Even if you have no interest in working for one of his companies, you should consider Elon Musk’s favorite interview question. If you can come up with a good response, you might be able to land your next job where ever you want to work.
Musk said at the World Government Summit in 2017 that he asked each candidate:
“Tell me about some of the toughest difficulties you’ve encountered and how you overcome them.”
Musk interviews a lot of engineers for Tesla and SpaceX, so the question is understandable: He wants to see how they tackled a difficult problem step by step. He noted at the time, “The folks that truly solved the problem, they know exactly how they solved it, they know the minor nuances.”
According to a recent column in Inc., Musk’s question is based on sound scientific reasoning: those who actually know what they’re talking about are more likely to go into detail (sometimes exhaustive detail), whereas those who have to rely on BS are more likely to gloss over the finer points (which they don’t know).
Whatever job you’re interviewing for, and wherever you’re interviewing, one thing should be clear: presenting as much information as possible will only benefit you, whether you’re dealing with a recruiter in the early stages or the hiring manager in the final round. Most importantly, you’ll want to use all of that information to demonstrate how you contributed value to past employers, overcame significant obstacles, and/or left a project in a better state than you found it.
Simultaneously, you must describe (in detail) how you would use all of your knowledge and expertise to assist your prospective company in achieving its objectives. That necessitates doing your homework about the organization, the position, and the talents they seek. Remember that one of the most common reasons engineers fail in interviews is a lack of understanding of the hiring manager’s needs and pain concerns.
Make sure to review a few relevant stories from your work past before going into the interview. If possible, have a friend or trusted colleague listen to you out; they’ll be able to detect if you’re skimping on important details. If you know the interview will include a whiteboard or keyboard test, practice coding tasks to get yourself in the correct frame of mind.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2021
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes.
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