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

Recruit Like Elon Musk

You 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 tax. 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! And be sure to check out more content like this at

Views: 1316

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 9, 2014 at 4:49pm

Thanks, Robert.

Since it looks like you're a Digital Marketing Manager at company ( ), with 2 years experience out of college:

1) What gives you the recruiting expertise to suggest anyone should do these things?

2) Since it doesn't appear that you've recruited for any Elon Musk companies, how many EM company recruiters (past or present) did you speak with prior to writing your post?

3) Why should ANYONE except other arrogant, micro-managing billionaires follow the practices of an arrogant, micro-managing billionaire? (Since NO ONE described here REMOTELY fits that description, this is purely hypothetical, of course.)

Keep Blogging,


Comment by Robert Stevenson on April 9, 2014 at 5:14pm

Hi Keith,

Thanks for your comment. Happy to discuss!

1. I confess, I am no expert recruiter. But you'll notice I don't claim to be. I don't offer advice from my own experience, rather, I'm repackaging quotes from a wildly successful team builder, Mr. Musk. And, according to some impressive organic traffic and social sharing stats, I grazed over something worthwhile.

2. EM company recruiters aren't the topic of this post. The reason I chose to cover Elon Musk is that he has remained intimately involved in his company's recruiting processes despite his highest-of-high-level roles. In fact, speaking with SpaceX or Tesla recruiters would have been irrelevant to this post, unless of course they had worked side-by-side with Elon in the recruiting process.

3. Here's where my defense of Elon Musk ends ;)


Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 9, 2014 at 9:20pm

You're very welcome, Robert. Very professional reply.

It is a comment mis-perception among many arrogant founders, CXOs, and other sr. excs that because they are good at one thing or another, they therefore are good at everything, including hiring, and that they know better how  to hire than those of us who've been showing others how to do it for many years. It makes no more sense to turn recruiting over to a non-recruiter founder, etc. than it would to turnover legal affairs to a non-attorney founder,etc. or finance to a non-financial founder, etc.r. It has been my experience that the best thing is to get the founder,etc away from any significant aspect of recruiting at the earliest possible time- BEFORE S/HE HAS A CHANCE TO ***** IT UP. In my experience having folks like this have a say in recruiting isn't bad- it's DISASTROUS- creating the seeds of a centralized, politicized, bloatocracy. I'm just one recruiter- talk to the few thousand present and past recruiters at companies where this is the case, and over drinks, ask them to tell you what it's like to recruit there. With few exceptions, I'd think there would be very few folks out there except shills, sycophants, or suck-ups who say it's a GOOD thing...


Comment by Matt Charney on April 9, 2014 at 9:23pm

Irrelevant to this discussion, SpaceX just pretty much hired away NPR's team and are doing a pretty killer job recruiting and building out their TA strategies and employer brand - which, obviously disproves the thesis that recruiting isn't rocket science is a universal truth (no pun intended). And because Elon Musk is worthy of a 60 Minutes coverage within the last couple of weeks, I think it's at least worth featuring here, too.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 9, 2014 at 9:33pm

Interesting, Mighty Matt. If EM lets these folks do their stuff and learns get the ***** out of the way of the experts, maybe they can do something pretty special.

Comment by Matt Charney on April 9, 2014 at 9:45pm

@Keith - Lars Schmidt is running point, which gives me confidence that they're going to build proof of concept soon. That said, the roles they have to actually fill (e.g. convincing an engineer with space experience to relo to their test site in Waco) makes finding an experienced Ruby or Java developer in the Bay Area seem pretty easy by comparison.  Add to that the fact that they're obviously not only OFCCP but also more or less an NGO where most candidates require clearance and pretty much all actual employer branding assets are classified as confidential, and I'll go ahead and take a tech req any day of the week.

Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on April 9, 2014 at 11:41pm

I've actually been interested in EM for quite some time and I enjoy following what he is doing in the business world. I've seen a few past job postings at Space-X that sounded quite attractive too. 

The part that stood out to me in Robert's post was about the no a-hole policy. Obviously, that is commendable and as policy-averse as I am that is the ONE that I do support. However, along the lines of what Keith was alluding to, if EM is so exceptional at hiring, why is there a need for such a policy? 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 10, 2014 at 11:30am
Comment by Linda Ferrante on April 10, 2014 at 4:31pm

You know what I'd really like to hear about from Elon Musk or anyone who he's hired?  I'd like to hear from someone who got hired and then left.  THEN we can talk about his success in hiring...(egg on my face if I missed that blog, too).....


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