MAKING THE GRADE: How do businesses feel about the education of job applicants?

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:31 am on Thursday, March 06, 2014

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

Last week in this column, I discussed what we could learn from Olympic athletes about dedication and self motivation. Before it was even printed, I read a column by Thomas Friedman titled “How to Get a Job at Google.” There were several points that were made that I felt paralleled those made about Olympic athletes.

Friedman cited comments made by Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations at Google, when he was interviewed by Adam Bryant of The New York Times. Mr. Bock said that Google had determined that “grade point averages are worthless as criteria for hiring and test scores are worthless …” Before we jump to the conclusion that employers do not value good grades and test scores, we need to note that Mr. Bock added that they are of value, but Google has its eyes on much more.

I don’t think that is anything new. Grades and test scores have always been important when they represent learning. But we need to be careful about attaching too much value to them, especially if they do not demonstrate acquired knowledge and skills. Mr. Bock went on to list five attributes that Google uses in their hiring process. They are:

• Learning ability: The ability to process on the fly.

• Leadership: The ability to step up and try to solve a problem and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. In other words, it is the ability to work with others to problem-solve.

• Humility: The ability to learn and to learn from failure.

• Ownership: The ability to have a fierce position but to be able to step back when someone else has a better idea.

The least important attribute they look for is expertise.

I don’t know how many employers use these or similar guidelines, but I suspect that it is more that most of us realize. And, again, I don’t think that is a new idea. My father was a businessman and I remember well his preaching a very similar philosophy. In fact I have never forgotten the sign on the wall behind his desk: Wanted, man who wants to work to replace one who didn’t.

In a similar vein, Friedman concludes his column with these thoughts.

“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 is true no matter where you go to work.”

There are many who believe that this is true. That is why both educators and parents encourage an emphasis on a broad view of education. As important as the classroom and mastery of skills such as math, language arts and science are, they are only of value when a person can apply these skills and work with others. Often those abilities are acquired in places outside the classroom such as student government, the arts, athletics and programs such as Olympics of the Mind (OM). Too much emphasis on grades and test scores can be a detriment. Truly an education includes these but also much more.

The Grand Rapids Press recently printed a column from Bridge Magazine by Glenda D. Price regarding planning for careers. She says, “We must change our rhetoric to include all options for continued growth and development.” And she adds, “We must value all of the varied contributions to our communities; those jobs that require a college degree and those that do not.

There are many things to be considered when we educate our youth. The best fit for individuals as they enter the workplace must be part of that consideration.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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