Schooling outside school

The elephant in the room

Andrew Breland

As we slowly roll into March, those without a path for the summer are beginning to sweat as internship and employment deadlines pass. Some already know what they will be doing. Select business majors received internship opportunities from big four accounting firms or consultants earlier this year. Some engineers nailed down their co-op last fall, or maybe earlier. And a slim few others knew what they’d be doing a few months earlier than the rest of us.

For the rest of the student body, however, March brings the first sign that decisions are coming. Applications close for that internship we applied for. Our resume is in for consideration. The political science majors all applied to Washington or some state capital, hoping to be the next Frank Underwood. Business majors applied to major corporations and finance houses in hopes of following in the footsteps of Bill Gates or Bernie Madoff (here’s hoping it’s the former). Anthropology, psychology and classics majors applied everywhere, unsure of where, exactly, their degree might take them.

In short, almost every member of Case Western Reserve University’s student body, joined with many members of many student bodies from many colleges in applying to opportunities around the country with the hopes of securing paid job-advancement this summer. That is, unless they hoped to take courses this summer, experiencing the college version of summer school.

The connotations that plagued summer school before college still plague it now. Short of financial necessity, medical conditions or sheer ease of access (something like, “I’m already in Cleveland for the summer. My internship starts in June, so I’ll take a May class”), the summer school attendee becomes “the one who didn’t.” In the face of opportunity and possibility to get out of the classroom to experience some “real-world” activity, these few have chosen to spend that time devoted to the same ivory tower they’ve spent the last eight months worshipping.

There’s something necessary about getting away from the classroom. Major companies recognize this, and that’s why they’ve mandated some sort of experience for all their new hires.

Google said as much this week. In a column published in the New York Times last Friday, Thomas Friedman discussed an interview with Lazlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google. Short of having one of the most exciting titles in business, Bock described the hiring process at the world’s 68th largest public company.

He stated that Google’s number one quality for hiring individuals is “cognitive ability”—the ability to learn quickly. They also value, in order of importance: leadership, humility, responsibility, expertise. Notice how book learning is last on that list.

To Google, and to an increasing number of large companies, hiring has become less about the person who can do the job now, and more about who presents the best chance of creativity and improvement. You cannot learn creativity and humility at school or from a book, no matter what the self-help section at Barnes and Noble tells you. It’s a trait learned through experience and from taking on challenges in the real world.

Bock issued another caveat. Grade point average isn’t everything. He said that GPA, and even college graduation, do not signal readiness for work. Citing Google’s current workforce, he said that nearly 14 percent of Google’s design and creative teams lack college degrees. That does not appear to slow down the internet behemoth. But one can be sure that these individuals possess creativity, responsibility and an attitude learned through work experience and challenges.

In short, majors don’t matter, GPAs don’t matter, but personality does. One’s ability to work creatively, quickly and well determines his path. Not his ability to take 32 credits in a semester. That’s not to say that Google does not hire great college grads. The MIT computer science major with a 4.0 GPA will probably still get a job. But the Tri-C grad in graphic design could also get one. It’s less about the numbers and more about what you do with them.

So looking toward this summer, take advantage of your four months away from the classroom and develop skills for the future. Go out and get hired at the dream corporation, law firm, nonprofit, government office or some other organization. It may only be for the summer, but the skills you learn will go with you wherever you travel from here.

Your parents may not like you for it. Even your most impassioned attempts to explain the importance of “résumé building” will end in futility. At heart though, we know the promise and possibility brought by doing something, rather than taking that last requirement for our biology degree.

I’m not saying that everyone will work at Google, but that would be great, I hear they have great benefits. However, the qualities that Google searches for are the most important. These are the qualities that equalize the Harvard graduate versus the community college dropout. In some things, they can be equal.

Andrew Breland is a double major in political science and English, vice President of the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity and former chair of the Case Western Reserve Constitution Day Committee.