As a college professor, I’ve probably written over 100 recommendations for students as they seek internships, jobs, or graduate school acceptances. I also take phone calls and answer emails for personal reference checks on students. This week, a company contacted me to answer a few questions about a former student. I loved this question in particular:
If you had to choose one thing you appreciate most about this student, what would it be?
I thought carefully about all his technical skills, all his excellent work for my course, and all his intellectual capacities. But that’s not what I talked about. What I most appreciated was this student’s kindness. He was warm. He shared his life. He gave compliments to other students. He listened to others. He was humble. He was a good friend to other students. I looked forward to seeing him in class every day.
I’d rather have a kind student than a high-performing one. I tell my students this as they move out into their professional lives. Sometimes the soft skills of kindness and listening matter as much or even more to an employer than how fast you can solve a math problem or write code. In fact, many times, employers and graduate schools ask me about character more than skill. They ask about teamwork. They ask about how a student responds to feedback. They ask if a student is someone I would choose for my own cohort. If a brilliant student knows everything but is dishonest, arrogant, rude, demanding, late, or entitled, I cannot recommend this person. But kind? I will give my highest recommendation to hard-working students who exhibit true kindness.