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Tesla Recruiter Shares Six Strategies To Land A Job At The Company

Nearly half a million people applied to work at Tesla last year, so we asked company experts for tips on standing out.

Tesla Recruiter Shares Six Strategies To Land A Job At The Company
[Photo: courtesy of Tesla]

When job openings range from developing technology for electric vehicles to creating roof shingles made for solar power, from selling energy-storing batteries to building rockets to reach Mars, the world-changing potential of the work is obvious. So it’s no wonder people clamor to work at Tesla, a global organization that boasts a staff of around 30,000.

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The company’s culture, once described by Tesla’s  CFO, Deepak Ahuja, as a “non-stop adrenaline rush,” has come under scrutiny in the past year for layoffs and allegations of harassment and discrimination

But this hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the job-seeking public. Tesla took the No. 6 spot on LinkedIn’s recent ranking of the hottest companies to work for based on job application numbers, the number of professionals who viewed a company’s career page, and the amount of time people remained employed at each company. And aspiring careerists among Gen Z also put the company in the top 25 places they hoped to work someday, according to a poll by the National Society of High School Scholars.

As a result of this, Tesla received just shy of 500,000 resumes and applications for open jobs in 2017. That’s twice what it was in 2016, For perspective, there were only about 2,500 open positions at Tesla back in May and a little over 1,600 now. And not all require coding skills. Job titles range from engineer to electrician, roofer to real estate reassignment agent, technical writer to customer experience rep.

It’s not simple to snag a spot on Tesla’s staff, but there is one thing all hires have in common. “We attract people who believe in what we are doing,” says Gaby Toledano, Tesla’s chief people officer, because “we are mission driven,” she explains, “and we’re making history.”

Just Apply

The sheer number of applicants shouldn’t daunt a hopeful. As Cindy Nicola, Tesla’s vice president of global recruiting, advises, “Everyone should just apply.” The reason is twofold, she explains. One is that the company values diversity, says Nicola. “Not just visible diversity,” she maintains, “but cognitive diversity.”

Nicola says it’s important to have a variety of different kinds of thinkers, because the company is doing things that have never been done before, and a lot is done in-house, so there are plenty of niche jobs. And that’s why it’s okay to come from a nontraditional background. “Some [people] have never done the job before we hired them,” she says, but they have demonstrated that they have a track record of success in whatever they were doing before they came to Tesla. “We are looking for excellence,” she maintains, and people who can come in and make an impact right away.

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Related: This Former Tesla Recruiter’s Most Revealing Interview Question


No Formula

Tesla’s founder and CEO Elon Musk is famous for his “first principles” thinking that means instead of figuring things out based on what’s happened before, “you boil things down to the most fundamental truths . . . and then reason up from there.” This is the thinking behind every product, policy, and procedure at Tesla. In other words, says Nicola, “we don’t have a formula.” That goes for recruiting, and the entire candidate vetting process driven by the individual and the open position. She says the resume screening process isn’t automated; each one is reviewed by a human.

Be Comfortable On The Spot

Candidates should expect to do online assessments that “allow us to get information about people in creative ways.” Job seekers vying for a factory role may be asked to assemble something in front of a recruiter to show that they can follow directions. Engineering and other tech-based jobs will require some demonstration of skills at a whiteboard. Nicola says coding exercises like this could happen in a group.

“We are looking for how they think,” she underscores. “There is no right answer if it’s never been done before.” She adds, “They have to be comfortable with ambiguity, and if they don’t have an answer, not to get flustered.” Nicola says they prep candidates before taking other steps in the process. “We try to set a tone that’s friendly and warm,” she says, and to make candidates understand they’ll not be judged badly if they’re nervous.

Demonstrate Potential

If you’re a self-taught coder or someone who didn’t attend a top-tier university, fear not. “We are going to look at potential,” says Nicola. How best to demonstrate this? For the candidate who came from a family that didn’t have a lot of money, it can be as simple as pointing out how they held down two jobs to help support themselves and their family. “We are looking for people with grit,” she says.

Show Off The Soft Skills

Toledano says that Tesla measures excellent candidates for three traits: being innovative, driven, and team players. She echoes Nicola by describing an employee who can be comfortable with ambiguity and has an ability to solve tough problems. Additionally, she says, Tesla is looking for people who are willing to experiment, test, and learn. “Failure is okay,” she says, but fail fast and be flexible and adaptable. “We talk to candidates who have never built a car when we put them in a job to help us design and build a car,” Toledano explains. “They’re builders, they’re curious, and problem solvers.”

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For younger candidates, it may seem like there’s no way to show off soft skills when you’ve only got a short work history. Nicola says, “This is where the extracurricular section of your resume can really pay off.” Sharing what you love to do outside of work provides a small glimpse of who you are as a person, including interning or working full-time while going to school, or that you’ve been recognized for leadership or volunteerism. “We have candidates who participate in Formula SAE, solar club or coding competitions, serve on boards, have written white papers, or are involved in sports or other things that show that the person is well-rounded, passionate, and a team player,” she explains.

Do Your Homework

Nicola says that a standout candidate will have done their homework ahead of the interview. “Not just on Tesla or Elon [Musk], which is some of the sexy stuff,” she says, “but on the problems we are trying to solve.” For instance, she says someone gunning for a sales position at any level should make sure they’ve gone into a Tesla store and can discuss their impression of the customer’s journey and how they might improve it.

She also points out that it is critical that a candidate also demonstrates that they are taking the interview process as an opportunity to assess whether working at Tesla is a good fit for them, too. “The marriage has to work the first time,” she quips. “If they are not in love with the mission, in the end, it can be problematic.” Ditto for being driven, which can be interpreted as someone who thrives in a culture where work takes top priority. Essentially, she says, “We want people to have a good answer [when we ask] ‘Why Tesla?'”

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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