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And perhaps no role is more important than that of the account manager. After all, account managers are the face of your marketing agency. They work with clients all day, every day.
But to identify talented account managers, you have to ask the right questions during the interview process.
To find out what questions you should ask prospective account managers in interviews, we surveyed more than 30 marketing agency leaders. Collectively, they’ve hired hundreds of account managers.
These leaders shared their 26 favorite account manager interview questions to ask—and their favorite answers to receive.
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Before we dig into the interview questions, we wanted to learn more about the typical job responsibilities of an account manager at a marketing or advertising agency.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common job responsibilities for account managers at each of the 34 digital marketing agencies we spoke to:
Some other common account manager job responsibilities our respondents mentioned include:
If you’re a leader at a marketing agency who’s in charge of hiring new account managers, use this list of account manager interview questions to come up with some great new questions to ask in your next interview.
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And if you’re trying to get a job as an account manager at a marketing agency, we’ve also included tips for how to answer each question to help you prepare for your interview.
Revenue River’s Eric Pratt says that one of the top skills he looks for in an account manager is humility. “A candidate with humility answers this question with ‘we,’ not ‘I,’” Pratt says.
“This behavioral question enables us to evaluate a candidate’s interpersonal communication skills, as well as their cultural fit within our agency,” says Bookmark’s Kristin Izumi. “Great candidates exemplify passion and sincerity in their approach and share examples that are highly relevant to the work that we do.”
Donna Campbell of The Whole Brain Group says that the top skill she looks for in an account manager is problem-solving, so she’s looking for an answer along the lines of:
“I prefer to take on the problem accounts and turn them around, make them more profitable by understanding what’s not working, and then developing a solution for it, whether that’s new processes, tools, or reseating current team members to be in the right seats on that project.”
“A great recent candidate showed me a to-do list organized by deadline, client, and time needed for the tasks,” says Spark Reaction’s Sami Brenner. “The right candidates for us usually seem unfazed by this question, which means organization, time management, and follow-through are a core part of their work habits.”
“Candidates who struggle with showing us their management techniques are often not the best fit.”
IDS Agency’s Ismail Aly says his ideal answer to this question is: “Failure is a blessing in disguise and the best learning experience, and I believe agency work is about experimenting, pushing for change, and challenging the status quo. This cannot be done without failing.”
“I prefer candidates who are honest and embrace both their wins and losses, showing us they can communicate their wins fantastically and their losses just as well,” says Giovanni Pollarolo of Eastside Co.
For the ideal answer to this question, Bayard Bradford’s Charles Elmer says he’s “looking for some iteration showing that candidates are able to think on their feet.”
“Candidates will typically explain how a bill becomes a law—the evolution of campaign development,” says Jennifer Ennesser of LaneTerralever.
“I listen to see if they are just focused on the production side (executing the assets) and getting things out the door, or if they really understand the client’s business and are working to suggest what is best instead of just taking marching orders from the client.”
“A great candidate would answer this by stating that they would listen and sympathize,” says Builder Funnel’s Spencer Powell. “They would then apologize and ask what the client thinks would make the situation ‘right.’”
“If they have the authority, they would call the shot right there. If not, they’d communicate they need to discuss the situation with their supervisor.”
“The best candidates are always willing to own up to making mistakes,” says Olive & Company’s Erik Norsted. “But it’s important to hear them articulate their problem-solving thought process to get a feel for their attitude and poise and, most importantly, to see if candidates have truly learned from their experiences.”
“The best candidates are able to explain the scope of the project while also detailing the action steps they took to better equip themselves for the task at hand (e.g. online research, soliciting advice, reading, completing certifications, etc.),” says PR 20/20’s Tracy Lewis.
“The best candidates don’t shy away from something new, but they also don’t give blind recommendations based on gut feel. They take some time to pool the resources they have available to them to implement a strategic approach to the problem at hand that is rooted in research.”
“To me, the focal point of this answer should be about planning and teamwork,” says Obility’s Alex Jackmond.
“If candidates are able to articulate how they planned ahead to accommodate team member workloads—as well as how they deal with times when planning didn’t work out—they have one of the integral characteristics needed to succeed in this role.”
“Their answer should help us see that they have enough emotional intelligence to interact with a team in a communicative way,” says Story Collaborative’s Amy Alexander. “Being highly verbal is not necessarily a sign of a good communicator.”
“A good answer might be: ‘I would reach out to those I needed an answer from in the way that’s proven to be their best method of communication. If they always respond quickly to email, then I’ll email them. If they need a phone call, I’ll call.’”
“The best candidates own up to their mistakes quickly and explain how they apply what they learned from those mistakes,” says Scott Baradell of Idea Grove.
“The best candidates walk through the exact steps they take, step-by-step, in a very well-thought-out manner,” says Matthew Cook of SalesHub. “It should sound like they have answered this question a thousand times before.”
Brittany Balog of Bluleadz says that the best answer to this question is something along the lines of:
“That is a great question that is beneficial to your campaign success. I have a few resources I want to reference before giving you a definitive answer. Let me review those, and I will respond to you by the end of the day with the best answer to this question.”
Deepa Venkataraman of Vajra Global Consulting Services LLP says that the best answer to this question is something like:
“Firstly, I’d learn the technology or key aspects necessary to deliver the task at hand. I’d get acquainted with all allied parameters and get to know the client’s requirements before taking up the task. After this, I’d execute the job with my knowledge along with my team’s inputs.”
“A great candidate would answer this question with excitement and a well-thought-out answer that includes multiple options to increase the number of leads for a client, backed up with why they would do these things,” says Brittany Balog of Bluleadz.
“Excellent candidates ask questions before answering so that they have more information, such as ‘what industry, business, or person are we talking about in this situation so that I can provide the best recommendations?’”
“A great candidate would showcase their strengths and weaknesses within this question,” says Emil Jimenez of Passion Communications. “Ideally, they would answer it honestly with regards to which skills they already have and which they need to hire for.”
Revenue River’s Eric Pratt says an ideal candidate “demonstrates the use of a system and process for detailed planning in advance.”
“As a hiring manager, I’m looking for someone who knows how to set goals and actively work towards them without a lot of oversight and hand-holding,” says UNINCORPORATED’s Robert Jones.
“A great candidate will have led projects in the recent past and will understand how to produce great work by setting the tone, delegating tasks, and leading people.”
“The candidate has to show a sense of responsibility (like a coach) and the capability to organize many people and tasks,” says OFG’s Paolo Sordelli. “He or she has to be deductive and see the context from a high level.”
HubDo’s Pete Nicholls says that the ideal answer to this question is something along the lines of:
“I identified that continuing as were would not get us to our planned goals, so I drew on the skills of the team to identify a new path. We pivoted to that and delivered on time, within budget, and with high enough quality to meet the goals.”
“The best candidates illustrate the situation well, providing a brief overview of the project, the client, and the issue,” says First Five Eight’s Richard Owens. “Additional points if they remember the metrics being tracked for the project.”
“They then demonstrate the ability to manage a relationship through good communication and problem-solving by presenting a solution. This will also show how they handle pressure.”
“The best candidates will be able to list at least two industry blogs and give us sound reasons why they choose to follow them,” says Resa Gooding of Penguin Strategies. “They should also be able to tell us what lessons, tips, or strategies they’ve picked up from reading these blogs in order to improve their work.”
“This might seem like a silly question, but you’d be surprised at how much it reveals about a person,” says Market Veep’s Michael Rand. “How people identify with fictional characters can give you insight into the kinds of people they admire and who they aspire to be.”
“First, a great candidate wouldn’t just brush this question off because it seems irrelevant or just for fun. At the same time, we don’t expect anyone to take it too seriously.”
“For an account manager position, we’d be looking for someone who identifies with a leadership character who is a good moderator and communicator but is also self-aware. We’d hope they give us a good explanation of why they chose their character.”
“In Game of Thrones terms, a good example might be Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen. How candidates answer this question really does affect our hiring process.”
In addition to providing their favorite interview questions, many of our respondents also offered tips for other things to look for during the interview that will help you evaluate prospective account managers.
“We have a large conference room we use for interviewing with about 16 chairs and one large table,” says Devin Kelley of Method Savvy. “I let candidates sit down first, and mid-interview, I’ll ask why they chose the seat they’re sitting in.”
“There is no one right answer. But the way candidates respond—and if they realize their seat selection was an important decision in fostering a relationship—is an enlightening way to evaluate their self-awareness,” Kelley says.
Finally, several of our respondents said that they have candidates complete an exercise or evaluation to measure how good of a fit they are for the role.
“We use a test called the Culture Index (CI),” says Chad Diller of Landscape Leadership. “It takes about eight minutes for a candidate to complete and scores people on a broad spectrum of seven hard-wired, work-related behavior traits. Based on how they score, we are able to easily weed out people who have red flags.”
Emily Paxton says that Obility uses a written questionnaire to make sure candidates have “excellent communication skills and a commitment to detail and grammar in written form.”
“A couple of exercises I like to include are:”
“A great candidate ensures there are no misspelled words or incoherent statements in their response. I will evaluate how a candidate integrates best practices into their response. I also look to see enthusiasm, support, and flexibility,” Paxton says.
And SmartBug Media’s Ryan Malone says, “We ask candidates to present in detail about campaigns they have run, KPIs, drivers, etc. This is usually a 30-minute presentation on no more than two campaigns, followed by a pretty detailed Q&A.”
“We think of our strategists as the CEOs of their accounts, so they should have an extremely detailed grasp of the campaigns they present during their interviews.”
“This includes communicating clearly and succinctly why they were executed, what the components were and were not, how the campaigns performed, and most importantly, what the ROI was.”
“We would never put a marketing strategist in front of a client unless they could make it through this presentation,” Malone says. “You can’t be a marketing advisor if you aren’t a good marketer.”
Want to freshen up your skills and knowledge before your account manager interview? Check out the Databox blog! We publish 3-4 new posts every week, each featuring insights and tips dozens of professional marketers and salespeople. Here are a few posts to start with:
Originally published in January 2018, this post has been updated to better highlight the typical account manager interview questions that marketing agency leaders might want to ask—and the answers they’re looking for from candidates.
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