Are You Recruiting Like Elon Musk? SpaceX CEO Reveals His Hiring Secrets

March 10, 2014 at 2:26 PM by Rob Stevenson

Recruiting Like Elon MuskYou don't found 4 companies without having a prodigious knack for hiring the right people.

More specifically, you don't found 4 of the most successful, innovative, and exciting new age companies without having a prodigious knack for hiring the right people. (later merged with Paypal), SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity are all the brainchildren of one Elon Musk, whose fearless trailblazing attitude towards new-age tech has made him something of a demi-god among technophiles.

It's not merely his background with programming, branding, rocket science, economics, and physics that makes Musk such a talented organization builder. He's also supremely skilled in evaluating talent in face-to-face scenarios, in choosing the right candidate for a given role, and in selecting individuals who propagate a carefully delineated company culture. Luckily for us, this real-world Iron Man has spoken at length about this strategies for talent acquisition. Read on to see how the man himself explains his hiring strategies.

Late last year, Musk embarked upon an exciting new project with Tesla Motors. The mission? Developing an autopilot system for one of their latest editions, the Model S. Musk was thus tasked with putting together a team to make his goal a reality, so naturally, he took to twitter and put his own voice behind the hiring efforts.



Musk is really firing on all cylinders (pardon the pun) in what is essentially candidate outreach. Not only does he explain a specific project, which happens to be a supremely exciting opportunity, he also makes it easy for interested parties to apply by providing a tailor-made email address. In addition, Musk adds that the team will report directly to him. Even if software engineers weren't already clamoring for an opportunity to work with Musk, they always prefer to be in touch with their hiring manager or direct supervisor as early in the recruiting process as possible. Top marks, Elon.

This wasn't the first time Musk made efforts to be intimately involved in his companies' recruiting efforts. Back in 2008, onInnovation conducted this interview with Musk regarding how he goes about selecting the right hires, and even indulged his scientific side by asking him to put it in terms of the First Law of Physics. A few key quotes stand out:

I actually interview everyone at SpaceX personally. And we’re a 500-person company, so that’s a lot of interviews.

Your CEO might not be interested in meeting with every hire (although they might after reading that quote!), yet this still corroborates the importance of executives demonstrating their care for the organization to the point that they want to sign off on each and every employee. When leadership shows this concern, they will instill in candidates the notion that there is no disconnect between them and the big-time decision makers, and it will illustrate a tight-knit, carefully considered company culture.

I look for a positive attitude and are they easy to work with, are people gonna like working with them? It’s very important to like the people you work with, otherwise life and your job is gonna be quite miserable. And, in fact, we have a strict ‘no-assholes policy’ at SpaceX. And we fire people if they are. I mean, we give them a little bit of warning. But if they continue to be an asshole, then they’re fired.

Although Musk's companies are recruiting for some of the most esoteric, technical positions, he makes it clear that skill is not enough. Yes, it is the first box a candidate needs to check, but if they are going to be disagreeable with their teammates and other co-workers, even the most talented pro can cause more harm than good.

 Musk delves further into the interview process in this panel appearance. Every recruiter knows to ask candidates about a challenging project they overcame, and Musk's explanation waxes poetic:

When you struggle with a problem, that's when you understand it...if someone was really the person that solved it, they'll be able to answer multiple levels, they'll be able to go down to brass tacks. And if they weren't, they'll get stuck...Anyone who struggled really hard with a problem never forgets it.

 Which of Elon Musk's recruitment strategies have you had the most success implementing? Leave a comment or tweet @EnteloRob!


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