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.

140 comments
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!

Richard Zeilhofer
Richard Zeilhofer

What a load of bollocks. They approached me. I served in two countries, don't have a degree and was politely declined. You can own the world but not my soul. #dontbeevil #youarealready

Karam Gh
Karam Gh

You can't really stay up late playing beer pong and get an A unless you're interested in a subject, and by interest I mean you're attentive during the lecture (maybe taking notes too), or you study the subject regularly instead of the night before the exam.

In my opinion, a good college degree shows dedication (studying hard because you want a good degree) and efficiency (getting good results after studying), but I do agree with the point that there are many talented yet uneducated people.

Interesting article all in all

Louie Cachero
Louie Cachero

I swear this has been posted three times in the space of two months.

Jason Chinn
Jason Chinn

Place yourself in a position to meet people who know the people you want to meet. It's called showing up at the right place. Sometimes called networking.

Kyle Affronti
Kyle Affronti

How does anyone even land an interview with them? I've been trying for 10 years.

Martin S
Martin S

Here is why it actually cares in a single image:

Gokul Seshan
Gokul Seshan

Google is acquiring knowledge and making people dump by just focusing on skills. Skills can be replaced by automation while expertise / knowledge is not.  Skills come out of practice , which means repetition, which means 'can be replaced' .   I only wish Google has more social responsibility

Steven Brown
Steven Brown

Skills and experience is very important. My degree has proven useless and left me in debt.

Lani Wilson
Lani Wilson

Tend to agree. Not all people are "students" and yet are extremely talented! Thank you Google.

Johnny Orlando
Johnny Orlando

first question asked by google: "what is your gpa" this whole idea that google doesn't give a dam about college is total BS. just say in

Mike Johnston
Mike Johnston

Of course they look at it if you have it. I think it depends on the position and the skill set involved. If you have a track record of innovation and success in the kind of work involved and you can work in a group setting and share the credit for group achievements then a degree does not matter because a degree doesn't give you those things.

Shan-Ta Hsieh
Shan-Ta Hsieh

They do look at it and take consideration into it as you interview with them.

Zach Goldstein
Zach Goldstein

Yea I'm still just a little angry because I got rejected after 3 successful interviews and after turning in a well-received work sample. I did not go to an Ivy school and my university GPA was average. After Google's recent "coming out" on workplace diversity, I guess being a white male didn't help much either. :/

Greg Thompson Jr.
Greg Thompson Jr.

They ask everyone what their GPA was when Google pre-screens. The good GPA is a plus. They "don't care" when it comes down to how practical your skills are with respect to your GPA. They don't care about the proportion because they say it isn't there, but as two separate concepts (your skills verses your GPA), they care, and they care more about your skills, what you're going to contribute, and what you can contribute.

Athul Sudheesh
Athul Sudheesh

Just in words only...atleast in India...because...in India Google only recruits from the top Institutions like IITs and that also...top scorers..

Daniel Loftus
Daniel Loftus

That 14% figure prompts me to again ask who is the audience for this article. If most teams at Google remain comprised of 86% or more of people with college degrees, without comparison with other software company's hiring practices, it's not clear that 14% is really all that remarkable. I suspect that the author wants to convey that Google's hiring team wants its employees and future candidates to believe that that they are or will remain employed solely because of their good work, not their academic pedigree. This belief is good for morale. But Laszlo Brock has not surfaced a convincing figure to back up his value assertion.

Aijaz Khan
Aijaz Khan

Mohammed Ameenuddin Atif Muhammed Mazhar Khan Sumair Khan

Brenda Ziegler Pick
Brenda Ziegler Pick

Nice idea - too bad the writer didn't study how to write a post that actually made sense. Just saying...

Stefan Caliaro
Stefan Caliaro

“Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything. What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”' http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130620142512-35894743-on-gpas-and-brain-teasers-new-insights-from-google-on-recruiting-and-hiring

Daniel Lekic
Daniel Lekic

They care about GPA, they have no stupid questions. Their questions all relate to the role your are applying for. At least that was my experience.

Stefan Caliaro
Stefan Caliaro

ahahaha, made my day (y) Apparently they don't care about a degree if you're at least 2-3 years out of college/uni...but surely from what get out of a degree e.g. knowledge and contacts would hopefully lead you somewhere into a big tech company eventually you would think...

Zach Goldstein
Zach Goldstein

Then how come they asked for my GPA and transcript before my interviews?

Esfandiar Bandari
Esfandiar Bandari

Ironically, recruiting from top schools worked for Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other great companies in the past. In regards to their new policy, time will tell! Yahoo! went down this path too, before Carol Bartz came in and had to fire a bunch of people. I so hope I am wrong on this.

Corey Snow
Corey Snow

Bullish... When i worked at Google, 3 out of 4 people had degrees from Brand Name universities...

Alex Timberman
Alex Timberman

Quit copying articles from other sources. This story has been recycled about five times.

Kalitor Mensa
Kalitor Mensa

I think I know where the head of Google HR is going with this. But wouldn't it have been better to make the simple observation that "America is full of young men and young women who spend 15 minutes a day learning their ABCs, and are destined to be disillusioned by the handful of men and women who think at the rate of fifteen days a second…natural aptitude is better than college education. Or doesn't he have the skills?

Reed Kotler
Reed Kotler

Anyone that has ever interviewed there will tell what a total load of shit this article is.

Umer Sohail
Umer Sohail

 Cool... so if a person has never gone to Google, Can he/she still apply at Google if He's skilled?

Jamie Watt
Jamie Watt

I'd have to agree, particularly with respect to the high tech industry. While a degree is a benchmark of academic commitment, character and intelligence are key in hiring senior resources.

Nicholas Crawford
Nicholas Crawford

Nice article. But a simple pie chart of Google employees would show huge slices with their bachelors, masters, and a bunch of PhDs. You don't have to have a degree to be bright, but most bright people get degrees.

Aaron Comicboojerk Gabbard
Aaron Comicboojerk Gabbard

I was on scholarships pell grants all if that I don't understand how in the hell I owe them $80,000 and they didn't let me graduate because they lost one of my credits and I couldn't afford to go back it's bullshit I wish I knew a lawyer who would take my case :/

Greg Sérénade
Greg Sérénade

perhaps you're weren't declined merely because you didn't attend college. 

Bruce Conway
Bruce Conway

Aaron, Try talking to the Ombudsperson at your college or university to sort this out.