How to Become an Account Executive

Male account executive talking on the phone with a client

Do you enjoy working with people and juggling multiple projects? You might make a great account executive. Many types of businesses need account executives to act as the “face” of their company when working with customers and other businesses.

Although account executives can be found across many different industries, they are most common in advertising and marketing, financial services, public relations and technology companies. Are you wondering, “Exactly what is an account executive?” or, “What’s the process for how to become an account executive?” Explore this career guide and then begin the college planning process to earn your undergraduate business degree.

When important clients get in touch with a corporation about acquiring their products or services, they may work with one main contact person, known as the account executive. The account executive then handles all of the client’s needs, acting as the go-between for companies and clients.

Note that in many cases, the clients of an account executive are actually other companies. Imagine that Bridget is an account executive for a software company. Juan, an executive at a major retail corporation, contacts Bridget to discuss using her company’s software for his company’s transactions.

Bridget helps Juan understand the features of her company’s software and how they can meet his company’s needs. If Juan requires software customization, Bridget will manage this through her company’s IT department. Whenever Juan’s company has a problem, he’ll get back in touch with Bridget for ongoing support.

Some account executives may be assigned to only one major client, while others may work with multiple clients. It’s their ultimate responsibility to keep their clients satisfied and ensure their needs are met. Some account executives may also be responsible for recruiting new clients, although this task is usually delegated to sales representatives.

How to Become an Account Executive: An Overview

The main qualification to become an account executive is an undergraduate degree in a business-related field. In addition, it’s customary for aspiring account executives to start their careers in lower-level positions (such as sales representatives) before working their way up to the role of account executive or account manager.

There are no specific certifications needed for this profession. However, after gaining some experience, you may decide to pursue voluntary certifications. One example is the Certified Key Account Executive Program (CKAE®).

Earning Your Business Degree

The first step in the process of becoming an account executive is to earn your undergraduate degree. Students who aspire to become account executives are often unsure of whether they should select a business administration or a business management degree. These might seem like virtually the same thing, but there are differences to be aware of.

Business management takes a high-level view of the organization, and it’s more concerned with managing internal teams. In contrast, business administration handles the finer details of the day-to-day operations of the company, including liaising with clients. Because of this, it’s generally preferable for aspiring account executives to earn a business degree in administration.

Although the curriculum will vary from one school to the next, you can generally expect that a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree will cover topics including the following:

  • Legal and ethical issues involved with business decision-making, such as contract law and strict liability
  • Analysis of managerial accounting data to facilitate profit growth
  • Development and implementation of traditional and digital marketing campaigns
  • Evaluation of financial statements and financial markets

During your time in college, you can expect to develop your communication skills and critical thinking abilities. Communication skills are particularly important for aspiring account executives. additional opportunities for fine-tuning your communication skills, such as by joining a debate or public speaking club on campus or in the local community.

Cultivating the Essential Characteristics and Skills of an Account Executive

There are a number of important characteristics and skills that all effective account executives should possess. You’ll begin acquiring and refining these in college and continue to work on them throughout your career. Some of these important skills and traits include the following:

  • Active listening skills: In order to make sure your clients are satisfied, it’s essential to pay close attention to what they’re telling you. Sometimes, what someone doesn’t say is just as important as what they do say. For example, a client might say, “I’m just not certain this software package meets my company’s needs,” when what they really mean is, “I don’t understand how to use this software and it seems really complicated.” Active listening allows you to proactively troubleshoot your clients’ problems.
  • Expressive communication skills: In addition to receptive communication skills (listening), expressive communication (verbal and spoken) skills are also crucial. It’s always best to strive for clarity in one’s language to ensure the other person understands.
  • Empathy: Empathy is the ability to envision yourself in your client’s shoes and to truly understand what they are dealing with. An account executive who understands their clients’ goals, motivations and concerns is better able to help them.
  • Trustworthiness: Effective account executives develop a reputation for making good on their promises and standing by their word.
  • Problem-solving abilities: Account executives are de facto professional problem solvers who anticipate their clients’ needs and have solutions standing by.

These are just a few of the most important skills and traits you’ll need in your professional life. It’s also critical to be able to acknowledge and learn from your mistakes so you can continually improve.

Landing Your First Job

The job of an account executive is typically not an entry-level position. It’s customary for aspiring account executives to begin in other roles. Once you gain some experience in the workplace, you may be able to work your way up the corporate ladder to the position of account executive.

The type of entry-level role you might land depends on the industry you’re interested in. For instance, if you’re interested in advertising and marketing, you might start out as a copywriter or social media marketer before working your way up to the role of project manager and then account executive.

In other industries, account executives may begin their careers as sales associates or sales representatives. These individuals are responsible for acquiring new accounts (clients), which they then hand off to account executives.

Is There a Demand for Account Executives?

Companies all over the U.S. need skilled account executives to nurture their client relationships and bolster their revenue streams. There is currently a significant demand for these professionals.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t track data for account executives in all types of industries, but the BLS does have a category for advertising, promotions and marketing managers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for advertising, promotion and marketing managers to increase by about 6% from 2019 to 2029, faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 18,800 jobs in the field.*

You can acquire a strong academic foundation for future success in all types of businesses when you enroll in the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University. Our many degree programs include the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, which instills competencies in business planning and development, finance fundamentals, business regulations and many other critical areas for aspiring account executives. Get started working toward your future career by clicking on Request Info at the top of your screen.


*COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Advertising, Promotion and Marketing Managers

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.