Knot Standard Believes That These 3 Questions Determine Cultural Fit

March 31, 2015

In The Walking Dead, zombie apocalypse survivor Rick Grimes has one rule for any stragglers looking to join his group: They have to successfully answer three questions: How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why? With these three short questions, Rick believes he can tell whether a fellow survivor is an acceptable candidate for his group, both in personality and in skill set.

And, while it’s not the zombie apocalypse (hopefully), this simple strategy can still apply to weeding out the best candidates to join your company. Because, if you don’t hire properly, a new employee can be a failure even before he or she begins.

Knot Standard’s 3 questions for every candidate

Matthew Mueller, CEO of Knot Standard, an online and showroom based custom menswear and suit retail company, learned quickly building his young company that how Knot Standard hired would make or break the company.

“If you don’t hire [employees] properly and they’re a bad cultural fit, they’re never going to succeed,” Mueller said. “It was a failure before you hired them, but you didn’t know because you didn’t ask the right questions.”

And no, he’s not talking about questions like “Tell me about a time you failed.” Like Rick Grimes, Knot Standard recruiters have three crucial questions they ask every potential candidate that walks through the door. But it’s not only what the candidate’s answers are that matters, it’s how they answer them.

“You don’t have to be a savant in human psychology, you just need to ask the right questions,” Mueller said.

Question 1: What do you do better than anyone else you know?

Once a candidate has passed through all the common-sense HR questions, Knot Standard recruiters look for what they refer to as “spikes”—what they’re not only good at, but what they’re the best at.

Answers that won’t cut it? “I’m just better at developing relationships.” Generic. Or, there’s Mueller’s personal favorite, “delegating,” which he said nearly half of people interviewed for internships say.

“The right candidate is going to come in and be particularly proud of something – like they use a part of their Swiss army knife in really stressful or demanding situations,” Mueller said. “They’re going to rely on a skill they have that they don’t think anyone else can do as well as them. And that’s the skill we want to know about.”

But, recruiters don’t stop there. They have already researched data to counter the candidate’s answer: the list of top skills on his or her LinkedIn Profile.

“Specifically, we tell recruiters what to look for in terms of skills someone has been recommended for on LinkedIn,” Mueller said. “And the reason we do that is because it’s not so much what this person says that they’re good at—which is going to change based on the job they apply for—but what all of the people they know have said they’re good at, which is much more impressive to us.”

Mueller calls this list “hundreds of automatic reference checks.” And to even consider a person for a job role, recruiters have to see at least two necessary skills listed in the candidate’s top five.

So what happens if the candidate, for example, answers “I’m best at sales,” but “sales” doesn’t break into the top five? Say, the top spot is taken by “Excel,” or “editing.” Well, Mueller said, that’s when some doubts arise. The candidate is confronted by LinkedIn’s list of his or her top five skills, and they have a chance to respond if the answers seem out of whack.

However, that top-notch Excel candidate who answered “sales” isn’t out of luck, if he can recover from being thrown off balance. That’s his opportunity to use his resume and experience to back up his answer and understand what Knot Standard is trying to get at by asking the question. But if he just says “Well that’s just not what I think”…

“Congratulations! You failed,” says Mueller.

Question 2: What are you worst at that you try not to do if you can avoid it?

As a small company, Knot Standard isn’t looking for Renaissance men. A better fit would be someone that is absolutely killer at doing one specific thing, and another who can’t be beat at something else. So this question isn’t a trick. And no, Knot Standard recruiters do not want to hear trite answers like “working too hard."

“We’re not trying to find the most well-rounded person,” Mueller said. Knot Standard wants to build roles and opportunities around employee’ spikes, while making sure they’re not given work they can’t succeed at. And if a candidate uses this question as a backward way of announcing another thing they’re good at, they haven’t answered it correctly.

Question 3: What would make you choose our company over another?

Knot Standard takes its culture seriously. The clothing company is built around the idea of “creating pride,” and it needs to hire employees who see value in working in an environment with that ideal.

“Specifically, what I’m looking for with that question is what makes you passionate about our company—not that you’re desperate for a job,” Mueller said. “You need to have seen some particular quality in our company that we’re proud of and you admire. That way, when you come in, we know that you’re at least in the right mindset, and you can say ‘OK, I’m in the right culture.’”

In the end, if Knot Standard recruiters have asked these questions appropriately, they can rest assured that they’ve hired well for their company.

“If 10 people pass your screening, you’re going to find three that have the right skillset, you’re going to find two that are rock stars, and the difference between those two, for your company, is who is going to fit in well in six months,” Mueller said. “And six months from now, one of those two is going to be a better cultural fit and be indispensable - you can’t live without them. One of those two is going to be a person you should have fired by now. And the only way to tell the difference is by asking those three questions.”

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*Image from Knot Standard

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