CNBC reported that at the World Government Summit in Dubai on Monday, the SpaceX and Tesla founder spoke about what he looks for when hiring employees. He said that the following was one of his favorite interview questions:
“Tell me the story of your life and the decisions that you made along the way and why you made them and also tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.” Musk also emphasized that he looks for someone who can explain “exactly how they solved it–they know the little details.”
Musk seems to take a similar approach favored by former Google human resources chief Laszlo Bock, who long ago ditched many of the company’s famous puzzle-like interview questions. So instead of asking things like “How many golf balls can fit inside a school bus,” he now favors what he calls “behavioral interviewing.”
Bock told the New York Times several years ago that behavioral interviewing is “where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, ‘Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.’ ” He added, “You get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”
But, if you are lucky enough to score an interview at SpaceX or Tesla, don’t think your behavior is all Musk is interested in. Most likely you’ll get asked a brain teaser, too. Ashlee Vance, the author of a 2015 biography on Musk, reported that back in the early days of SpaceX, Musk also had a go-to riddle that he liked to ask applicants:
You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?
It’s unclear if Musk still relies on this riddle, but here’s the correct answer, should you need it: The North Pole, or somewhere close to the South Pole.