A Liberal Arts Education: Getting a Job at Google, Part 2

In February, an op-ed by Thomas Freidman in The New York Times summarized an interview with Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, on how to get a job at Google. Bock is involved in about 100 hires at Google per week. With college graduations approaching, Freidman went back to Google to ask for Bock’s best advice for job-seekers anywhere, not just at Google. A condensed version of the conversation was published in yesterday’s NYT Sunday Review.

Freidman started by asking Bock about the worth of a college education. Bock clarified that it’s not that one shouldn’t go to college, but that “…most don’t put enough thought into why they’re going, and what they want to get out of it.” Bock continued, “The first and most important thing is to be explicit and willful in making the decisions about what you want to get out of this investment in your education. People should think “incredibly hard about what they’re getting in return.”

Once a student is in college, Bock spoke of the importance of not only broadening your knowledge, but also gaining the skills and traits valued in today’s workplace. One of these traits is grit, which for Bock means sticking to your chosen major, even if you are finding the coursework especially difficult. Switching from a major where you are a B student just to become an A+ student is, in Bock’s opinion, not necessarily the best course of action.

Speaking of a specific example where a student made such a switch, Bock states, “I think this student was making a mistake…She was moving out of a major where she would have been differentiated in the labor force” and “out of classes that would have made her better qualified for other jobs because of the training.”

Bock goes on to speak about the importance of general cognitive and analytical abilities and creativity.

When Freidman asked whether the liberal arts are still important, Bock replied, “…They are “phenomenally important,”…especially when you combine them with other disciplines.” For example, with behavioral economics, “…you apply social science to economics and suddenly there’s this whole new field. I think a lot about how the most interesting things are happening at the intersection of two fields. To pursue that, you need expertise in both fields. You have to understand economics and psychology or statistics and physics [and] bring them together.”

Looking collectively at Freidman’s Getting a Job at Google, Parts 1 and 2, Bock’s advice can be summarized that an excellent foundation for many careers, including those at Google, can arise from discipline-specific training coupled with the broad skills development that comes from the liberal arts, including critical thinking, analytical reasoning, emergent leadership, collaboration and the ability to respond creatively in any situation.

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