People looking to get a job at Google might first want to spend a few years as a teacher.
A company spokesperson tells Business Insider that there are currently more than 100 people at Google who previously did Teach for America (TFA), a two-year program that places elite college graduates as teachers in under-resourced urban and rural public schools.
Google loves hiring people from the program because it requires new graduates to think on their feet and achieve success in a challenging new environment, two traits the company feels people will need to master once they get to Google.
In fact, the company even has a partnership with TFA that allows people who have been offered a job with the tech giant to defer accepting it for two years in order to complete a TFA commitment.
We chatted with Google spokesperson Meghan Casserly and A.T. McWilliams, a TFA alum and member of Google’s communications team, about what makes TFA special and how the skills learned in the classroom translate to the business world.
“TFA graduates have to coach their students in an environment where motivation isn’t always a given … and solve very complex problems that require patience, perseverance and commitment — things we really value at Google,” Casserly, the company’s head of culture communication, tells Business Insider. “It’s difficult to find talented professionals with this kind of intense experience at such an early stage in their career.”
A year before graduating from Yale in 2012, McWilliams worked as a Google intern doing public relations for the company’s advertising department and was subsequently offered a job.
Instead, he chose to accept one of approximately 5,800 coveted TFA spots offered to members of the Class of 2012 (out of nearly 50,000 applicants), getting an assignment as a first-grade teacher at a charter school in the low-income neighbourhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn, New York.
There, McWilliams learned a handful of skills that he says have helped make him more effective at his job at Google, where he became a full-time member of the company’s New York corporate communications team this past summer.
For starters, Teach For America corps members get just five weeks of intensive training before they start teaching. As a result, McWilliams needed to learn on the job and come up with creative solutions that would help each of his 30 students learn the material he was teaching.
This experience would come in handy at Google, where new people are expected to contribute immediately, with the hopes that their lack of experience will be able to give more senior team members a fresh perspective on whatever problem they are trying to solve.
Teaching first grade also required McWilliams to come up with ways to measure his performance, similar to how he would need to evaluate himself via Google’s famed Objectives and Key Results system, through which employees set up a slate of quantifiable goals for themselves.
Perhaps most importantly, TFA forced him to think long and hard about how people learn, and to use that knowledge to solve difficult problems. During his two years in the classroom, McWilliams discovered that he personally was a visual learner, and devised strategies for breaking through in a classroom where each student had their own individual learning needs.
He says that while he is not yet in charge of managing people, these skills have prepared him to take on such a role in the future, and make him a better communicator with his own bosses.
“At Teach for America, you’re not only learning how to teach someone else, you’re also learning what factors help someone learn the best,” McWilliams says. “You’d be surprised how similar to first graders are to adults.”
Finally, he says the creative problem solving he did to communicate with students is similar to the “corporate triage” he does every day when trying to figure out how best to explain a new Google product to the public.
In his mind, these skills are not just applicable in public relations or at Google. In fact, many of his peers in the Teach for America program are now successfully transferring what they learned from the program to their studies at law and medical school.
“I think the Teach for America experience is really applicable in any place that requires you to be smart and creative,” McWilliams says.
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