How CEOs Hire: Elon Musk on Interviewing Every Candidate

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

What do I look for? It depends on the task. You know, it’s different, and I’m not necessarily looking for someone who has brilliant analytical ability if their job is going to be assembling hardware. But I think, generally, 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.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX
From a 2008 interview with On Innovation

Elon Musk

Elon Musk (Photo credit: jdlasica)

Business Insider recently featured this quote by Elon Musk in a collection of hiring advice from 28 top CEOs. I am going to feature several of the most interesting ones on the blog in the coming weeks. Elon’s advice speaks to me personally and is important for anyone who is or wants to be a CEO. I think it is important to have one person if possible interview all potential employees and set that bar for the organization. I call this person the Chief Recruiting Officer. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the CEO, but I can’t think of a better use of a CEO’s time.

I made recruiting and hiring a focus during my tenure as CEO of both NetQoS and CacheIQ. As we built NetQoS from a startup to more than 250 employees, I interviewed every potential new hire just as Elon does. I often joked that I didn’t mind interviewing the ones we hired: I minded wasting my time on the people we passed on each month. The problem was that I had to interview everyone to tell the difference.

Because I interviewed each candidate, I became good at recognizing the most talented individuals. I knew what to expect for a given position at a given price point in the market. A specific department might only hire people occasionally, and therefore it is hard for them to know what a good value in the market is at any given time. Candidates had to meet a high bar for me to sign off on the hire, and that maintained consistency across the organization.

Speaking of consistency, the “no assholes policy” Elon mentions is integral to maintaining morale and being true to company values, as I just wrote about last week.


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