Interviewing: The Three “Gotta-Haves”

By Pepper de Callier

Having interviewed senior-level executives and having trained people to interview senior-level executives for more than twenty five years I would make these observations: a) A good interviewer’s style is “organic”, it’s flexible and has the ability to adapt to individual personalities and situations, and b) The best interviewers always have structure as their foundation.  This is where the three “gotta-haves” come in (more on those in a minute).

We all have different ways of structuring things; however, if you use the following concept to formulate questions and to create your own interviewing structure, you will greatly enhance the value of your contribution to the interviewing process. 

Let’s begin with a basic question: What are the person’s capabilities in relation to the needs of the job?

This question is deceptively simple.  I have seen people who were “professional” interviewees dance right around this one, confusing the interviewer and worming their way on to the next level of interviews only to waste someone else’s time.  The way I answer this question is by employing my own version of a concept known as competency-based interviewing.  This concept is really a thought process which is extremely effective at creating an objective data set from which to make an informed, arms-length decision.

Here’s how it works:  Start by establishing what I call the “Three Gotta-Haves”.  These are the three most important requirements for someone to have in order to succeed in this position.  For example: Let’s say you are looking for a Vice President of Sales.  Your “Three Gotta-Haves”  might be: 1) Must have international sales management experience with an emphasis on professional services and Asia  2) Must have built a successful sales team in a rapid growth environment  3)  Must have the ability to read the needs of the marketplace, structure, negotiate and close novel, cost-effective and  profitable solutions. 

Now that we have established our “Gotta-Haves” we need to come up with questions that will lead us to the discovery of how the candidate measures up vis-à-vis our needs.  This takes preparation and the key here is to ask a question, then ask a follow-up question that drills down further and further qualifies the answer given by the interviewee.  Here are some examples of what I mean, which are tied to the “Gotta-Haves” listed above.

1)      I see on your resume that you have international sales management experience.  How would you break out your experience by geographic region?  How much of your time was spent in Asia?  In which part of Asia, specifically?  What exactly were you responsible for selling?  How many people reported to you in each region and how did you break out responsibilities?  To whom did you report in your last two jobs?  Quantitatively, what was your impact on the Asian region?

2)      One of the things we’re looking for in our new VP-Sales is a team-builder.  Where will we find the best example of building a high-performance team in your background?  (What you’re looking for here is: How did they build the team?  How many people?  How did they structure it?  How much of the team was inherited?  How often did they meet with their team?  How did they set goals for the team?  How did they monitor progress against those goals?)  Could you give me an example of how you motivated your people—how did you get them to stretch?  What was the impact on sales and over what period of time? Describe a situation in which you administered corrective action and one in which you terminated someone.

3)      We’re looking for a Vice-President of Sales who has the capability of reading the marketplace and structuring solutions to meet those needs.  What’s a good example of how you’ve done this?  Where, when?  How was the sale finally made?  What was your role in making the sale?   How profitable was the sale?  How do those profit numbers compare to the rest of the company’s sales?  How do they compare to industry numbers? 

What you’re discovering is not only how recent the experience was and how relevant it is to your needs, but you’re also getting a feel for the true scale and scope of things as well as a window on the person’s style.  In addition, follow-up questions like “How did you do it? and “What were the most significant challenges you faced?” bring out a level of veracity or how credible the candidate sounds.  How much detail can they give you when pressed?  Do you see a pattern here—is it good?  Okay, you’ve qualified the candidate and you’re pleased with his or her qualifications up to this point.

The next step—and it is a critical one—is conducting a thorough, professional in-depth reference check, which I’ll cover in my next column. 

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

*These are reprints from Pepper de Callier‘s newspaper column in Hospodarske noviny.
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