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So You Want to Work at Google? Good Thing You’re at St. John’s!

By A.J. Peters

In a recent conversation with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, the man in charge of hiring at Google—Lazlo Bock—describes why Google is becoming less interested in big name schools, test scores, and GPAs when considering a job candidate. His reasoning seems avant-garde at first, but it’s almost exactly what St. John’s has been focusing on for years.

For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.

The learning ability that Bock speaks of is the very thing at the heart of the St. John’s Program. It’s what you develop when you’re repetitively pushed outside of your intellectual comfort zone and forced to think for yourself. It’s what some educators call divergent thinking. Or what President Nelson described in his convocation speech, as he watched his son fiddle with the broken wipers in their 60s VW Bug. Pulling together “disparate bits of information” is what St. John’s is all about. Or how about this one:

The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “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 H.R. 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.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.

It’s a great reminder that for all the holistic intentions of St. John’s, the Program is immensely practical as well. Sure, it’s probably not as easy to go this route, but it provides us with a manner of thinking that is increasingly coveted in a world of people who have confused the memorization of manuals with being “smart”.

The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

Read the rest of the article here.

2 comments on “So You Want to Work at Google? Good Thing You’re at St. John’s!

  1. Karolina

    I am really glad to see this article here on The Johnnie Chair. I recently got an offer from Google and when my friends first sent me this interview, I couldn’t believe how many references to my St. John’s experience did Lazlo talk about. I could definitely attest to the reevaluation of leadership ash an emergent, not constant, force. The most significant skill that St. John’s gave me is the willingness to relinquish power and engage in a learning-oriented dynamic collaboration with a group of people.


  2. A.J. Peters

    Awesome, glad to hear you liked it. And congratulations!


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