How to answer Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson's favorite job interview question

Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation.
Lockheed Martin

Employers want to hire candidates who can deliver results.

While resumes are great for illustrating a person's qualifications, interviews are really the key to understanding how an applicant thinks and collaborates with others. That's according to Marillyn Hewson, CEO of defense company Lockheed Martin.

When interviewing candidates, Hewson has a go-to question: How did you spend the first 90 days of your previous job?

"The best employees are those who bring real energy and initiative to the job," she writes in a 2014 LinkedIn post. "I like to know whether you're the kind of person who can set priorities, take initiative and drive results right from the beginning."

Hewson expects applicants to provide concrete examples of their early successes and accomplishments in their prior role. "Learning about how you tackled the early days of your last job gives me a good indication of how you will hit the ground running if you were to join my team," she writes.

A candidate's response to this interview question can be very telling, says TopResume career advice expert Amanda Augustine.

"A hiring manager would be able to determine if this leader is likely to walk through the door on day one and immediately make changes," she tells CNBC Make It, "or if the person is more likely to take his or her time evaluating current processes before making fundamental changes to the team."

To successfully answer Hewson's question, consider the steps that you took in your most recent role to set yourself up for success, and if you didn't take any, says Augustine, be upfront about that. "Briefly discuss what worked and what didn't work based on your approach during your last job," she advises. "Explain what you've learned from the experience, and then pivot to outlining how you would use the first 90 days at this new job to lay the groundwork for success."

Make sure to incorporate the employer's current challenges and what you've learned about the position when speaking about your prospective first three months. Augustine recommends asking yourself the following:

  1. Is this position being filled to replace someone who wasn't meeting certain expectations?
  2. What are the pain points I'd be tasked with solving?
  3. Would I be expected to be a catalyst for change or to simply keep things running as they always have?

Try not to be vague. Even if you don't have specific details to discuss, says Augustine, you can still explain how you would approach the situation.

Ultimately, "the hiring manager wants to know how you'd approach the new role and the new challenges that would be set for you," she says. "Your goal in answering this tricky interview question is to demonstrate your understanding of the hiring manager's expectations and your strategy for tackling them."

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