Elon Musk’s Brilliant Hiring Strategy Uses the 2-Hands Test–Instead of Degrees

Elon Musk famously discredits traditional education as means to fielding and finding top talent, saying that “college is basically for fun and not for learning.” And while businesses across the nation rely on academic degrees as a tool for finding talent, Musk holds to his conviction that skills matter more than degrees. In doing so, his companies, Tesla and SpaceX, attract and retain some of the brightest minds of our time from across the globe-no degree required. But the hiring process does require two things, which comes down to one thing: the two-hands test.

What the two-hands test does is field candidates without traditional gatekeepers like degrees. Instead, it qualifies candidates through first-hand experience and hands-on expertise testing. It’s a brilliantly simple process that, like any well-engineered process or product, was designed for simplicity and effectiveness–and any business can use it to find top talent.  

1. First-hand experience 

Though there’s much debate surrounding experience versus education, for Musk, it’s not simply that experience matters more than education. Rather, experience is a form of education. And in many ways, it’s the best education. In fact, a report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities inadvertently proves Musk’s theory. 

The AACU study found that three-quarters of hiring managers believe that a college education is essential. However, the reason wasn’t based on a specific curriculum, but the soft skills acquired that college is said to confer. The same soft skills (i.e., creativity, emotional intelligence, or resilience) are notoriously difficult to assess in an interview, and whose development is not isolated to college coursework or student life but real-life experiences. 

In other words, education is not limited to what is taught within the walls of a classroom, but what is learned through first-hand experiences. And because of this, first-hand experience is sought as means of discovering talent with deep knowledge. For example, when reviewing applications, consider which candidates have the first-hand experience necessary to hit the ground running, or at least require the least amount of training to be successful within the role. 

2. Hands-on testing

Elon Musk has a history of applying engineering processes and strategies to other facets of his business–and life. So much so, it’s the reason why the billionaire lives in a $50,000 tiny house. And just as extensive product testing is a function of product development, so is candidate testing. 

Sure, a job interview is a test, but rather than actually examining a candidate’s capabilities, many companies simply work to evaluate a candidate’s knowledge. However, this is a fatal flaw, as there is a major difference between memorizing and parroting information and actually understanding how something works. To overcome this challenge, put candidates to the test with highly relevant hands-on testing.  

To test candidates effectively, give tests (e.g., a task or assignment) that most closely matches what the role itself may encounter. To yield an accurate measurement of one’s ability to effectively perform the position’s tasks, be sure that the test’s scope is limited to the resources necessary to perform said test or task. 

The hiring process is undoubtedly exhausting. And so the more quickly you can sift through and narrow down applicants, the sooner you can interview, deploy hands-on testing, and discover the needle in the haystack–the way Tesla and SpaceX discover the world’s top talent. Because future-proofing your business doesn’t just mean finding oddly effective ways to retain staff (especially as the Great Resignation surges on). But also having an effective hiring strategy to attract and discover new employees efficiently so that your business can get back to business. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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