In an article published late last year on the Washington Post’s website, Cathy N. Davidson reported on several studies run by Google’s HR department.
The findings were striking: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (“STEM”) ability wasn’t the most important quality in their top employees. It wasn’t even in the top five.
In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer.
Granted, Google isn’t a medical company, but these findings are mirrored by other employers across the board:
Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, also ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters.
If communication skills and the humanities are valuable for employees in a technology giant, how much more valuable must it be for, well… people who communicate with other humans for a living?