Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Still Have To Do Your Homework

Let it never be said that education is not important. Do not get any idea of the sort from the news item I'm about to share with you. Education is vital, very vital. You want to get the best education you can, do the best you can in school, get the best grades possible. Remember our byline: 'Be Less Stupid'. For those of you wondering, that means that, in the grand scheme of things, when you take into account all the information and knowledge that exists, no one person knows very much at all. Me included. Everyone has mental blind spots. 'Be Less Stupid' means go fill in those blind spots. Which means educate yourself.

Are we clear on that? Let's make sure you understand that. Do you understand that? Yes? Okay. Good. Then we can proceed with the news item.

Google, in its hiring process, will no longer be asking for your GPA or your test scores, unless you're right out of school and that's all they have to go on. They will also no longer be using brain teasers such as 'how many golf balls does it take to fill a 747' or things like that. The reason for that is that they've looked at how asking those questions has worked out for them, and those criteria have turned out to be worthless to them in determining the value of an employee. What they're looking for now is a- and this is Google we're talking about- less statistical approach. As Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations, told the New York Times yesterday:
After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently. Another reason [for the lack of correlation] is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment. One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.

Bock went on to state that there's only so much a statistic can say and that, eventually the human face of things has to be taken into account.

This is not unique, and it's being noticed on the other side of the equation as well. The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently polled employers to determine what they consider most important. Long story short, they found grades to be overrated. (PDF)


First off, preference is still given to college graduates; 95% of employers said as much. Second, ethics is the thing they actually look for. 96% of employers said personal integrity was important, and 76% called it very important, the highest numbers for any item they were polled on. The second most important thing was racial tolerance. (96% important/ 63% very important), followed by capacity to learn new things- also known as, say it with me, Be Less Stupid (94%/61%); interest in giving back to the community (71%/26%), and knowing about the world in general (55%/16%).

When asked what they thought colleges ought to focus on, the #1 answer was critical thinking, with 82% of employers saying more emphasis should go there. Second was the ability to analyze and solve complex problems (81%), verbal and written communication (80% each), and the ability to apply knowledge to a real world setting (78%). That last one is what Bock was talking about.

Last on the list, interestingly, was knowledge about democratic institutions and values, which only 27% of employers wanted a greater focus on, and 20% of which wanted a reduced focus on. Make of that what you will.

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