How to Prepare for a Solutions Architect Interview (Questions & Answers)

Solutions Architect May 14, 2022
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Hey there! This article is part of our series on Solutions Architect interviews. If you're interviewing for solutions architect roles, don't miss our Complete System Design Interview Course.

Solutions architect roles are rapidly becoming more important and popular in the technology ecosystem. As a solutions architect, you're the main technical resource for your company's sales team, and can provide a critical job function in a company's growth.

Successful solutions architects and solutions engineers have a highly valuable skillset with a mixture of

  • technical knowledge,
  • communication skills,
  • and B2B sales expertise.

The solutions architect interview process is just as unique as the role itself and can involve a wide mix of types of interview questions.

We sat down with solutions architect interviewers from some of the top tech companies including Amazon, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more to clarify what's actually asked in the solutions architect interview and how to prepare.

Solutions Architect Interview Stages

In general, the solutions architect interview or solutions engineer interview has the following interview stages at most companies:

1. Recruiter screen

In this 30-45min interview, your recruiter will ask questions about your resume, light technical questions to gauge your domain knowledge of solutions engineering, and behavioral questions to assess your culture fit at the company.

In general, try to be authentic and genuine, while also showing that you've done research on the company and are genuinely excited to work there.

We often recommend looking up your interviewer on LinkedIn to understand them a bit better, and reviewing public vision documents produced by the company.

2. Manager screen

In this interview, you'll speak with the hiring manager about your technical skills and domain knowledge.

Expect to talk through why you're the best candidate for the solution architect job and how you'd add value to the company. This is a great time to mention previous experience you may have as a solution architect or your hope for joining a growing team of solution architects to better your skills.

3. On-site interview

On-site interviews for the solutions architects also vary, but they follow a predictable structure. Typically, you’ll interview for 3-5 hours total with a lunch break midway through. You’ll go through many rounds, each 30 - 60 minutes long.

Technical Concepts Interview

One of the interviews will be a technical concepts interview, where you'll be asked questions about how to explain technical concepts like APIs (a common topic in solutions architect presentations and calls).

You'll also have an interview that takes the format of a presentation. In this interview, you'll showcase a mock customer demonstration of a product you're familiar with.

Interviewers are looking for your skills in presentations and objection handling (thoughtful responses to a customer's questions when potentially out of scope or incorrect).

Behavioral Interviews for Solutions Architect Roles

The rest of the interviews will focus more on behavioral skills, and is more in a discussion format. We encourage you to gather as much information as possible about the exact structure from your recruiter.

Also spend time reviewing our list of solutions architect interview questions below.

While this is a generally universal structure of the interview process, the interview stages can vary across different companies.

This is especially true since the term "Solutions Architect" can change from company to company.

Some companies call the role Solutions Engineer, Cloud Architect, or Solutions Consultant.

Keep in mind your recruiter is on your side–they can answer questions you have about the interview loop before you go to your on-site. They can even help provide clarity about the growth of the solutions architect role and how your team may look.

Solutions Architect Interview Questions

Solutions architect interview questions can vary widely from company to company. Here's a list of questions we've seen most frequently asked at tech companies over the last twelve months.

These solutions architect questions were compiled from our comprehensive interview question database where interview candidates share questions they were recently asked in interviews.

System Design Interview Questions

Note: not all solutions architect interviews will involve system design interview questions. Check with your recruiter if this is the case at the company you're interviewing with. These questions are more common in AWS and GCP interviews.

Technical Concepts for the Solutions Architect Interview

  • What is NoSQL vs. SQL? What are the tradeoffs? View answer.
  • How would you explain what an API is to a non-technical customer? View answer.
  • What is the benefit of using APIs?
  • What is cloud computing? View answer.
  • What is load balancing in cloud computing? View answer.
  • What is a CDN? View answer.
  • If you go to www.google.com, what happens?
  • What is mapreduce?
  • What is caching? Why do you need caching? View answer.
  • What is a DNS?
  • How would you explain cloud computing to your grandmother?
  • (For Amazon) What is EC2? What is Snowball? What is CloudWatch?
  • (For Google) What is Google Compute Engine? What is Google BigQuery Service? What is Google Cloud App Engine?

Behavioral Interview Questions

  • How would you objection handle various customer requests? How do you think about objection handling?
  • Tell me about a time your account executive double booked you on a meeting and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about a time you solved a customer pain point with an innovative solution.
  • Tell me about a time when you declined a customer requirement.
  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project outside of your scope.
  • Tell me about a skill you recently learned. How did you learn it?
  • Tell me about a time when one of your team members had difficulty doing a project. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you had a conflict and you had multiple ways to resolve it. How did you evaluate your options? Which solution did you choose and why?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.

Preparing for the Solutions Architect Interview

1. Review the Fundamentals

To be successful in the solutions architect interview, we strongly recommend reviewing system design and technical fundamentals.

It's almost guaranteed that some of your solutions architect interview questions will be focused on system design. Some of the fundamental pieces of knowledge you'll want to review includes this glossary below:

  • API: Application Programming Interface. Think of this as the way a software system interacts with other systems/ people. For instance, an ATM's "API" includes adding money, withdrawing money, and a few other functions. Check out the most common REST API interview questions.
  • Cache: A cache is a software component that helps store information or content so that requests can be quicker. As a simple example, it's easier and quicker to get information from short-term memory than long-term storage via a cache.
  • CDN: Content delivery network. This is a network of proxy servers and data centers that provides content to servers. CDNs are used to deliver content efficiently and quickly to clients that results in faster load times with high-traffic sites.
  • DNS: Domain name system. This is a naming system to help map domain names to IP Addresses and other pieces of information across the internet.
  • Load Balancer: Load balancers help to distribute a task over a series of resources as opposed to overloading one resource. This is helpful when there's a risk of a high-traffic data source overloading a particular resource.
  • MapReduce: Allows more efficient processing by filtering and delegating work to various servers in a network.
  • NoSQL: NoSQL ("not only SQL") databases is an alternative to relational databases in that they provide mechanisms for access without tabular relations.
  • Server: Servers provide functions to one or many clients. For instance, a web server serves web pages to clients (e.g. local computers, like the one you're reading this on!)
  • Sharding: Sharding is the act of partitioning databases into smaller data shards, to optimize for database speed.

While covering all of these concepts may not be in your initial answer, your interviewer will likely push on your initial answer with follow-up questions related to these concepts.

For instance, if you're answering a question on how typing in a URL in your browser works, your interviewer may ask you follow-up questions involving DNS and routing.

Solutions architect interview questions are often multi-part, so be sure to feel comfortable explaining your thought processes. You don't always have to present an innovative solution, but rather one that makes sense for the project at hand.

2. Research the Interview Process for Companies

Each company has its own process for interviewing candidates and evaluates candidates along different core values, so do your homework!

If you understand the mission and core values of the companies you're applying to, you'll not only understand more about the company's culture and goals, you'll also be better prepared to demonstrate those values and principles during the interview.

We've put together an extensive catalog of interview guides that give you an inside look at the interview process and criteria for most tech companies. Here are a few examples:

  • AWS (Amazon) asks system design interview questions, technical concept questions, and focuses on behavioral questions related to their core leadership values. View the Amazon Software Development Manager Guide here.
  • GCP (Google) asks system design interview questions and technical concept questions, including basic reasoning and aptitude ability questions.
  • Startups like Dropbox and Stripe tend to focus less on system design questions and more on communication skills and technical concept overviews.

Be sure to focus your preparation on the role you're applying for as well. Not all solutions architect interview questions are structured the same. One company may play more emphasis on a particular concept than others.

One important tip: always review in detail the job description of the role you're applying for.

Often, the job description can indicate what types of solutions architect interview questions will come up and what skills the hiring manager is looking for. Tailor your study plan to map to the set of skills and responsibilities listed there.

3. Prepare for the Presentation Interview

The customer presentation interview starts with you sharing a customer-facing presentation and the interviewers will ask follow up questions. Some companies will assign specific presentations they would like you to give, while other companies allow you to pick a product to present on. To prepare for these presentations, practice in front of a live audience or book a session online at https://www.pramp.com/ to get ready!

In these presentations, your interviewer will in particular be looking for how you objection handle and communicate in challenging conversations that you might get as a solutions architect or solutions engineer.

4. Review Coding Fundamentals

In many interviews, you may be asked to perform simple coding tasks in an IDE. For instance, Stripe's interview asks you to create a simple checkout page using their IDE.

Prepare for these solution architect interviews by reviewing the company's API and crafting some small projects that would help you get familiar with their codebase.

5. Practice Answering Mock Solutions Architect Questions

Lastly, be sure to get in some practice to get comfortable answering solution architect questions and smooth out your responses.

As you practice, remember to actively listen. Effective solutions architects and solutions engineers know how to actively listen to their team — it's no different in the interview process.

After you hear an interview question, take the time to really listen to what the interviewer is asking. They want to know that as a solution architect you're able to manage inputs and priorities without jumping to conclusions.

This means asking follow-up questions and repeating what you hear back to ensure you and your interviewer are on the same page.

After each practice session, reflect on what you think you did well and where you could improve. As you practice, list out common weaknesses so you can notice patterns and improve your performance. Would you hire yourself as a solution architect?

If you're looking to get feedback on your practice, practice on a peer-to-peer mock interview website like Pramp, where you can conduct mock solution architect interviews and get detailed feedback on your answers, along with sample questions that you can be asked by your peers.

Exponent also has a vibrant Slack community with other solution architects who can help you prep for your interview.

More Resources

Ultimately, the best way to prepare for the solutions architect or solutions engineer interview is to get out there and practice. Here are some resources that could be helpful in your preparation:

👯‍♂️ Practice your behavioral and system design skills with our interview practice tool.

👨‍🎓 Take our complete System Design interview course.

🖊️ Software engineering interview cheat sheet

Good luck with your interview preparation journey!

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Stephen Cognetta

Hi, I'm Stephen Cognetta, co-founder of Exponent and a former Google PM who has conducted hundreds of interview sessions. I've spoken about product management at Google, WeWork, Duke, Yale, and more.

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