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Harvard business degree. Top-of-class ranking and a 4.0 GPA is what top companies like Google are looking for in new talent, right?

Not right.

According to Google, the Internet behemoth that snaps up other companies like families buy groceries, the top quality it looks for in job candidates is the ability to learn.

Likewise, the crucial ability to step up and lead when needed – or “just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else?” explains Google Senior Vice President of Operations Laszlo Bock.

And what quality allows for all of these critical attributes? Believe it or not, “humility.”

In a New York Times interview on “How to get a job at Google,” Bock said, shockingly, that “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.”

Even a college degree doesn’t make it, he said, noting that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time.”

In some cases, a college degree may be a positive hindrance. As noted in another report, “Why Google doesn’t care about hiring top college graduates,” Bock cites a common error in “successful” people without intellectual humility:

“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’”

That the lack of a college degree is not necessarily a handicap is well known. Microsoft and Apple were started by a couple of college dropouts, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It was the same with Facebook and Dell Computer, founded by dropouts Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Dell. All are billionaires, and there are many others.

For a powerfully eye-opening look higher education today, see Whistleblower magazine’s special issue, “THE COLLEGE ILLUSION: Why chasing a degree so often ends in financial and educational chaos.”

Lists of successful dropouts fill the Internet. The Business Insider cites Matt Mullenweg of WordPress, Arash Ferdowsi of DropBox, Aaron Levie of Box, Zuckerberg, David Karp of Tumblr (he didn’t even graduate from high school), David Neeleman of JetBlue, Susan Lyne of AOL, John Mackey of Whole Foods and others.

Time’s “Top 10 College Dropouts” list includes: Gates, Jobs, Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, James Cameron, Zuckerberg, Tom Hanks, Ford, Lady Gaga and Tiger Woods.

“Good grades certainly don’t hurt,” Bock told the Times, but the company’s top hiring attributes are more far-reaching.

“If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

He said the second is leadership – “in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

Underlying these qualities are humility and ownership.

“It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he told the Times, to try to solve any problem – and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.

The end goal, he said, is problem-solving together.

“Without humility, you are unable to learn,” he said.

Expertise also is considered.

Bock said people who “make their way in the world” are sought.

But many colleges, he said, simply “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, [and yet] you don’t learn the most useful things for your life.”

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