HR & Management

The methods employed by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to hire best talent during the interview process

7 min read

22 April 2015

That a London PA conned her employer out of £17,000 after failing to disclose a previous workplace fraud, has raised the question of whether employers are far too trusting during the recruitment process. But four CEOs have claimed their interview methods has led to "hiring success".

Insight Investments hired Gabrielle Saunders in June 2014 and a day later she charged a £5,272 bill to a colleague’s credit card for a honeymoon with Trailfinders.

Prior to Insight Investments, Saunders was sent to jail for a £34,000 fraud on her previous employer PriceWaterhouseCoopers. She forged a colleague’s signature on fake expenses claims so she could pay off her debt.

The judge overlooking her trial on 21 April, however, decided not to send her to prison after hearing she had paid the money back.

Michael Whittington, head of employee screening at The Risk Advisory Group, suggested that an employee failing to reveal information about their past is not an excuse for businesses hiring a rogue candidate.

“It’s no surprise that job candidates will aim to hide details they’d prefer a potential employer not to know about – whether that’s a minor detail or in this case something very significant,” he said. “But it’s a two-way process. Employers need to be aware of these vulnerabilities when putting people into positions of trust and conduct thorough background checks to ensure they are hiring the right person.

“Don’t take any information at face value; delve into the detail and then verify it. And then verify it again. This story is proof that failing to validate a candidate’s credentials can have both a financial and reputational impact on your business.”

Read more about CVs:

But there are four CEOs that are convinced they’ve found a sure-fire way of hiring the right candidates.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, claimed to interview everyone at SpaceX personally.

“What do I look for? It depends on the task,” Musk said. “I’m not necessarily looking for someone who has brilliant analytical ability if their job is going to be assembling hardware. Because I interviewed each candidate, I became good at recognising the most talented individuals.”

It also made him stumble across a viable method for picking out liars.

If you struggle with a problem, then you can solve it,” he said in a live interview.

That’s how he knows if someone is telling the truth on a job interview. Musk asserted that an individual that has handled a problematic situation would be able to explain in detail how they resolved it. Those who stammer and skirt around the topic are likely lying about their involvement and are not worthy candidates for the job. If they answer on multiple levels, talking about the challenges and the steps, then he knows that the person was directly responsible for actually solving the challenge.

Marla Beck, CEO of luxury beauty retailer Bluemercury, is known as the “queen of the seven-minute interview“.

She said: “I interview for only seven to ten minutes, and I have a framework – it’s skill, will, and fit.” 

Beck explained that she could ascertain skill in two minutes, based on the question: “What’s the biggest impact you had at your past organisation?”

If someone takes ownership of a project that they did, you can immediately tell depending on not only the way they tell you, but the amount of confidence in which they say it in as well. According to Beck, you can easily hear whether it was “just something that was going on at the organisation”.

Read more about the hiring process:

In order to determine a candidate’s will she tries to find out what their future aspirations are. However, she admitted that the “fit”, whereby she delves into the candidate’s CV, was equally as important.

In a monthly town hall meeting, Facebook founder Mar Zuckerberg once said: “I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person. It’s a pretty good test.”

The test has seen Zuckerberg hire some of the most famous technology executives in the world, such as Sheryl Sandberg. It also the reason why Zuckerberg’s staff is relatively small.

“The most important thing is to keep your team as small as possible,” he said. This way you know exactly who’s working for you.

When it comes to Amazon, Jeff Bezos believed that every new employee should increase the average level of productivity on whichever team they join. This ensures that the company’s standards get higher as time goes on. It also the reason why Amazon has a notoriously difficult hiring process.

Bezos once said: “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

The philosophy behind the process is for the company to use employees called “bar raisers” to weed out people who aren’t a perfect fit for company.

As mentioned by Bezos in a 1998 letter to shareholders, working to create a little bit of history isn’t supposed to be easy. 

However, CEOs need to start implementing their own strategies to make sure they don’t get duped by employees.