Transform your hiring process today.


No job interview is cut and dried. Unlike a prime-time quiz show, there’s no single correct answer that proves a candidate is objectively right for an account executive (AE) role. While hiring managers sometimes have a specific idea of what the “right” candidate looks like before starting the interview process, it’s important to accept that each candidate has the potential to bring a unique perspective to your sales team. 

Thoroughly vetting account executive candidates is well worth the effort. With 52% of sales leaders estimating that an AE mis-hire costs their company more than $100K, hiring the wrong person can create a ripple effect that negatively impacts your sales org for years to come.

You’re more likely to find great account executives by asking open-ended questions and creating an honest, unbiased interview experience. This encourages the candidate to showcase why they are uniquely equipped to meet your team’s current needs. 

Though there’s no such thing as a “perfect” AE interview question, the answers to these eight questions can offer valuable insights into the passion, strategy, experience, and grit of your potential account executive.

1. Tell me about an opportunity you lost and what you would do differently in hindsight?

This question dives into continuous growth, one of the most sought after traits in Account Executives. It reveals how a candidate reflects on previous failures and improves at their craft. By unpacking a loss, you can learn more about how they think about managing their sales process and address unforeseen challenges.

Things to listen for

Your primary goal is to uncover a genuine passion for learning and growth. Individuals who value this are reflective and seek to understand where they may have gone wrong.

It also provides an opportunity for the interviewer to share feedback based on their own experience in similar situations. In this case, it’s important to note how the candidate accepts that feedback. Ideally, AEs that value continuous growth are coachable and open to receiving input that will improve their performance.

2. What’s been your most gratifying close, and why?

Most of us are taught humility from a young age, so it can feel awkward to discuss our accomplishments. Asking the candidate to share their best win will either reveal this awkwardness or allow their confidence and skills to shine. Learning about their proudest close also demonstrates how they define success and gives them a chance to speak to the grit required to achieve it.

Things to listen for

Don’t be afraid to let some silence linger here. It can be a good sign if the candidate takes some time to come up with a response because they’re likely thinking through several deals that went well. Their answer should be a sales-related example with an appropriate challenge and win, which shows follow-through and their ability to fight through challenges.

How they share their win is also important. Being honest and confident about a win is one thing, and arrogance is another. Talking about a team effort shows that the candidate cares more about the close than the limelight and is likely willing to share credit when it’s due.

3. What does your sales process look like?

This question is a direct knowledge test that should be asked early in the interview process. An AE’s primary job is to target and guide prospects from each phase of the sales process to the eventual buy-in. If they lack the skills to do that, continuing the interview process is likely a waste of time.

Things to listen for

You should be hearing two things in the answer to this question: a clear understanding of each phase of the sales process and how to move prospects through it. A successful AE should be able to comfortably walk a prospect through the sales process and be able to identify that they’re ready to move down the funnel.

An entry-level account executive or new graduate might not have the experience to detail the sales process. Instead, listen for some understanding of the buyer’s journey and a desire to learn it better. You can teach new sales methods, but you can’t teach them honesty and curiosity.

4. What has been your most challenging client relationship, and how did you improve it?

If you like what you hear so far and are impressed with the candidate’s hard skills, it’s time to test soft skills. This question targets people skills like negotiation, de-escalation, and even conflict management.

Things to listen for

Keep your ears open for a specific example with a clear problem and solution path. Unhappy customers are inevitable, and salespeople can’t keep everyone happy all the time. The candidate’s answer demonstrates what they think a difficult challenge is and gauges their ability to stay professional and helpful under pressure.

The candidate’s story should also tell you about their communication and conflict resolution style. It might be an indication of misaligned work styles if their answer highlights a vastly different take on conflict resolution than you or your team have—this is something to watch out for.

5. What was your team like at your last company?

This question is a better version of “Do you work well on a team?” This variant requires that the candidate provide more detail about how their past team operated and how they felt about it.

Things to listen for

Negative or self-serving comments instead of a team-before-self attitude could indicate a poor team player. On the flip side, a good answer should highlight their teammates’ helpfulness or a leader who always pushed them to be their best.

New AE candidates might not have professional team experience, and that’s okay. Answers about volunteerism, team sports, or community involvement also show team spirit and that the AE can work well with others.

6. What’s the most impactful feedback you’ve received about your performance?

Sales techniques are constantly changing to better serve potential customers. Because of this, any AE you hire must be adaptable and coachable to master new techniques. This question targets how well the candidate is likely to listen to and apply feedback to grow.

Things to listen for

How your potential AE talks about past feedback is more important than the actual feedback itself. If they took constructive criticism well before, they’re likely coachable and willing to grow in the future, too. Good answers might also include a lasting word of wisdom from a mentor that inspired them to pursue sales or change careers, once again demonstrating passion and grit.

7. Talk me through the last time you helped a customer identify a problem they didn’t know they had?

The most successful account executives aren’t just salespeople, they’re problem solvers with the goal of delivering the solution that best meets a prospect’s needs. Asking this question targets problem-solving skills and outside-the-box creativity.

Things to listen for

Successful AE’s know that they can’t sell a solution to someone who doesn’t have a problem. Listen to their brainstorming process and how they made the customer aware of the pain point. It takes tact to frame a weakness as a potential win, with a few tweaks. If your candidate has been able to gain a customer’s trust and smoothly guide them from their pain point to a good sales solution, they can likely do the same in the future.

8. What’s one shortcoming you have as an AE that you’re working to improve?

Humility is an essential part of career growth, as is being able to objectively reflect on areas that need improvement. This question provides an opportunity for the candidate to showcase both humility and self-reflection.

Things to listen for

Pay attention to the overall tone of the answer. This question has the potential to catch the candidate off guard, but ideally they will be able to collect their thoughts and provide an objective answer that indicates a sincere desire to improve in their role. Additionally, listen for specific actions that the candidate is taking (or is planning to take) to turn their shortcoming into a strength.

9. Why did you choose sales as your career?

Candidates who are proactive and enthusiastic about their profession are more likely to bring that energy to the deals they are working on (in addition to your sales team).

Things to listen for

Ultimately, you want to choose a candidate who is passionate about their career and the product they are selling. Succeeding in sales requires an ability to generate enthusiasm in prospects, and that’s impossible to do if the candidate isn’t enthusiastic about their own role.

10. Walk me through a change that you made to your process to drive more success.

Sales is an iterative discipline. A strong account executive knows that what works now might not work forever, and understands which actions might cause the greatest impact.

Things to listen for

The best answers to this question are specific. Instead of speaking in generalities, listen for the candidate to provide detailed examples of the change they implemented and how it led to improved performance or results. In addition to the change itself, listen for a clear explanation of the reasoning that inspired the change.

11. Describe your ideal prospect.

Creating a genuine connection with prospective customers is a huge part of succeeding as an AE. That requires a clear understanding of the signals that indicate a prospect is serious about making a purchasing decision.

Things to listen for

Good answers to this question should demonstrate respect and empathy toward prospective customers. While well-educated prospects might be intimidating, a high degree of knowledge about competitors often indicates they are serious about finding a solution rather than just “kicking the tires.” Conversely, it’s a red flag if the candidate would prefer a less-educated prospect because they are seen as an “easy close.”

12. Tell me about a sales-related skill that you are working to master.

This is a different framing to a similar question as number 9, but is similarly a great way to measure a candidate’s desire for continuous improvement. Everyone has professional skills that could use improvement, and being honest and proactive about those areas shows humility, drive, and coachability.

Things to listen for

A good answer to this question will include not just which sales-related skill the candidate is working on, but why that skill is important and specifics about what they are doing to make progress. Red flags include an answer that’s overly critical of their own abilities, or a candidate that dismisses the question altogether because they aren’t working on any specific skills.

13. What’s the smallest action an AE can take that will have the greatest impact?

The role of an account executive can be tireless. There’s always more to do, whether it’s prospecting on LinkedIn or nurturing existing relationships. With so many things that can take up an AE’s time and energy, this question gives the candidate an opportunity to show that they understand which actions should take priority in their day.

Things to listen for

This question is intentionally vague, and a strong candidate will embrace the opportunity to fill in details. Listen for them to walk through specific actions that they prioritize, why those actions lead to a greater impact than others, and how they successfully organize their busy schedules. The candidate should also define “impact,” in a satisfactory way—this is most likely to be interpreted as progress toward quota, but the candidate might position it in a different way. That’s fine, as long as the “impact” that they identify is clearly connected to the actions they discuss.

14. What’s one thing about this conversation you would like us to remember 30 days from now?

Sales is all about communicating effectively, which requires the ability to distill down complex concepts, lists of features, and benefits into a simple narrative. This question is the candidate’s opportunity to showcase that they can use this skill to leave a lasting impression, which will help set them apart when meeting with prospects.

Things to listen for

While some candidates might understand the question as an invitation to “sell themselves” to those conducting the interview, that’s not necessarily the only way to approach it. With the ultimate challenge of saying something memorable, some candidates might answer with an interesting anecdote, an insight about your company, or in another creative way. Ultimately, a successful answer will demonstrate an understanding of human psychology and what makes certain conversations more engaging than others.

15.  What working environment do you thrive in?

This provides an opportunity for the candidate to communicate their working style, preferences, and what motivates them. It can also help to identify if their preferred method of working might align or clash with the existing sales team.

Things to listen for

The candidate should be able to articulate specifics about their preferred working environment, their approach to collaboration, and how they best work with leadership. While having strong opinions around all these topics is fine, it could be a red flag if the candidate indicates an unwillingness to adapt to their potential company.

16. What motivated you to apply at our company?

This is a good question to include earlier in the interview, since it helps set the stage and establish how the candidate sees the opportunity they’re interviewing for.

Things to listen for

This is the perfect opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate that they spent some time researching the company prior to the interview. This is also their chance to express enthusiasm for your company’s product, customers, or industry, rather than just applying for the position dispassionately.

17. When you don’t know the answer to a prospect’s question, what do you do?

Account executives commonly have to deal with this scenario, but how they react says a lot about their understanding of the AE/prospect relationship, how they view teamwork, and more.

Things to listen for

The best account executives won’t rest until they solve their prospect’s problems. When answering this question, listen for the candidate to express humility, and walk through the specific actions they would take to find an answer to the prospect’s question. Bonus points if the candidate demonstrates that they understand the value of delivering the answer personally rather than directing the prospect to a FAQ page or sending them a PDF to comb through.

18. How would you close this job if it were a deal?

This wrap-up question is far more valuable than the standard “Do you have any questions for me?” It gives the candidate one more chance to prove that they’re the right AE for the job by demonstrating their sales skills.

Things to listen for

Candidates should see this as a final challenge and rise to the occasion. Thoughtful AE’s might use pre-interview research or things they heard during the interview to pitch themselves. Others might schedule a time to follow up or boldly discuss specific ways they would solve a specific problem as a member of the team. Exceptional candidates are likely to show creativity in their response, and express contagious excitement at the same time.

Moving candidates forward with confidence

Remember, interviews aren’t just an AE candidate’s opportunity to prove that they’re the right fit for an open role. It’s also your chance to set the hook and keep top candidates interested in moving to the next interview round. Creating a positive candidate experience is essential in making sure that top account executive candidates will accept your eventual offer. 

More ideas from BrightHire

Start building your dream team today.
Request a Demo