The skills that Google's most valuable employees share—and what they mean for students

Staunch STEM champions often highlight technical skills as the surefire path to professional success, but a recent challenge to this STEM success narrative comes from an unlikely place: Google.

The tech giant recently discovered that its top performing employees and most innovative teams rely on skills more commonly associated with a liberal arts education than a STEM degree, Cathy Davidson writes for the Washington Post.

Soft skills, hard skills, missing skills: More ideas for tackling the skills gap

In 2013, the company decided to review its hiring and performance assumptions. Since its founding in 1998, Google had primarily looked for academic credentials when hiring, focusing on computer science students with the highest GPAs from the most elite universities.

Google found similar results in a subsequent study on its most effective teams, dubbed Project Aristotle.  Soft skills outweighed the importance of specialized knowledge or technical expertise. The best teams did not necessarily include Google's top scientists, but by employees with a range of soft skills like generosity and emotional intelligence, according to a report on the project.

Technical skills remain critical for students' professional success, but STEM is not the only path to workplace readiness, Davidson writes. Instead, students should develop the soft skills necessary to carve out satisfying and productive careers in a changing labor market, she argues (Davidson, Washington Post, 1/4). 

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