Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared the pivotal question he consistently asks job applicants to assess their trustworthiness, exposing a potential lie detector technique that goes beyond the traditional interview process.

In an interview with Auto Bild in 2017, Musk deviated from conventional discussions about candidates’ educational qualifications, emphasising a singular question that delves into their problem-solving abilities.

When asked about the skills he looks for in candidates, Musk responded, “I really just ask: ‘What are some of the tougher problems [you’ve] dealt with and how [did you] dealt with those?'” He further elaborated on the importance of understanding how candidates made decisions during critical junctures in their careers.

Musk believes that this one question is crucial in gauging an individual’s trustworthiness, stating that it gives him “a very good gut feeling about someone” and can even unveil potential dishonesty.

According to Musk, the question serves as a litmus test for exceptional ability, indicating whether candidates have faced and overcome substantial challenges.

He emphasised the importance of ensuring that any significant accomplishment claimed by an applicant was genuinely their own, as opposed to someone else’s effort.

Responsibility vs. credit

The billionaire entrepreneur elucidated on his method, stating that those who have genuinely struggled with a problem are more likely to possess a deep understanding of it, allowing them to answer detailed questions about the experience. Musk’s approach revolves around distinguishing between those who were truly responsible for an achievement and those who merely took credit for it.

Addressing skepticism about the effectiveness of his technique, Musk contends that it offers valuable insights into a candidate’s problem-solving skills, transcending the façade that some may construct in interviews.

Problem-solving questions

Indeed, a popular employment website, has also acknowledged the significance of Musk’s question. It falls in line with their list of ‘eight common problem-solving questions’ that individuals may encounter during job interviews. One such question suggested by Indeed aligns with Musk’s philosophy: “Describe a time when you faced an unexpected challenge in your job?” The website advises applicants to truthfully recount challenges they’ve encountered, using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to articulate their experiences and the lessons learned.

Elon Musk’s unconventional interview approach sheds light on the importance of authenticity and problem-solving abilities in the hiring process, challenging applicants to provide tangible evidence of their skills and accomplishments. As job seekers prepare for interviews, Musk’s question may become a benchmark for honesty and competence in the competitive world of employment.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.