhere.

Volkmar Kunerth
Volkmar Kunerth

Whoever says that has never applied to Google. Not only do they scan people out that do not have a degree. They also scan people out that did not attend one of the top schools.

David Chau
David Chau

Why has this been reposted 3 times now?

Cyrus K
Cyrus K

It makes sense. When a company finds a whiz kid, the last thing they want to hear from HR is: "Well, she doesn't have this-or-that, so she doesn't qualify to that spot, and she's not going to accept an assistant job, soooo you better make a few phone calls, buddy. Good luck." Google is not opening the floodgates for one minute. They're simply operating against their own Murphy's Law that creeps up within any bureaucracy that can scare off a perfectly clear opportunity to get a winner on the Google payroll. Besides, why work for Google when you do business with them? Get off the coffee & donut employee mentality! :)

Nitin Bansal
Nitin Bansal

That's why Google is so awesome... It judges people on their abilities, rather than just their past and degrees

Stefan Dedig
Stefan Dedig

This is why Google is awesome!!! Made my day reading this!