A passion for sales and marketing can lead to a lucrative career in several different roles, and if you’ve managed to work your way up to the level of an account executive, you’ll soon be able to enjoy just that! If you’re studying up for your next account executive interview, you can prepare by researching the types of questions your interviewer will likely ask. With our guide to account executive interview questions, you can begin practicing for your next interview – and learn about what your interviewer is really hoping you’ll say.
Account executives are mid-to-senior level employees who oversee the needs of, usually, one large corporate client. That means that account executives aren’t found in only one field; people employed in marketing, public relations, and finance could all be account executives. (Account executives are most commonly found in these fields, but the role isn’t limited to them! Essentially, if you work for a company that has relationships with large corporations or other clients, it’s feasible that an account executive could be necessary.
As an account executive, you’ll be the primary contact between your company and the client. That means you’ll need to anticipate their needs and concerns, and address them quickly and efficiently. The best account executives can seem to be almost psychic, understanding their clients so well that they know what the client needs before they do.
Account executives can deal with a lot of ups and downs; it can be stressful to manage clients that could be worth millions of dollars to your company! In interviews, people (rightfully) tend to be very enthusiastic about every single part of the job they’re applying for. By asking this question, your interviewer is trying to gauge how you react when things don’t come so easily. Do you deal with challenges by turning inward and refusing help, without telling anyone what’s going on? That might not be the best attitude to have when you’re dealing with major clients as part of a large company.
Example answer: “A little while ago, we found ourselves extremely short-staffed, like a lot of companies recently. I went from handling five major accounts to fifteen in a very short period of time, and I was struggling to get to know each of them on the individual level that I need to in order to help them properly. Thankfully, I was able to schedule some last-minute, more casual calls over a period of about a week. I recorded the meetings and made careful notes, and I was able to better understand their individual needs and then portion off my work accordingly. It was a lot of work to deal with, but it felt great to hear that, once we brought more people onboard, a few of those clients specifically asked to stay with me.”
It’s an age-old rule: if you’re working with people, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually run into difficult people. Your clients likely have money and resources on the line, and it’s your job to manage them. It’s never right for a client to take their stress out on you, but it’s also not okay for you to retaliate; your interviewer is asking this question to make sure that you know that.
Example answer: “Each one of my clients has their own difficulties, and their own strengths. I think that, if someone is making things a little more difficult, it’s a good idea to try and understand how they’re being difficult and why. In some cases, it’s that they’re worried that I’m not being responsive enough, and if that’s the case then I try to increase my communication with them wherever possible. Other times, they’re worried about a specific situation, and then I can do my best to speak with them and work on that concern. I know that sometimes, personalities can clash, and a client can be ‘difficult’ for someone without an underlying cause; if I ever run into that, I do my best to keep my head down and resolve any issues as they come up. I’m not really the type of person to take things personally, so difficult clients don’t tend to faze me.”
Not all account executives are heavily involved in sales – some manage portfolios for financial clients, for example – but nonetheless, sales experience can be extremely valuable as an account executive. Whether you’re directly selling your company’s services to clients or simply relying on that classic sales charm to maintain relationships with your clients, interviewers want to gain a better understanding of your sales experience and how you work. This type of question is partially about gauging what you’d be like to work with, so it’s definitely an important one to prepare for!
Example answer: My first job ever was in retail, and I feel like I gained a ton of valuable experience in dealing with people and understanding what they need. Since then, I’ve worked in sales to varying degrees throughout my career. At my current job, I’m responsible for attracting and nurturing new clients, and I’m proud to say that last quarter I had the highest closing rate of anyone in my department.”
At first glance, this one might seem a little invasive; what should it matter what you eat for breakfast if you can do your job well? But this question is actually asking you what kind of person you are. How organized are you? Do you understand how to manage your time effectively? If you’re given this job, will you know how to hit the ground running? Skip the fluff about your exercise routine and speak about what really matters.
Example answer: “It’s important to me that I stay organized, so I try to stick to the same routine each day. At the beginning of the day, I check in on all of my tasks and prioritize them. First, I go through and finish up any quick wins that I can get done right away: I find that this helps motivate me and puts the day in perspective. After that, I work on high-priority tasks, which usually includes checking in with clients and answering any immediate questions. Later on in the day, I try to prepare for the day and week ahead by organizing calls, determining priorities, and working on any long-term projects I may have going on. I understand that this schedule can change at a moment’s notice, but I think having the framework in place actually allows me to be more flexible, because I know exactly what needs to be done at all times.”
This question actually has three elements to it. First, your interviewer wants to know whether you can identify and own up to your mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, and even in an interview, you should be able to acknowledge that you aren’t, either. The mistake that you choose to share is also important. How honest are you going to be with your interviewer? It takes real guts to own up to a really massive mistake, but if you don’t have a killer fix to pair it with you’ll just come off looking like a risk. Finally, speaking about how you fix your mistakes gives your interviewer a glimpse of how you’ll respond to challenges in your next job.
Example answer: “I was so embarrassed when, a few months ago, I accidentally mixed up two clients with similar names, and ended up sending private information regarding their account to the wrong person! Luckily, I realized what I’d done quickly, and immediately apologized to both clients. Thankfully, since I acted quickly I was able to ensure the wrong client didn’t read any confidential information, and the affected client appreciated my honesty – especially since, in the end, everything was okay! I’m just glad I was staying on top of things enough to notice the mistake so quickly.”
You may wonder what the point of this question is – after all, the past is the past, right? Well, that’s true, but your interviewer is interested in seeing how well you know yourself. Can you identify your weaknesses? Are you self-aware enough to understand where you might have gone wrong, or how you could improve yourself? This question also helps the interviewer understand how you measure success, which is a big part of life as an account executive. Are you interested in quickly moving up the ladder, or does success look different to you? Your answer will give your interviewer a lot of insight about how you’d fit in this role.
Example answer: “When I had just graduated from university, I had the opportunity to intern at a major bank in New York City. I declined the offer because I was more interested in starting my client-facing career sooner. I appreciate that I was able to start my career right away, but I do sometimes think that it would have been nice to begin with a strong background in finance, so I could better understand and guide clients.”