25+ Great Engineering Manager Interview Questions and Answers

As an engineering manager, you have the responsibility of managing people, projects, and processes related to the creation and maintenance of products and services.

It's a big responsibility and companies want to make sure they hire the right person for the position.

These are the most commonly asked questions at companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, and other tech companies. Most of these questions apply to other industries too.

1 - What is the role of an engineering manager?

If you don't know what your job entails, you don't get hired. This question is also a way to filter engineering managers that use processes that are incompatible with the company's own.

The responsibilities of an engineering manager are:

2 - Why do you want to become an engineering manager?

You'll be asked this question if you are making a jump into engineering management.

Mention your love for engineering, but also the business side of things. If you had previous experience managing people, state it as well.

Say your experience as an engineer gives you the knowledge you need to build engineering teams and coach them to success.

Add that you'd like to be responsible for managing the technical implementation of a product or service from beginning to end.

3 - How do you hire top engineering talent?

As an engineering manager, you'll be responsible for hiring new talent for your team. The most important questions are: where do you find the talent and how do you test its quality?

Finding talent: your personal network, referrals from current engineers, internal hires/promotions, industry job boards, LinkedIn, or recruiters.

Testing talent: phone screening, culture fit analysis, solving problems on a whiteboard or computer, testing the candidate's technical skills through sample projects, and structured interviews.

4 - When and how do you promote an engineer?

When do you promote an engineer to a senior engineer? Or to a tech lead? What criteria do you use?

Promotions should be given based on previous performance on a ‌job and expected performance in the future position.

Mention the Peter Principle. Candidates should be tested on the new job before they are given the promotion.

5 - Why and how would you fire an engineer?

Unfortunately, not everyone will perform at the expected level. You often have to fire people. Your interviewer wants to know what process you use to determine if somebody should be fired, and how you go about doing it.

If somebody is underperforming, there should be a formal process improvement plan. The goal is to improve performance or offer an alternative career path within the company.

If the engineer still fails to perform, then the company has documentation it did everything it could to support the person. This is important to conform to labor laws.

6 - How do you coach your engineers?

Coaching your staff is an important part of being a manager.

An engineering manager does 1 on 1's, gives advice based on his experience, incentivizes continuous education, and helps engineers set personal goals.

7 - How do you run 1 on 1's?

Should be done on a recurring schedule, usually weekly. The past week is analyzed. Was work completed? What went wrong, what went right?

Goals are set for the next week, expectations made clear. Feedback and coaching are provided on an ongoing basis.

8 - How do an engineering manager and a tech lead work together?

A tech lead is more focused on the technology problems a team faces, while an engineering manager is focused on the people's side.

The relationship is similar to that of a coach(engineering manager) and a captain(tech lead).

9 - How do you coach a tech lead?

Regular 1 on 1's, advising the tech lead on task prioritization and helping to maintain high-quality standards.

10 - How do you deal with engineers with performance issues?

Create a performance improvement plan with the goal of getting the engineer back to speed. Personal, 1 on 1 coaching should be provided.

If the performance remains low, try to find a new position within the company. If no position is available, the engineer should be counseled out of the company.

11 - What if an engineer is more talented than you?

It's perfectly normal for a member of the staff to have more engineering talent. The manager doesn't have to be the smartest engineer in the room.

However, an engineering manager needs to have the best business and social skills of all engineers.

12 - How would you develop a tech lead?

An engineer(usually senior), should be designated as a "teach lead in training" and slowly be given the following responsibilities:

13 - Have you ever managed remote engineers?

As remote work goes mainstream, many companies require their engineering managers to manage staff remotely.

Whether or not you have that experience, ‌stress the importance of communication and documentation for remote teams.

14 - What's the size of the teams you've managed?

Different companies set up engineering teams of different sizes. Some want to hire managers with experience managing bigger teams.

To pass this question, persuade the interviewer you have what it takes to deal with the responsibility of having more people under your wing.

15 - What's the difference between managing a big or a small team?

Bigger teams require better communication and coordination, as it's harder to make everyone aligned towards the same goal.

16 - How to resolve conflict within your team?

Identify and fix the source of the conflict. There are usually three reasons for conflict within a team: poor communication, unaligned objectives, and unclear job roles.

17 - What's the difference between leadership and management?

Leadership is about inspiring people to achieve a goal. Management is the efficient use of resources(people, capital, materials) to achieve said goal.

Engineering managers should be both good leaders and good managers.

18 - How do you motivate your people?

Set very clear goals. What's the destination? Assign responsibilities to each staff member and establish common team goals.

Celebrate and reward the team for each successful milestone.

19 - How do you choose a new technology for a project?

Select technology that is tried and proven at solving a specific technical problem.

Selection should be made based on experience, use cases, white papers, and careful research. The budget should be a factor too.

20 - How do you solve tech debt?

All projects suffer from tech debt at different points in the development process. That said, it should be managed and minimized.

Engineering time and resources should be spent dealing with tech debt: testing, refactoring, engineer training, and proper documentation.

21 - What do you do if your engineers disagree with your choice of technology?

Engineers are rarely happy with the tech choices their managers make for them. A way to prevent this problem is to give engineers more power in their choice of a tech stack.

22 - Have you worked with product managers?

In product-oriented companies, product managers handle everything from customer research to decisions on what product features should be implemented.

The product manager's responsibilities are deciding the "what" and the "why" of the product. Your responsibilities are deciding the "how?". How do you build it?

23 - How do you prioritize projects?

It depends on the business value each project brings. Projects that bring more revenue should get more attention.

However, less sexy projects that don't directly bring revenue can also be important. There are multiple project prioritization frameworks that can be used.

24 - Tell me about yourself

Your own elevator pitch. A good approach to this question is to summarize your resume: mention your education, give a high-level overview of your career, and describe your passion for engineering and management.

25 - Why do you want to work for us?

You'll get asked this on almost all job interviews, no matter the position.

State you like the industry and the type of problems the company solves. Mention you're looking for a challenge and the ability to solve interesting engineering problems.

Tell the interviewer that the skills you have match perfectly with what the company is looking for. Tell him you're attracted to the company's reputation and the opportunity to grow as a professional.

26 - What were you responsible for in your previous role?

What projects were you responsible for? And for how long? What were your achievements? How did your presence benefit your previous company?

Don't forget to sell yourself. Like it or not, you've got to persuade the interviewer to get the job.

27 - Why did you leave your previous role?

Did you get fired? Probably better not to mention that. Did the company close? It's ok to disclose that.

But maybe you're looking for a bigger challenge. You want to grow your career and are looking for new opportunities. Say you've left for bigger and better things.

28 - Other questions

The interview process for engineering managers

The engineering manager position is a role with a big responsibility within a company. You will be given your own budget, the ability to hire and fire people, and also to manage projects from start to finish.

Naturally, companies don't want to gamble on somebody with unproven experience. You will most likely be put on a multi-stage process, interviewing with multiple teams.

Some companies will test your technical skills, others do not. You can expect to be asked about architectural, design, and management topics.

Dress well

Even if the company has a casual culture, it's never a mistake to dress well for an interview. You don't want to show up being the worst dressed person in the room. People will think you don't care.

As a minimum, dress business casual. And a suit will never hurt your ability to get a job...

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