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

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

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.

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Hey there! If you're interviewing for solutions architect roles, don't miss our Solutions Architect Interview Course.

Sneak Peek: The three most common solutions architect interview questions are:
- How to handle a customer objection
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake
- Solving a complex problem for a customer

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.
In this video, an AWS solutions architect gives advice on how to ace the interview. 

Sample Question and Answer - REST APIs

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This question and answer comes from our Solutions Architect interview course. View our clarifying questions, technical requirements, and back-and-forth with the interviewer in the course.

Question: Our client is a large multinational that sells fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products, such as non-perishable snacks in the US market.

Currently, all sales are performed through a B2B model. For example, retail chains stock the client’s products directly on their shelves. All external communication with retailers and internal communication with IT systems uses SOAP APIs designed in the 2000s. Because of COVID-19, the client wants to include B2C capabilities too, i.e. selling directly to consumers through their own website.

The client wants to create a website and effectively expose their IT systems to handle B2C sales. At a later stage, the client also wants to roll out mobile apps for consumers.

Should the client opt for REST APIs?

Answer: With the explosion in mobile device usage over the past decade, REST APIs are now the default way of communication on the internet. They are flexible, scalable, and lightweight and fulfill most of the requirements any modern application can possibly have.

While they have fewer security features out-of-the-box compared to SOAP APIs, this can be easily overcome by using other security mechanisms like OAuth, API keys, etc. with REST APIs. The advantages of REST APIs far outweigh the disadvantages in this case, thus we would suggest the client proceeds with implementing REST APIs.

Solutions Architect Interview Stages

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. Gather as much information as possible about the exact structure from your recruiter.

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 own database of questions that candidates report being asked.

System Design Interview Questions

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 from long-term storage via a cache.
  • CDN: Content delivery network. This is a network of proxy servers and data centers that provides the content to servers. CDNs are used to deliver content efficiently and quickly to clients which result 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") 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.
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Note: Your interviewer will likely push back 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 evaluating candidates along different core values—do your homework!

If you understand the mission and core values of the companies you're applying to you'll 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, and 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.

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Tip: Always review 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 technical mock interview session online to get ready!

In these presentations, your interviewer will be looking for how you handle objections and communicate through challenging problems. These are the types of problems you'll likely come across on the job.

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

Practice getting answering solution architect questions and smooth out your responses.

Practice listening actively. Effective solutions architects and engineers listen to their teams.

Listen carefully to interview questions. Solution architects must manage inputs and priorities without jumping to conclusions.

This means asking follow-up questions and repeating what you hear to clarify. Reflect on what you did well and where you can improve after each practice.

List common weaknesses as you practice — spot patterns and improve.

Practice on a peer-to-peer mock interview website like Pramp to get feedback on your answers and sample questions from your peers.

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!

Product Management Today