The Interview Question That Elon Musk Considers Most Valuable

Elon Musk

Elon Musk (Instagram)

Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin1.84k

Whether you’re in the manager seat or anxiously waiting your turn as a candidate in the lobby, job interviews never feel like an easy endeavor. Hiring managers struggle to come up with questions that will offer them the clearest view of each interviewee, while the hopefuls must endure the uncertainty of desired criteria while also coming up with questions of their own.

In these tricky situations, it helps to seek out advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Case in point? Tesla and SpaceX CEO and multi-billionaire Elon Musk. With over 35,000 employees across the world, Musk and his management team have done their fair share of hiring, and because their companies are on the cutting edge of tech developments, they’re looking at a massively-competitive pool of candidates for all open positions. To get a sense of what Musk and Co. want to see from applicants, CNBC spoke with SpaceX VP of Human Resources Brian Bjelde, who offered some valuable insight.

The SpaceX hiring committee looks for commitment to the company’s vision of space exploration, and they also prioritize “passion, drive, and talent”. However, Bjelde shared that he and Musk don’t rely on resumes to give them an accurate sense of a potential employee’s abilities. “"Resumes gauge the ability to write a bulleted list of achievements, and that's not always indicative of success — the resume is not going to be sitting in the seat doing the work on Monday," Bjelde told CNBC. SpaceX likes to work around the limitations of a resume by giving job candidates a brief test during their interviews, allowing the hiring managers to see how they handle actual on-the-job challenges. "If you're hiring someone to be a world-class welder here, then we actually bring them in as part of the interview and give them a welding assignment to understand their talent with this task. We do the same thing with our engineering groups, and with any role in which the work activity can be distilled into a practical examination," Bjelde explained.

As for Musk’s personal favorite interview question, he also likes to stray from the norm and learn about the candidates in ways that a resume alone doesn’t allow. At a recent presentation during the World Government Summit in Dubai, Musk revealed that he wants job interviewees to “story of your life and the decisions that you made along the way, and why you made them.” Specifically, he wants candidates to“tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.”

Musk pays particular attention to the specificity of candidate answers, using these bits and pieces to weed out those who may be exaggerating or fabricating. “People that really solved the problem, they know exactly how they solved it [and] they know the little details,” Musk elaborated.

So if you find yourself on the short list for a position under an experienced manager, take some time to think through past challenges and what you did to resolve them. Like Musk, many powerful executives really hone in on the details, so the more detailed you can be, the better your chances.