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How to Get a Job? Try the Google Treatment

By Tiffani Razavi, TIE Staff Writer

If you want to find out about something, practically anything, chances are you will google it. So it should come as no surprise that if you want to know about how your students are going to get jobs in the future, you need only look as far as Google.
As recently reported in The New York Times, Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, is quick to make it clear that good grades from good higher education institutions are not enough, and sometimes may not even be necessary. He is dismissive about the predictive value of GPAs and test scores generally, although he readily admits that specific skills in mathematics, computing, and coding are needed for technical roles and that an applicant with such proven skills would have an edge.
Mr. Bock’s views are hardly unexpected. Good grades have always been a kind of shorthand for employers, an indicator of skills and abilities, and nothing has changed there. What has changed is that the skills and abilities represented by good grades are becoming less and less relevant to today’s computerized organizations.
As columnist David Brooks noted recently, also in the Times, as computers become more present in the workplace, mental skills such as a great memory, collecting and regurgitating information (as for a test), and following rules will naturally become less valued.
In environments where computers and machines calculate and monitor, it is the uniquely human skills that are most needed, such as “the voracious lust for understanding,” “the enthusiasm for work,” and “the ability to grasp the gist.”
Cue Mr. Bock.
At the top of the list of what Google looks for in prospective employees is what Mr. Bock calls general cognitive ability. “It is not IQ,” he says, “it is learning ability. It is the ability to process on the fly. It is the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.”
He goes on to highlight “emergent leadership”—not whether you were the president of something at some point, but how, as a team member, you lead when you are needed and step back when you are not. He links this ability with the qualities of humility and a sense of responsibility. A person needs to take responsibility for the work, without dominating or micromanaging.
With humility, a person can relinquish control and allow others to step in when appropriate. Perhaps even more importantly, having intellectual humility means that a person can be open to real learning. Ironically, good grades from top institutions can sometimes signal an inability to acknowledge and build on mistakes.
Mr. Bock notes that “successful, bright people rarely experience failure, and so they do not learn how to learn from that failure.”
And at the bottom of Mr. Bock’s list is... expertise. If the other strengths are there, they more than compensate for lack of expertise. Sure, an expert can quickly come up with a standard solution to a problem, but most of the time a non-expert will get to the same solution, and sometimes a new and better one. According to Mr. Bock, the risk of the non-expert’s occasional error far outweighs the potential benefits of totally new answers.
Teachers everywhere need to be alive to the reality of the kind of workplace they are preparing their students to enter, and that the learning mindset they foster could be the key to a successful career. Those fortunate to be in an international school setting may already have an edge—if they choose to draw on the special features of their social environment.
In his 2012 book, Opening Minds, Peter Johnston points out that many of us have been schooled to value facts and certainty, leading to a view of knowledge as fixed, which holds us back from participating in the active generation of knowledge. Fact is fact; there is no reason to question or explore.
Acknowledging that events, discoveries, theories, and scientific evidence can be viewed differently according to a range of contexts and perspectives, including personal, social, economic, political, and cultural—an approach that typically characterizes an international school curriculum—reinforces a view of knowledge in which new understanding is always possible.
Exposed to the influence of more than one culture, international school students are likely to learn to accept, and even value, uncertainty as an opportunity for discovery.
The international experience can also encourage students to develop a humble attitude towards their own opinions, as they learn the value of access to multiple viewpoints and grow accustomed to having their own views challenged.
At the same time, clear, honest, and respectful expression of thoughts is emphasized as an essential part of collective learning. Students who are used to engaging in conversations about a wide range of topics and expect to hear diverse opinions are likely to be more open to consider new information and change their minds.
Familiarity with teachers and students of varied backgrounds also helps young people to adopt a dynamic view of knowledge, in which new perspectives are valued as a means to fuller understanding, better answers, and more effective solutions. The opportunity to enjoy interacting with people whose opinions are different from their own gives international school students a tendency to understand the perspective of both sides in conflict situations, and to seek diverse views when looking for a solution to a problem, laying a foundation for openness to collaborative work and learning.
Sounds just right for Google.

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