When one of the world’s most successful business people says he doesn’t think you need a degree to get hired, it’s worth listening to the points he has to make.
In a 2014 interview with Autobid, Musk was asked which colleges he likes to hire from. His response? “There’s no need to even have a college degree… at all… or even high school.” He goes on to point out that Steve Jobs didn’t graduate from college, and given the chance he (and you) would certainly be remiss not to hire him. What does matter to Musk, is “evidence of exceptional ability.” He continues to explain that, “if there’s a track record of exceptional achievement, then it’s likely that that will continue into the future.” And Musk isn’t alone in his thinking.
Google is also giving less weight to where you went to college, and paying more attention to the qualities applicants bring to the table. In a 2015 interview with CNN, Laszlo Bock, Google's Head of People Operations, explained what Google actually looks for when hiring and highlighted four key things:
1. Problem Solvers
This is an evaluation of cognitive ability, in other words, how well you solve problems.
Not merely on paper leaders (i.e. you’ve held a leadership position), but people who can step in and solve problems, or step aside to let someone else solve problems when that makes the most sense.
While you’ve certainly heard about “culture fit,” being a key criterion for getting a job in 2018, at Google diversity is valued over conformity. “It’s not, ‘Are you like, us… We actually look for people who are different, because diversity gives us great ideas,” Bock explained.
4. Intellectually Humble & Conscientious
When it comes to character, according to Bock, Google wants to hire people who are “willing to admit when they’re wrong… and people who think like owners, not employees.”
While Google’s Head of People Operations doesn’t go so far as to say that you don’t need a degree at all, he does say that the company is focusing on degrees a lot less than it used to because simply put, they aren’t a true indicator of performance. Further, he explains that high grades only indicate performance for the first two years, and that’s it.
So, while it’s helpful to know that we aren’t limited by where we went to school and how we did, when it comes to the modern job hunt the question that remains is why. If our culture has bought so deeply into the notion that everyone needs to go to college in order to be top performers when they enter the workforce, why is that seemingly no longer true?
Genius marketer and bestselling author Seth Godin published a 50,000-word manifesto called “Stop Stealing Dreams” about the origin of our current education system and his opinion as to why it isn’t working anymore. Did he sell it? No. Seth put it on the Internet, for free, to start the conversation about our education system, where it comes from, and why and how it needs to change. I strongly urge you to read it in full, but here are a few key takeaways that shed light on why Elon Musk and Google no longer give college education the weight it once carried:
1. Our current educational system was designed to breed factory workers
When our current educational system was designed, we were making our way as a culture into a post-industrial revolution world. This meant that school as designed to produce optimal workers. Two of the top characteristics our system is designed to cultivate? Competence, and conformity, neither of which will get you anywhere in today’s highly competitive workforce. Instead of competence and conformity, today’s children need to learn leadership and problem-solving, which are exactly the qualities Musk and Bock appear to value.
2. We’ve moved from an information economy to a connection economy
Whereas once schools were the source of information, with teachers as the gatekeepers, today information is abundant. There’s no piece of information a teacher standing in front of a classroom can offer to a child that can’t be found for free on the Internet with a single search. What students need is an environment (and leadership within that environment) that fuels a desire to connect, ask questions, and discover solutions, with teachers promoting passion and big dreams instead of fear and limitations.
Whether you’re deciding whether to go to college, or considering what to do with your children, or figuring out how to stay competitive in the job market years after your schooling is complete, the message above is consistent and clear: to truly stand out in a sea of “on paper” qualified applicants, pursue experiences both in work and outside of it that cultivate your character, and then create for yourself a legacy of exceptional achievement. Once you do that, send your application over to Elon Musk.
Melody Godfred is the founder of Fred and Far, A Self Love Movement, and creator of The Self Love Pinky Ring. She is passionate about empowering women to choose themselves and commit to practicing self-love and self-care on a daily basis. Melody is also the founder of Write In Color, Los Angeles' leading resume writing service. Her career advice has been featured on Forbes, Inc. and The Muse. Connect with her directly on instagram @fredandfar or @melodygodfred.