Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg Reveal Their Secrets to Hiring Top Talent

The largest social media website and the largest producer of electric vehicles, Facebook and Tesla, respectively, have some pretty high standards to maintain. They also have to maintain the same standards when looking for new talent for their companies. Both, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk handle the recruitment and interviewing process themselves after having the candidates pass through the various interviews and tests.

Although, the process can be time-consuming and tiring, both the leaders say that it is an integral part of the process for potential hires to meet them. This is an uninterrupted interaction directly between the people applying and the chief executives.

Following are thumb rules of hiring that both have been following religiously when recruiting for their companies.

1) Interview everyone yourself

Elon Musk’s space exploration venture, SpaceX, now employing almost 7,000 people, makes the personal screening of every candidate nearly impossible, but Musk interviews all applicants himself until recently. Usually, the best candidates get an evaluation call from the team leader, and then the best of the best must pass through Musk himself. Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg also shares similar principles when adding to his teams.

2) Never Hire Someone To Work For You Unless You Would Work For Them

In a widely quoted, famous line shared by Zuckerberg during his appearance with LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, he said, “I’ve adopted this hiring rule, which is that you should never hire someone to work for you unless you would work for them in an alternate universe,”. He added, “Which doesn’t mean that you should give them your job, but if the tables were turned and you were looking for a job, would you be comfortable with working for this person? And I basically think that if the answer to that question is no, then you’re doing something expedient but you’re not doing something as well as you can on that. If you’re building a big organization, it works many layers down,” he said.

“If each person is only hiring people to work directly for them, that they would want to work for – then you’re probably going to get a pretty strong organization.” Of his own high-ranking employees, like chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg or chief product officer Chris Cox, Zuckerberg says, “in an alternate universe, I would be honoured to work for any of these people.” 

3) Ask Them About A Problem They Solved

Musk has asked candidates specific questions about problems they solved in previous roles to determine whether they were actually the one who found the solution or merely was a team member that did so. Musk said, “If someone was really the person who solved it, they’ll be able to answer on multiple levels. They’ll be able to get down to the brass tacks. And, if they weren’t, they’ll get stuck. And then you can say, ‘Oh, this person was not really the person who solved it.’ Because anyone who struggled hard with a problem never forgets it.”

4) Look For Raw Intelligence Over Experience

What the 34-year-old billionaire believes is that “You can hire someone who’s a software engineer who’s been doing it for 10 years…that’s cool…but if you find someone whose raw intelligence exceeds theirs but has 10 years less experience…they could probably adapt and learn way quicker and in a short amount of time do a lot of things (the more experienced person could never do).” source: The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball (Noam Cohen).

5) Don’t Go Gaga on Degrees

According to Musk, a college degree is not all that he’s looking for. He believes that some of the greatest innovators have accomplished great things without graduating. He further pointed out that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Google co-founder Larry Page all lack college degrees. “If you had a chance to hire them, of course, that’d be a good idea.” That being said, Musk reiterates that a good college degree is not a faux pas, but the interview is subjectively tweaked to test the applicant more rigorously than the candidates without league college degrees.

6) Don’t Settle For Anything Less Than The Best Candidate

This goes for all positions, from top officers to bottom levels. Former SpaceX talent director Dolly Singh said that Musk once told her to find the single best person on the planet for any given job, no matter the role. When SpaceX installed a yoghurt stand in its headquarters, Musk told her to “Go to Pinkberry and find me the employee of the month.”

Although some might term these measures as a little too far-fetched or unnecessary in corporate environments, these steps have had a monumental contribution to turning Facebook and Tesla into the corporate giants we know them to be today.