Elon Musk Likes to Hire People Who Have Never Been Laid Off

By: Chris Gorrie | Published: Feb 03, 2024

Elon Musk, despite relinquishing the CEO title to Linda Yaccarino at X, still holds a significant influence on the hiring process within the company. 

An insider, sharing insights anonymously with Fortune, provided details on the hiring dynamics at X, shedding light on Musk’s preferences and red flags when considering potential candidates.

Elon Musk Views Candidates With Layoff History Negatively

While Musk is no longer directly involved in interviewing candidates, he actively engages in reviewing applications and providing yes or no answers for potential hires. This involvement extends beyond X, as Musk is known to approve new hires at both Tesla and SpaceX. 

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The interviewee highlighted Musk’s unequivocal stance on candidates who have experienced previous layoffs. According to the insider, Musk views candidates who have been laid off negatively, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the layoff.

Don’t Waste Your Time Applying

The stance on candidates with a history of layoffs is straightforward: “If you’ve been laid off, you shouldn’t even waste your time applying,” the insider emphasized. 

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This position reflects Musk’s approach, where he appears to avoid individuals who have gone through mass layoffs. However, it is noteworthy that, despite Musk’s general aversion to hiring such candidates, the source revealed that Musk had rehired some of the workers he had laid off in the past.

Musk’s Mass Twitter Layoff

Musk’s history includes instances of workforce reductions, notably when he acquired the social media company Twitter and promptly cut its workforce in half. 

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Despite the quick and drastic nature of these decisions, Musk acknowledged that there might have been instances where individuals who were laid off perhaps should not have been. He acknowledged the unintended consequences, stating, “If you do it fast, unfortunately there’s going to be some babies thrown out.”

X Continues to Attract Applicants

In light of Musk’s preferences, X continues to attract a considerable number of applications for its internships, with a notable presence of Musk enthusiasts among the candidates. 

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The company has also resumed hiring, as evidenced by the numerous positions listed on its careers page. Moreover, X is expanding its operations by establishing a new “trust and safety” center in Austin, Texas.

A Stringent Hiring Practice May Lead to Success

It is essential to recognize the influence of key figures like Elon Musk in shaping organizational cultures and hiring practices. Musk’s emphasis on avoiding candidates with a history of layoffs underscores his commitment to a particular hiring philosophy. 

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While this approach may be viewed as stringent by some, it aligns with Musk’s overarching goals and principles in building and leading successful ventures like X, Tesla, and SpaceX. As X continues its hiring activities and expands its footprint, the dynamics of its workforce will likely reflect Musk’s discerning approach to talent acquisition.

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The Impact of Traditional Hiring Methods on the Workforce

Traditional hiring methods, such as relying solely on resumes and interviews, have long been the norm in the business world. 

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However, these methods often fail to capture the true potential and skills of candidates, resulting in missed opportunities for both employers and employees. Additionally, the emphasis on credentials and experience can lead to a lack of diversity and a perpetuation of the status quo.

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Musk’s Hiring Process Disrupts Traditional Methods

Elon Musk recognizes these limitations and has actively sought to disrupt the traditional hiring process. 

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By prioritizing potential and passion over credentials, Musk has been able to tap into a pool of talent that may have been overlooked by more conventional methods. This approach not only allows for a more diverse workforce but also fosters an environment where creativity and innovative thinking are valued.

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Understanding Elon Musk's Philosophy on Hiring

Musk’s philosophy on hiring can be summarized in one word: potential. Instead of focusing solely on past achievements and qualifications, Musk looks for individuals who have a strong desire to learn, a willingness to take risks, and a track record of overcoming challenges. He believes that by hiring based on potential rather than credentials, he can build a team that is capable of achieving extraordinary things.

Elon Musk shaking a man in a suit’s hand. There is a Tesla advertisement behind them.

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Musk also values passion and purpose in his hires. He looks for individuals who are not only skilled in their respective fields but also deeply passionate about the mission and vision of his companies. This alignment of values and purpose creates a sense of shared ownership and commitment among employees, leading to greater motivation and productivity.

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The Benefits of an Unorthodox Approach to Employment

Musk’s unorthodox approach to employment has numerous benefits for both the employees and the companies he leads.

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By prioritizing potential and passion, Musk has been able to build teams that are highly motivated, innovative, and capable of tackling complex problems. This approach allows for a diverse range of perspectives and ideas, leading to more creative solutions and better outcomes.

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Case Studies of Successful Hires through Musk's Methods: JB Straubel

One of the most notable examples of Musk’s successful hires is the story of JB Straubel, the former Chief Technical Officer of Tesla. 

JB Straubel, former Chief Technical Officer of Tesla, standing at a podium in a suit and speaking.

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Straubel was initially hired as a consultant for Tesla but quickly impressed Musk with his innovative thinking and technical expertise. Recognizing Straubel’s potential, Musk offered him a full-time position and entrusted him with the development of Tesla’s battery technology. Under Straubel’s leadership, Tesla has become a leader in electric vehicle technology and energy storage.

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Case Studies of Successful Hires through Musk's Methods: Gwynne Shotwell

Another example is the hiring of Gwynne Shotwell as the President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX. 

Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, speaking into a microphone at a meeting.

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Shotwell joined SpaceX in its early days and played a pivotal role in the company’s growth and success. Musk saw in Shotwell a combination of business acumen and engineering expertise, making her an ideal candidate to lead SpaceX’s operations. Today, SpaceX is at the forefront of the commercial space industry, thanks in large part to Shotwell’s leadership.

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