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Hiring enterprise architects: How to use behavioral-based interviews

Scenario-based interviews can help you find the best fit for your next enterprise architect hire.
Front facing empty chairs

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Hiring a stranger is always a risk. You never really know what you're getting. Resumes will get you only so far. As expected, they will report past positions and accomplishments. But, the underlying assumption is that the information in the given resume is accurate. Sometimes it is. Other times the information is nothing more than some inflated version of facts that are intended to make it through an HR department's automated qualification process and eventually, if all goes as planned, to a human reviewer.

Still, regardless of how intricate a company's qualification process is, at some point, you need to interact with the person you intend to hire. Hence, the in-person or (as of late) in-video interview.

While an in-person interview is critical for making the best hiring choice, it's also the most expensive. It takes the time of all parties involved. Given the time and money involved, you don't have the luxury of being random in your interview process, particularly if you're interviewing a number of candidates for a particular position. One way to save time while ensuring consistency in the interview process is to use a predefined set of interview questions. Using the same questions for each candidate ensures a certain degree of uniformity and fairness in your company's hiring process. But, as with resumes, the question-and-answer technique will only get you so far. You might get a sense of what the candidate knows, but you really don't get an insight into how the candidate performs. Something more is needed. Or, to use a musical analogy, you can talk about music all day long, but at some point, you have to get up on the stage and play the instrument; hence, the audition.

[ You might also enjoyThe secret to interview preparation. ]

Auditioning in the hiring process can take many forms. When hiring a barista, it's making beverages. Either the candidates can make the cappuccino or they can't. For a masseuse, it's giving a massage to another experienced masseuse. However, things get difficult when it comes to auditioning enterprise architects. It's not as if you can simply pull a violin out of a case and have the candidate play a set of passages from the orchestra's repertoire. Something more is needed. This is where architectural scenarios and behavioral-based interviews come into play.

Working with architectural scenarios

As the name implies, an architectural scenario is a description of an architectural intention that needs implementation or an architectural problem that requires a solution. In a scenario-based interview, a company creates some scenarios relevant to the commercial and technical domains of the business. It then gives one or more of them to a prospective candidate applying for an enterprise architect position. The candidate does the work of creating an architecture that satisfies the given scenario's requirements. Designing the architecture can be done on site or as a take-home project, whichever way suits the company's needs.

A good architectural scenario will be general enough to allow candidates to exercise their creativity freely yet detailed enough to ensure the prospective architect can work effectively within the constraints of a particular business' domain. For example, if your business is large-scale, commercial agriculture, you want to make sure the architectural scenario contains details relevant to agriculture. Should your business be commercial mortgages, you'll want your design to touch upon the particulars of that sector.

But you can talk about scenarios in concept all day long. At some point, you need a few to work with.

Using the sample scenarios

In the coming weeks, this article series will cover scenarios for three industrial sectors: manufacturing, telco, and medical-dental. The scenarios I'll provide are:

  • Manufacturing: BakeCo scenario
  • Telco: MobileSky scenario 
  • Medical/Dental: DentProd scenario 

You're welcome to use them in your interview process. You can also use these cases as models to create scenarios that suit your business' purposes. And if you have expertise in another industry to share with our readers, please consider writing an article about it for Enable Architect.

[ New research from HBR Analytic Services - IT talent strategy: New tactics for a new era ]

Putting it all together

To put it bluntly, unlike hiring someone that you (or a colleague) have worked with in the past, hiring a stranger is a crapshoot. It might work out, and it might not. Relying solely on a resume and a few question-and-answer sessions with a prospective enterprise architect won't reveal a candidate's skill and sensibility in a concrete manner. An actual demonstration of a candidate's abilities is required.

Incorporating a scenario-based approach into your company's hiring process is a good way to increase the odds of making a good hiring decision. The trick is to make sure you create scenarios that are open-ended enough to inspire a candidate's creativity and also appropriate to your company's business sector.

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Bob Reselman

Bob Reselman is a nationally known software developer, system architect, industry analyst, and technical writer/journalist. More about me

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