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The One Question to Ask a Business Analyst Candidate

FEATUREDec13thOne of the hardest things to do in the business analysis profession is find the right candidate for the right job. It is no mystery that in spite of how far we have come, no two business analysis jobs are alike. Recruiters and hiring managers seem to be able to get a sense of a business analyst’s hard skills. They can review their resume and ask direct questions regarding the knowledge and experience with techniques like use cases, user stories, context diagrams, etc. They can quiz them on the types of projects they have worked on and the different methodologies from waterfall to agile and everything in between. I know many companies that have BA candidates present requirements deliverables and have them perform some BA tasks as part of the interview process.

Even with a case study interview process, it is still difficult to get a sense of a candidate’s analytical thinking ability. Although it is difficult to determine in an interview, it is one of the skills that separate good BAs from the great BAs. I’m talking about the ones with the ability to think abstractly, then break down an abstract challenge or opportunity and turn it into a solution. In 2011, most companies can find people with the hard skills. The accepted practices used at many companies have been around long enough, so finding people with the necessary hard-skill experience is easy. What the BA does with the information elicited is the difficult part to judge. How do you know candidate one can help your team better analyze a situation than candidate two? I have the answer. You need to see how well the candidate can guess.

In a recent Time magazine article, Good Guess, Why we shouldn’t underestimate the value of estimating, the author Annie Murphy Paul made me realize I had a valid reason to make candidates take a guess during an interview. The premise of the article is that estimation is the foundation for more analytical thinking and crucial for people searching for jobs in the knowledge-based economy in which we are in.

With the ability to “just Google it,” many people, young and old, no longer take a guess or rarely estimate because many answers are at their fingertips. By not practicing with estimation, you start to lose the ability to think abstractly. In some ways, Google makes us more efficient, while in other ways it makes us lose the necessary skill to be an excellent BA.

Here is a question I ask to see how well a BA candidate can guess. How much revenue per day is made by the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority from cars passing through the Georgia 400 toll plaza? Depending on the answer, I can gauge an individual’s ability to think abstractly and analytically. If a candidate replies with, “Hold on, let me Google it,” I am not impressed. If they take a guess that goes something like, “There are almost 5 million people in the Atlanta area and half the people are adults. Of adults that can drive, 1.5 million own cars. Of the 1.5 million, a third probably live and work in an area that would require them to go through the toll. Of that .5 million, I’ll guess half or 250,000 go through the toll each day. The toll cost per day is $1.00, so they make $250,000 per day.” The actual answer after Googling it is closer to $60,000 per day, but who cares? What you should love about that answer is the thought process.

If you want to see if your BA candidates have the ability to think critically, keep them guessing. What great questions do you ask to determine which candidate to hire? Please share with the group below in the comments.

Abstractly yours,


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