Hiring the right Account Executives (AEs) for your sales team can be extremely difficult. It requires strategy, careful selection, and a keen eye for talent. 

Unfortunately, no one exactly hands you over a playbook when you become a sales leader. Odds are, you have been learning by trial and error. 

It doesn’t feel good to hire someone who you feel like has promise only a month down the road, you realize it’s not a fit and you have to hire all over again.

So how do you hire the best reps for your team the first time?

What does an Account Executive (AE) do?

An Account Executive, often referred to as an AE or more casually a sales rep, plays a crucial role in managing a company's relationships with its clients. 

Think of them as the face of your brand. They’re often the first person, sometimes only one, to really create that relationship with buyers so personality traits that mirror your brand are key. Traits like natural charisma, social skills, and top notch service will be traits you’ll want to look for. 

Account Executives are all about nurturing client connections to boost company revenue. They're the ones scouting for new business opportunities, crafting clever sales strategies, and sealing the deal with contract negotiations.

Successful Account Executives?

They're curious about new selling strategies and hungry to reach more people. They’re active on social channels, not afraid to make calls, and prioritize building and nurturing relationships. They have empathy and can identify with buyers' pain points to offer the best solutions versus pushing the sale. They're open to coaching, welcome feedback, and are quick to implement suggestions to boost performance.

In this blog, we'll take a closer look at these personality traits, chat about what to look out for, and share some tips on how to spot them during interviews.

What to look for when hiring sales reps?

Let’s dive into what you should keep an eye out for when hiring AEs on your team. And it starts with the second you lay your eyes on their resume, to how they communicate with you, how they respond, how they take feedback, etc.

Remember you, as the hiring manager, are in a way their client. They are trying to sell their skills and experience to you. It is the perfect opportunity to see them in action and get a glimpse of how they would act with prospects. 

Many articles out there will focus on the usual traits like 'communication skills', 'teamwork', or 'negotiation skills'—blah blah blah.

We're skipping the obvious (and unhelpful) and diving into signs you might not have thought of, or just should think about from a different angle.


If possible, having a rep from a similar industry or who previously sold to a similar target audience will be a huge advantage. They will be familiar with pain points, know how to resonate with your buyers, and may even be able to secure some quick wins from relationships they have previously built. 

A candidate with a proven track record is just the cherry on top. But experience is not everything. Just because they were successful in a past role, doesn’t mean they will be successful on your team. Look for a blend of experience and potential. 

First Impression

Although nerves during an interview can be natural, the initial impression a candidate gives you will reveal a glimpse into the impression they'll likely give your buyers. 

Consider: Are they able to express themselves clearly? Do they come across as positive and engaging? Can they hold a meaningful conversation? Do they ask good questions?

These qualities often reflect how they'll interact in their role. Pay attention to how the candidate presents themselves to ensure they match the first impression you wish to show potential buyers.

Pre-Interview Discovery

Once you're in the interview, you can get a good sense of how they approach discovery. Did they take the time to look into the role, your company, and what you offer?

Make sure to ask each candidate the same question: 'So, what do you know about our company?' You could even get them to explain your products and why they think someone would buy them, in just a short 30 seconds pitch. 

The goal isn't for them to give a flawless pitch, but to gauge how much research they've done and how well they understand your company and products. For an account executive, being great at discovery is crucial. If they clearly didn't do homework, it might be a hint at what's to come if they join the team.


This is a huge one, and often overlooked. The best AEs are not only skilled but also show they're open to feedback and keen on improving. Keep an eye out for those who can show some humility and are all about learning and growing.

A simple way to check this is to give them feedback at the end of the interview or after an exercise, like a mock pitch, and see how they take it. If there's a take-home assignment, how do they handle feedback? Do they ask more questions to dig deeper? Do they tweak or redo the task based on the feedback?

Hiring a coachable AE is a must. Even the best reps need coaching to keep growing and learning. If someone's too stuck in their ways or pride and ego take over, it probably isn’t the best fit.

Sense of Urgency and Responsiveness

Sales is all about timing. So, again, put yourself in the buyer's shoes when this candidate is selling themselves to you. When they reply says a lot! 

Do they take hours or days to respond to you? Do they reply right away? 

If they're consistently and promptly responding, you can be more confident they're organized and on top of their follow-ups. 

Follow up

Responding quickly is important, but what's said in the follow-up matters just as much. Pay attention to when and how they follow up.

First, analyze the follow up messages. Nobody likes a one-word reply, but a novel isn't ideal either. Copywriting is a skill every rep should have, so keep an eye out for that.

Next, look at their strategy. Are they proactive, reaching out first for next steps? Do they promptly follow up after the interview, thanking you and offering more resources like a recap, referrals, or stats for you to review?

Social Presence

Nowadays, having a strong voice and visibility on social platforms can be a major asset. It's almost expected that sales reps are actively posting, whether it's on LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, or any platform that suits them.

Having their own personal brand is key. They don't need 100K followers, but regular activity and engagement show passion for sales and potential for growth.

While it's not a must-have, candidates with a robust online presence often bring valuable networking and branding skills to the table. 

How to interview AEs to find the high performers

Knowing what traits to look for in an ideal candidate is one thing, but it's a whole different skill to conduct an interview process that will elevate the top performers out of the bunch. When you’re asking different questions, of course everyone will claim to be the best communicator, the best closer, negotiator or whatever else they think you want to hear.

The real question is: how can you truly know they'll be the right fit and how do you separate the best from the rest?

Let's go through the key steps to ensure your interview process is effective.

Ask questions to identify behavior

A minor tweak in how you ask questions can give you a predictive lense into how the candidate handles different situations, not just what they know.

For example, if you want to know how they handle competitor objections, you may ask something like “How do you respond to when a competitor is mentioned?"

The issue is you’re going to get the same generic answer from every candidate. A rep can talk a big game about how they could and should handle competition, but what do they actually do in that situation? Have they done it before?

Let’s look at a few more common questions, what’s wrong with them?

  • "How do you handle feedback?"
  • "How comfortable are you with demos?"
  • "How do you make sure you hit your targets?"

These questions screens for KNOWLEDGE, not BEHAVIOR. 

Now, let's flip them to predict what they'd actually do:

  • "Tell me about the last time you got feedback. What changes did you make?"
  • "Walk me through a demo that went great, and one that didn't. What did you learn?"
  • "Talk about the last deal you closed. Why do you think you were able to secure a win?"

For a detailed look, read Chris Orlob’s insights (highly recommended) on how to develop these different questions. 

Score candidates

Create a scorecard or rubric outlining the key qualities and skills you're seeking in candidates. This will provide a consistent framework to evaluate each person, helping to avoid biases in your decision-making process. Especially useful when comparing multiple candidates, it keeps things organized and highlights standout strengths.

Think of this scorecard as the stats you see on a baseball card. Which qualities stand out? What strengths does your team need most? Score each area on a scale from 1 to 5. 

Consider these key areas for evaluation:

  • First impression
  • Responsiveness
  • Discovery
  • Coachability
  • Copywriting
  • Conversation skills
  • Social presence
  • Experience
  • Referrals

Be consistent

As a sales team leader, your schedule is probably packed. It's not surprising that you may conduct interviews spontaneously and end up just going with the flow in these conversation.

However, I want to emphasize the importance of consistency in your questions. Ask the same questions to every candidate, in the same manner, to help you truly understand who stands out. This also ensures that no candidate gets a perfect layup with an easier question.

If each interview is different, it's tough to spot patterns and identify the high performers.

Run candidates through scenarios

Giving Account Executives a go at role-playing during interviews is like a sneak peek into how they handle real life sales scenarios. It's a chance to see their communication skills, how they deal with tricky objections, and if they know their way around the sales process. 

For instance, you might throw them into scenarios like handling a tough client objection, showing off a product demo, or negotiating with a potential customer. It's not just about what they say they can do—it's about seeing them in action, giving you a good sense of how they might handle different situations as an Account Executive.

And that brings us to the perfect next step: giving feedback. If you include role-playing in your coaching programs, you'll want a candidate who's open to feedback.

Give feedback

Coaching is an important part of growing a high performing team. Even the best account executives out there benefit from coaching to keep their skills sharp and continue to learn and grow, especially with competitors popping up, market conditions changing, and new product features launched. 

Make sure to give each candidate feedback, either after the interview or after one of the role-playing scenarios. How did they take the feedback? Did they try again to change their approach?

If you notice a candidate's pride or ego getting in the way, or if there's resistance to feedback, it might give you a glimpse into what coaching them could be like. While you're looking for someone with experience who can hit those targets, it's also crucial to find a balance with someone who has potential and is open to learning.

In conclusion,

Finding the best Account Executives (AEs) for your sales team is not an easy feat. But with thoughtful planning and understanding what to watch out for, you can spot the top performers from the mismatches.

Remember, AEs are the face of your brand, responsible for nurturing client relationships and driving revenue. If you put yourself in your buyer’s shoes during the interview process, first impressions and experience they give you can give you a great sneak peek into how they would communicate and act towards actual buyers in the role. 

In the end, ensure that the traits you identify align with the strengths your team needs. Remember, a mix of industry know-how and a willingness to learn can make for a winning combination.

Happy hiring! Go get your winning team!

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