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Elon Musk reveals the interview question he asks every candidate to instantly spot a liar

Recruiters can ask this simple question from the job seekers and observe their response.

Elon Musk reveals the interview question he asks every candidate to instantly spot a liar
Cover Image Source: Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, speaks during an interview in New York, on Friday, October 28, 2011. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images)

In fiction and art, lies can entertain and reveal deeper truths. However, in real life, lies can be incredibly destructive, leading to the collapse of companies. Traditional lie detection methods include polygraph tests and fMRI brain-mapping, but Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk uses a unique approach during the hiring process. At the 2017 World Government Summit in Dubai, Musk shared his simple yet effective method for detecting lies when recruiting candidates. His technique quickly gained popularity on social media.

Image Source: Chief Technology Officer of X Elon Musk speaks onstage during the
Image Source: Chief Technology Officer of X Elon Musk speaks onstage during the "Exploring the New Frontiers of Innovation: Mark Read in Conversation with Elon Musk" session during the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity 2024. (Photo by Richard Bord/WireImage)

Elon Musk, one of the world's leading business figures, has founded SpaceX and is currently the CEO of Tesla. He also owns X (formerly Twitter). Surprisingly, he has a knack for lie detection too. At the summit, Musk was asked how he would recruit candidates for a manned mission to Mars. He replied that he relies on his gut feeling but also asks specific questions to make his final decision. “My interview questions are always the same,” he explained, adding: “I say tell me the story of your life and the decisions you made along the way and why you made them.”

After the introduction segment, he asks the candidates a crucial question, “Tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.” Unfolding the reason why he asks this question, the entrepreneur said, “The people who really solved the problem know exactly how they solved it. They know and can describe the little details.”



 

At the same time, lying candidates would not go into detail or they would be using someone else’s story, “The people that pretended to solve the problem can maybe go one level and then they get stuck!” Therefore, this is a good question to spot the liars, he proclaimed. Various studies confirm the effectiveness of Musk’s job interviewing technique.

Research published in Nature Journal indicates that when a person is innocent, their innocence will reflect in their verbal cues. The reason to back up this claim was, that deception is cognitively more demanding than truth-telling, given the additional cognitive processes engaged during lying. Lying is more effort-taking than truth-telling. So when interviewing, the recruiters should see if a candidate is “narrating the events exactly as they occurred,” or if there are signs of manipulations.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mart Production
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mart Production

Since lying requires more cognitive effort than telling the truth, liars have to constantly monitor themselves and ensure that their story doesn’t contradict itself. So, researchers say, if the recruiter increases the cognitive load on a person, they can get to a point where the liar can’t handle the extra stress, but the truth-teller can. One way of doing this is by asking candidates to narrate their stories, for example, a recent sales deal they closed, something similar to what Musk described.

Image Source: Elon Musk attends the 10th Annual Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on April 13, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JC Olivera/WireImage)
Image Source: Elon Musk attends the 10th Annual Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on April 13, 2024, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JC Olivera/WireImage)

Another scientific property behind Musk’s question is that it makes candidates spill out detailed statements about their work experience. And according to the Asymmetric Information Management lie-detection technique, described in Nature Journal, the more detailed statements are, the more easily they can be classified as genuine or fabricated.

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