‘I’m Still in Denial’: Tesla Layoffs Leave Interns High and Dry

Peter Cziborra/Reuters

Peter Cziborra/Reuters

One New York college student was ready to spend the summer in Palo Alto with Tesla’s engineering HR team. Another from Michigan spent thousands on housing for an internship in Austin, Texas, to work with the electric automaker’s firmware recruiting group. A third in North Carolina was elated to join Tesla’s Buffalo, New York, hub as a visual design intern.

But all their internship offers were suddenly yanked this week.

“After a single phone call of less than two minutes,” one student wrote on LinkedIn, “my entire plan for this summer had vanished as if it had never even existed.”

In a flurry of LinkedIn posts, more than a dozen students announced their summer internship offers with Elon Musk’s company had been rescinded just weeks before their start dates, leaving them scrambling for other last-minute opportunities.

“I’m in a little bit of distress,” Fatima Sanchez, a student at the University of Texas at Austin who just lost her recruiting internship, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t really know what to do.”

The interns are just the latest casualties of Musk’s “absolutely hard core” job cuts, weeks after the billionaire announced plans to lay off 10 percent of Tesla’s workforce, or 14,000 people. But Bloomberg, which first reported on interns’ troubles, pointed out: “Revoking intern offers is unlikely to save Tesla much money.”

Tesla’s massive layoffs also come as the company grapples with declining sales and increasing competition—and as Musk fights for a $56-billion compensation package which was voided by a judge as part of a shareholder lawsuit.

It’s unclear how many interns saw their jobs vanish. The company did not return messages seeking comment on how many people were affected by the cuts. In a 2022 impact report, Tesla said it hires over 3,000 university and community college students each year.

Sanchez, a junior who received her internship offer in February, said interns in her department made between $24 to $32 an hour. She was excited to work for Tesla, which had a reputation in providing secure and coveted jobs to UT grads and interns.

The job also checked off her public relations program’s internship requirement and would help pay for her summer classes and her rent.

Now, Sanchez says, her graduation date and summer housing are in limbo, as she searches for eleventh-hour internships with her contacts and friends.

“It came out of left field,” she said. “When the [Tesla] layoffs first got announced, I reached out to my manager and recruiter and asked, ‘Is my job secure? Is there anything I should worry about?’ They assured me the layoffs were not going to touch internships.”

 Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gestures as he attends a political festival in Rome.  Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gestures as he attends a political festival in Rome.


Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gestures as he attends a political festival in Rome.

Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

“Quite honestly I just didn’t expect that Tesla would be doing so badly where they would need to cut all their interns.”

Sanchez said people might not consider the work students put in to get these internships.

“I think it’s really important to keep in mind that we are also struggling finding places to live … and paying tuition as well. And this just puts us in a situation where we don’t know when we will be able to graduate university, or if we will be able to continue with university, because some people don’t have that financial stability,” she added.

The canceled internships also impacted international students, who aren’t always able to find companies willing to sponsor them.

Vansh Gupta, who is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering management at Cornell University, began his own LinkedIn post on Thursday: “‘Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.’ This quote has never felt more relevant.”

“Nine months ago, as an international student excited about my future, I started my journey to secure a summer internship in the United States,” Gupta wrote. “The search was daunting: over 500 applications, 7 interviews, and a handful of promising offer letters. After careful consideration, I decided on Tesla, driven by my passion for technology, sustainability, and rapid innovation.”

“I declined all other offers, secured an apartment, and was on the verge of booking my flight, my bags nearly packed, ready to embark on what I believed would be one of the most formative experiences of my academic and professional journey.”

“The sudden cancellation of this opportunity has left me perplexed and uncertain about my immediate future,” he wrote, “especially as most summer internships have already commenced.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Gupta said he got Tesla’s offer for a business development internship in California and consulted with friends and family before declining opportunities from other companies.

Like Sanchez, Gupta contacted his manager and recruiter after reading about Tesla’s layoffs last month to make sure his gig was still on for his May 20 start date. They assured him there was “nothing to worry about, and everything is fine.”

Tesla’s mission, Gupta added, was important to him. “I thought that it’s not just a random company selling some random products,” he said. “It was a company that’s actually working towards a sustainable future for everyone.”

But Thursday night, a day after Tesla sent him an email to book his flight to the West Coast, he got the call that his internship offer was rescinded.

“I’m still in denial,” Gupta said. “‘Maybe it’s not true’ kind of thing.”

He hopes his LinkedIn network can help him land another role, writing on the professional social network, “Your advice, introductions, or even sharing my story could significantly impact my path forward.”

Nya Harris, a business management major at Howard University, told The Daily Beast that she was approved for a remote internship with Tesla’s recruiting pipeline program and waiting on an official start date. She planned to use her summer job (about $23 an hour) to pay for her student housing next semester.

The bad news arrived as she was studying for finals, with a call from an employee who wasn’t her initial Tesla recruiter or anyone on the team she was slated to join.

“She’s just like, ‘I know you’ve been seeing the things that are happening at Tesla,’” Harris recalled. “I’d been head-in-the-books for about a week because of finals. I hadn’t really seen any updates or anything about Tesla. I didn’t know anything about layoffs.”

The employee went silent for a moment before sharing that Harris’ entire recruiting team—which worked with universities to source for diverse company roles—was discontinued; everyone was laid off.

Harris said this explained why she hadn’t heard from her team in two weeks and didn’t have an update on when her job would start.

Harris immediately phoned Citibank, whose internship offer she had declined, to see if any opportunities were available. She’s waiting to hear back about a possible role in Tampa, and other recruiters have responded to her LinkedIn post.

She said she was excited to work for Tesla, especially after the employees who’d interviewed her for the role discussed loving its company culture that seemed the opposite of traditional corporate structures.

During their discussions, they indicated Tesla’s recruitment program required marketing to potential employees and fighting against some students’ negative or preconceived notions about the company or Musk.

Some team members, she recalled, described Musk’s public persona in a way that foreshadowed what would come: “We just never know what Elon is gonna do or say.”

“It teaches me a lesson that these companies—not that they don’t care about you—but they have an agenda first. You have to be self-sufficient,” she said.

“I’m grateful that it happened as an intern and not a full-time employee.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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