Choosing Attitude Over Aptitude?

A recent New York Times op-ed about Google’s perspective on hiring non-graduates sparked quite a bit of online controversy.  The observation of Google senior vice president of people operations Laszlo Bock, that the proportion of non-college grads working at Google is growing at a steady rate, has raised many interesting and sometimes heated viewpoints.

It’s clearly not that Google has anything against anyone who has impressive college credentials. Bock himself said that “Good grades certainly don’t hurt.”

1. Learning from the School of Life: Google puts more emphasis on people’s capacity for learning versus what their diploma says they have already learned. Having a genuine curiosity makes one want to learn on a continual basis. As AppleOne Founder and  President Bernie Howroyd is fond of saying, “When you are green, you grow – and when you are ripe, you rot.” Every day can be an opportunity to explore: How can you do things better? How can you be better?

2. Non-Traditional Leadership Qualities: Google has never been known for being traditional, and they expect just as much agility and innovativeness from their people. Rather than a leadership pedigree such as having been the class president or the debate champion, Google looks for those gems who can think quickly on their feet, and is unafraid to take initiative to take the lead when the needed. Also part of being agile is having the flexibility to step back and let other people’s strengths come into play for the benefit of the entire team.

3. Not Fearing – and Not Dodging – Failure: Many of us grew up dreading failure, so much that many lose our sense of accountability. College has always encouraged those who are naturally bright and talented, and the reward is often measurable in the form of GPAs. Compared to less successful classmates who have what Bock calls “intellectual humility,” many who were successful in college have a harder time coming to terms and dealing with failure. Very much like having non-traditional leadership qualities, Google sees EQ as a more effective predictor of success than IQ.

Google has a way of making concepts sound exciting and innovative. But if you really examine what Bock says matters to them, you will see that these are fundamentally what makes a person great work with: Maybe a boss whom you respect because they are usually right but are willing to own up when they are wrong.  Or a creative co-worker who comes up with exciting concepts or solutions, but is also collaborative and supportive of other ideas.


We should all be more like Google in our outlook on hiring and careers. It seems Google has hit upon what has always helped a person – college graduate or not – overcome challenges effectively and even with enthusiasm. When it comes to predicting success, their best search results always come with great attitudes.

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