COMMENTARY | Breaking news: Google doesn’t especially worry about GPAs; in fact, unless you’re a fairly recent college graduate, they won’t even ask you for your magic number. They’re far more interested in how you answer “real world” questions about analysis or ethics (with an implication that you could be asked to be creative on the spot).
This, of course, is valuable information since everybody knows that, outside of Major League Baseball for baseball players, Google is the most wonderful employer on the planet.
Adam Bryant of the New York Times brought us this fabulous news Thursday in a compendium piece of quotations by Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior HR person, posted on LinkedIn. Among other notions advanced in his article is the explicit condemnation of interviewers asking potential employees seemingly academic questions like “How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane?” But the heart of Bryant’s piece is surely this, from Bock: “We found that [GPAs] 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.”
Bryant calls this a “pretty remarkable insight” worthy of follow-up questions. So Bock, who went to college and graduate school, elaborated to the effect that college profs are looking for specific answers that can be discerned, and added: “[I]t’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.”
Let’s return to the airplane question. How’s this for a creative approach to filling an airplane with golf balls? Quickly pour in counted golf balls until the plane’s full; forget about those tricky calculations about volumes of curved containers and the spherical items filling them – you’ll save a lot of time.
Suddenly, the useless question becomes useful.
In the full interview with Bryant, Bock talks about the difficult time employers have in assessing leadership, and suggests that behavioral questions “where you have a consistent rubric” for assessment is the way to go. As a college level teacher, I can assure you that the problem here is writing that rubric. In college courses rubrics easily become grade inflators or deflators…and thus, by a curious route we’re back to talking about those useless college GPAs.
What Bryant and Bock have concocted here in two publications slyly allows Google to have its cake and eat it too. On one hand, what the tech giant implies is a preference for t-shirted college-dropout geniuses or high school grads who, say, create the world’s greatest time-wasting website (and one of the worst IPOs ever), but on the other, they really don’t quite say that. New grads still have to submit GPAs, and by their math 86 percent of their employees do have college degrees.
The leadership matter is especially bothersome and mushy with its primary implication (in the first answer Bock gives in his full interview) that every employee should be a leader.
I’d suggest two ideas here: 1) many creative people work alone and are successful by dint of never worrying about leading, and 2) in a very real sense GPAs are, in fact, job credentials. Without a good GPA, those 86 out of 100 employees Google will hire will not finish their (college) jobs, and will not be considered by Google if recent graduates. What I’d really like to see from Google is a count of all their 2.1 GPA-college grads who have become either great creators or leaders.
There’s a place at Google’s table, however, for you t-shirted genius. On a team of seven there’s exactly one seat available to you.