When your GPA doesn't matter
The original article was written in 2014, and published on LinkedIn. It racked up 90k view, close to 300 comments and I received dozens of individual messages seeking career advice. Almost 7 years later, having moved to the Bay Area and met some of the most successful and ambitious individuals who either underperformed or dropped out of college, I still believe in everything that I wrote. Do you agree?
In 2010, just as I was about to complete my final semester at university, I chanced upon an internship at Google. As you can imagine, I was pretty nervous at the prospect of working for one of the most innovative and forward thinking technology companies in the world - of course, at the time I was much more drawn to the game rooms and the daily free food selection than the impact the experience would have on my future career. I remember reading a book with questions like "If you were shrunk down to the size of a penny at the bottom of a blender, how would you get out?" Problem solving questions were to be expected, but even before I was to reach an interview stage, I had to be filtered based on what was written on a piece of paper - my grades.
Last month, less than 4 years after my stint at there, I read an opinion feature in The New York Times titled, 'How to Get a Job at Google' by Thomas L. Friedman where he breaks down the details of an interview with Lazlo Bock, the SVP of People Operations for Google. In essence, the tech giant had determined that "test scores [were] worthless" and as a result, no longer deemed it a key attribute when considering a new hire as more and more of their hires came on board without a college education. I couldn't agree more. The truth is, your theoretical knowledge is not your most valuable asset - your hunger to make a difference and bring a creative and innovative perspective to the table is.
The truth is, your theoretical knowledge is not your most valuable asset - your hunger to make a difference and bring a creative and innovative perspective to the table is.
What I had noticed early on in all my internships and now in my professional life is how little I have applied my education to the day-to-day of my work. Textbook knowledge is great for a theoretical exam but in the real world, it's a whole new ball game. Have you noticed how often versions of textbooks are revised? I work in a particularly dynamic industry of social media and digital which can literally evolve every single day but even what we consider foundational areas of business like Sales and Marketing or even Management will change as the consumer market changes. Focus instead on the soft skills such as collaboration and teamwork; public speaking and presenting; and of course, leadership. Develop your own ideas from the changing landscape around you and use these ideas to take ownership of your work so you can make a significant impact within your role.
Make no mistake, (edit) don't forgo a degree or aim to fail miserably - you still want to try your best but don't let it overwhelm you. There are still instances where your success in school or the school itself can be directly correlated to you professional success. This generally encompasses areas of expertise which must be backed by your thorough theoretical knowledge such as being a doctor or a lawyer, or in situations where without the marks, you're unable to progress to the next stage of a lengthy process. Hopefully, as time passes and mindsets change, the latter will disappear altogether. In an ideal world, it'd be great to graduate from the top school with the highest marks but this won't guarantee success for you.
In an ideal world, it'd be great to graduate from the top school with the highest marks but this won't guarantee success for you.
It's most important to remember that if you're a student, push yourself to do the best you can in school because you're interested in learning but allow yourself time to enjoy the more social and active aspects of university life. If you're a parent, encourage hard work and help fuel your child's passions but also all the extra-curricular activities they'd like to be involved in. Under no circumstances should you deem yourself a failure if you don't achieve the best marks - after all, successful billionaires like Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg and Mashable CEO, Pete Cashmore were both college dropouts. At the end of the day, how well you do in school is only a black and white score on a piece of paper - what will count the most is the passion you have for what you do.