The key account manager interview process
Key account manager interviews are rarely one and done. I should know because I've been for dozens of them as a candidate and conducted hundreds of interviews as a hiring manager.
Expect to go through several stages to reach a rejection or an offer. This is how it's likely to happen:
- Screening interview. A short call (around 15 minutes) made by the recruiter (not the hiring manager) to review your resume. They'll ask any clarification questions and confirm your experience and expectations. The goal is to identify if you're a good fit and if you are, you'll move on to a formal interview.
- Microscope interview. This interview is with the hiring manager and a few observers. They'll ask for details about your experience and background. Expect difficult questions that explore the claims on your resume. It's a tough interview to put you under pressure and see how you react. It's important to build rapport and stay cool.
- Performance interview. A panel interview where you'll present your response to a simulation exercise. The hiring manager will give you a scenario about a client situation and you need to describe how you'd respond. Another popular scenario is to present a 30/60/90 day success plan. In it, explain how you'll get up to speed in the key account manager role.
- Meet and greet interview. This is the final interview. You'll get a tour of the office, meet colleagues and visualise what being part of the team would be like. If you get to this stage, there are only one or two candidates left. The hiring manager wants to sell you on the role and the company and make sure you're a good fit. Remember this will be the sugar-coated tour.
Four types of interview questions
As you prepare for the interview, keep in mind the four common types of questions. Each is designed to test your suitability for the key account manager role.
1. Competency questions
The most common type of interview questions are competency questions. They explore past job performance. You can recognize them by phrases like ‘tell me about a time you…’ or ‘give me an example of…’.
Competency questions confirm if you have the skills and experience needed to succeed. Go into detail and have numbers ready to quantify your achievements.
2. Behavioural questions
Behavioural questions examine how you like work. They also go into detail on how you relate to others, your feelings and emotions. They're not technical or based on learned skills.
The hiring manager will ask for examples of:
- How you work in a team
- How you stay motivated
- Your personality traits
- Leadership skills
- Time management
- How you react to stress
And other general questions about how you conduct yourself.
3. Situational questions
Situational interview questions ask you to imagine yourself in a hypothetical situation. Then you must explain what you would do. They test how well you apply your knowledge and past experience to the requirements of the role.
Pay attention to these questions. They provide insight into the challenges of the job you applied for.
For key account manager roles, it's not uncommon to make a formal presentation. The interviewer wants to test your analytical thinking and ability to build rapport. And a presentation is the perfect format. They usually last between 5 to 15 minutes.
The hiring manager will give you background information and set the scene. You must interpret it and present a business case to support your decisions or answers.
Another popular simulation is to present a 30/60/90 day plan to explain how you'll ramp up in the role.
The questions every interviewer asks
Lots of general questions get asked at every interview. Too many to list here, but these come up often and there's no excuse not to prepare for them.
- Tell me a little about yourself. This tests your communication skills and ability to develop rapport. Give a brief overview of your background. Highlight a couple of key achievements or a strength that relates to the job description.
- Why are you considering leaving your current position? The interviewer wants to see if you're unhappy, bitter or twisted. Don't fall into the trap of speaking negatively about your employer. Don't complain, remain positive. Convey that you are leaving because you want more responsibility and growth opportunities.
- Why do you want this role? The interviewer wants to see your commitment and passion for the role. Confidence is important - you must be crystal clear on why you want the job and where it fits into your career goals.
- What are your career objectives? Also known as where do you want to be in 5 years? High achievers had defined goals for their careers. The interviewer wants to see how realistic your objectives are. There's no point hiring you if their organization can't support your ambitions.
- What is most important to you in your next role? The interviewer wants to know what the deal breakers are. The best answer is to say you want to use your skills to make an impact on the organization and challenge yourself.
- How do you deal with change? Business is dynamic and nothing stays the same for long. Tell the interviewer that you embrace change and see it as an opportunity to improve.
- What are your greatest strengths? There's no right or wrong answer. Have three strengths ready to showcase. Make sure they're related to the core competencies of the job.
- What is your greatest weakness? This tests your self-awareness and honesty. Describe a genuine weakness (but nothing that will affect your ability to do the job). Explain what you're doing to overcome it. Don't use strengths masquerading as weaknesses. Don't say things like, "I don't know how to delegate" or "I'm a workaholic."
- What do you know about our company? A big trap because a lot of candidates don't do their homework. Show you've taken the time to research the organization. Go beyond the corporate website. Watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts and explore LinkedIn. Have some ideas on how you can contribute to the company's mission or how you're aligned with their values.
Use the STAR format to answer interview questions
When answering an interview question, a popular format is the STAR technique:
- Situation. Describe the circumstances - what happened? (makes up 10% of your answer).
- Task. Explain the goal and what you had to do (makes up 10% of your answer).
- Actions. Go into detail about how you tackled the situation and your role in this. Describe the step-by-step actions you took. You want to prove you have the skill you're asked about (makes up 70% of your answer).
- Result. What was the final outcome, were your objectives met and what did you learn? (makes up 10% of your answer).
Following the STAR format ensures you give a complete answer. Leave no doubt in the hiring manager's mind that you have what it takes to be a successful key account manager.
10 key account management skills employers are looking for
A key account manager is a senior role within an organization. It's all about accelerating business growth. You spend your days identifying client problems and defining complex solutions. You're measured on improving client revenue and reducing churn by eliminating the risk of customer defection.
You need a range of skills to meet the demands of the job and achieve business objectives.
So, before you start your interview preparation, review the job description. Get crystal clear on the skills needed for the role. And, if any are weaknesses, work on improving them.
Here are ten essential key account manager skills employers look for in candidates.
- Adaptability. Key account management is full of the unexpected. You must cope with unforeseen circumstances and adjust your approach accordingly. Prove your ability to react to change, take on new projects and learn new skills.
- Business analysis. Key account managers analyse data to identify business needs and determine solutions. With these insights, you recommend actions to your client. Explain how you identify new information and process it logically.
- Collaboration. Key account managers rely on a variety of stakeholders to get work done. It's vital to work well with others to solve problems and make progress towards common goals. Showcase your ability to communicate, generate discussion, gain agreement and manage expectations.
- Creativity. Key account managers help clients solve problems, and get better results, faster. Creativity is thinking about existing situations in different ways. It's also using your imagination to generate new ideas. Give examples of your ability to challenge conventional thinking and experiment.
- Emotional intelligence. Key account managers deal every day with difficult clients, challenging situations and deadlines. It's a high-pressure environment. Emotional intelligence is about how you identify, manage and understand emotions (yours and others) and adapt accordingly. Expect a discussion on topics like motivation, decision-making, self-awareness, flexibility and managing conflict.
- Leadership. Key account managers need to inspire and motivate their colleagues and clients. They also need to deal with responsibility, delegate, influence, plan and manage change. You need a broad range of leadership skills. Show how you create a vision for your accounts, mobilise others and be decisive. Be ready with examples of when you've stepped in to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.
- Persuasion. Key account managers get things done by influence, not power. You convince colleagues and clients that it's in their best interests to follow your lead. That means you must be able to explain the “why.” Show examples of your communication and listening skills. Also, how you navigate internal politics, manage resistance, secure commitment and ensure compliance.
- Relationship building. To keep clients happy, grow revenue and improve customer retention is a big job. To be successful, key account managers need relationships with a variety of stakeholders. They interact with everyone, across a range of professions and industries. Everyone from end-users to the C-suite and from colleagues to suppliers. You must show you can build rapport, trust and credibility. Questions will be on interpersonal skills and expanding your customer network and champions.
- Sales. Key account managers speed up business growth through client revenue and retention. They leverage existing relationships to find up-selling, cross-selling and expansion opportunities. They also improve margin by increasing prices, reducing costs or being more efficient. You must understand the client's business lifecycle and cultivate opportunities within your accounts. Give examples of developing value propositions, pricing and negotiation strategies, and managing objections. You also need to know about contract administration, renewal processes and securing resources.
- Strategy. Strategy is your ability to analyse the past to understand the present and plan for the future. It's an essential skill for key account managers. Give examples of how you accomplished business objectives, removed obstacles and overcame challenges. Prepare to go deep into your problem-solving, planning and management skills.
Now you know what skills you need to be a successful key account manager. Let's move on to the questions the interviewer will ask to find out if you have them.
40 Key Account Manager interview questions
- Key account managers must juggle many responsibilities. Describe a typical week and how you stay organized.
- Tell me about a time when you developed your own way of doing things.
- Describe a time when you used data to influence a client's decision.
- Tell me about a time when you had conflict with the team and how you resolved it.
- Tell me about a difficult client interaction. What was the situation and how did you respond?
- Tell me about a time when you disappointed a client or colleague. How did you resolve the problem?
- Tell me about a time when you showed leadership and stepped in to rescue a situation.
- Tell me about a time when you had to tell a client or colleague “No”
- Tell me about a time when you had to stand up for something you believe in.
- Describe a situation in which you turned around an unhappy client?
- What’s your track record on increasing client revenue and retention? How did you get those results?
- Tell me about a time when you successfully upsold a product or service to your client?
- Tell me about a situation when you had to back off and concede defeat (i.e. pick your battles)
- Tell me about the last client you lost and why? What did you learn from that experience?
- Tell me about a time you failed to achieve a goal.
- Tell me about a time when you had to deliver bad news to a client.
- What do you do to ensure you meet personal performance targets and standards?
- Give an example of when you saw a colleague struggling and decided to step in and help.
- Tell me about a time when someone has challenged you. How did you react?
- When have you used client feedback to make things better or come up with new ideas?
- Tell me about a time when you made something simpler for a client.
- Describe a big problem or issue with a client that you helped to solve.
- Have you ever made a big mistake? Describe the situation and what you learned.
- Describe a time when you made an important business decision without asking your manager.
- Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty for a client.
- Tell me about a time when you did something that wasn't your responsibility, but didn't it anyway.
- Tell me about your toughest contract negotiation? How did you prepare?
- Describe a time when you needed the cooperation of colleagues who resisted what you wanted to do.
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with your manager on something important to your client.
- Tell me about a time where you not only met a goal but exceeded expectations.
- What are some major trends in our industry and how might our clients need to adapt?
- How would your clients describe you as a key account manager?
- Tell me about a time when you had to sell an idea or convince someone to do something.
- What steps do you take to ensure you build strong relationships with key clients?
- Tell me what you think the key to a successful business relationship is?
- How do you ensure a new client gets off to a good start?
- If you were falling behind your targets, what steps would you take to catch up?
- Talk me through the strategy and planning for one of your key clients.
- If a long-term client told you they were considering leaving, how would you turn them around?
- How do you make sure your clients renew?
Sometimes an opportunity comes up at short notice, or life gets in the way of your preparation. If you don't have a lot of time to prep for the interview, focus on these four questions:
- How do you work with your worst client?
- How do you work with your best client?
- What was your best sale?
- What was your worst failure?
Your answers will cover a broad range of topics and situations which you can call on during the interview.
Prepare for your next key account manager interview before you need to
If you want to impress the hiring manager in your next key account manager interview ... prepare long before you start applying for jobs.
If you've read this far, you'll realise that key account management is a big job. Interviewers will explore your abilities and experience in detail.
Winging it is not an option.
And neither is cramming.
You want to showcase your best examples of relevant experience. You want to shine and show you're the only candidate for the role. That means you need time to reflect on your career.
Don't leave it to the last minute. Think about each of the 40 key account manager interview questions one by one. Use the STAR format to structure your answers and document them in a mind map (I use Mindmeister) or note-taking app.
In the end, you'll have a comprehensive career library. A detailed history of achievements, failures, lessons learned and answers to difficult questions.
All at your fingertips, whenever you need it.
As you go through the interview process, reflect on what went well, what didn't and any new questions that came up. Update your interview preparation notes with your observations.
And you're all set.
Whenever a key account manager role comes up that you're interested in, you're ready. Preparation will be a breeze and you'll bring your best to every interview.
Need more help with your key account manager interview?
- Research the company. Uncover and understand the needs of your future employer and figure. Identify key people, partners, competitors and customers. Understand their main products and get to know their industry. What are the problems the employer wants you to solve?
- Refresh your LinkedIn profile. Make it easy for the hiring manager visiting your LinkedIn profile to know who you are, what you do and how you do it. Update your profile photo and showcase your skills using the featured section.
- Identify your value. What experience, skills and abilities do you have that add value to the key account manager role? Make note of achievements and real examples from the past that provide evidence of your value.
- Review key account manager practice interview questions. Make a list of questions that you anticipate you'll be asked and write your answers using the STAR format (Situation, Task, Actions, Result). Rehearse these out loud to help you remember them.
- Make a list of questions to ask. Interviews are a two-way conversation. Great questions help you learn more about the company and the job, as well as engage the recruiter.
This question is a test of your confidence and composure. Say, "I am enthusiastic about the company and the role. I have a strong track record of delivering results and bring 10 years of key account management experience. I'm passionate about helping clients succeed and to play my part in helping you achieve business growth. I'm ready for the challenge."
- Adaptability. Embrace change, take on new projects and learn new skills.
- Business analysis. Interpret data to identify business needs and determine solutions.
- Collaboration. Work well with others to solve problems and make progress toward common goals.
- Creativity. Innovate and think about existing situations in different ways.
- Emotional intelligence. Identify, manage and understand emotions (yours and others) and adapt accordingly.
- Leadership. Inspire and motivate colleagues and clients. Be ready to step in when things aren't going well.
- Persuasion. Ability to convince stakeholders it's in their best interests to follow your advice.
- Relationship building. Ability to build rapport, establish trust and credibility. Must also grow and nurture influential relationships with important stakeholders.
- Sales. Ability to speed up business growth by improving existing client revenue and retention. This is achieved through up sell, cross sell, renewals, increase prices, reduce costs and improve efficiency.
- Strategy. Be able to analyse the past to understand the present and plan for the future. Requires deep problem-solving, planning and management skills.