Ace the Engineering Manager Interview + Questions (2023 Guide) was originally published on Exponent.
Hey there! Are you getting ready for an engineering manager interview? This article is part of our complete Engineering Management Interview Course with top interview questions and practice sessions.
Sneak Peek: The three most common engineering manager interview questions are:
Engineering manager interviews are among the most difficult in tech. You have to demonstrate your technical prowess and experience designing complex systems. And don’t forget your skills in people management too!
Unfortunately, the interview process is often opaque for engineering managers. EM interview questions can cover a wide range of technical and people-management topics, and it’s often unclear what the best way to prepare for them is.
We sat down with engineering manager interviewers from some of the top tech companies, including Google, Meta, Uber and others, to figure out what questions to expect and how to prepare.
The most common questions for engineering managers are:
Question 1: Design TikTok (or another system)
Billions of people use Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other big tech products. As a result, their engineering managers must be capable of designing highly scalable systems.
This is the part of the interview where you want to demonstrate your ability to be both creative and structured. The questions you’ll be asked are usually open-ended and feel more like a conversation. To illustrate your answers, you’ll use a whiteboard (or an online equivalent).
About 15% to 20% of Google, Meta, Amazon, and Microsoft’s interview processes are focused on system design for engineering managers. Interviewers want to see how you approach ambiguous problems and guide them through your thought process.
“How would you design TikTok?” is answered here in video form.
Question 2: Tell me about yourself.
Make your response specific to the company you’re interviewing with. Include your work history and explain why you’re interested in the type of work you’d be doing in the position you’re interviewing for.
Include any volunteer work you’ve done, conferences you’ve attended, or other activities that demonstrate your desire to be involved in the space and stay up to date on developments in the space.
For example, if you were to interview at a mental health startup, you would say:
“Hello, I’m a former Google engineering manager who worked on Google Search and Android Wear.
I’ve spent the last few years building Exponent, a company dedicated to assisting people in breaking into tech career fields such as Product Management and Software Engineering.
I’ve grown this company to now partner with top-tier MBA schools such as Stanford and Yale.
I’ve been interested in product management since I learned about it in college, believing it to be a good match for my technical and people-oriented skills.
One aspect of product management that I enjoy is when a PM takes on a “therapist-like” role. Whether it’s volunteering with Suicide Hotline or pursuing my broad interests in the field of mental health by organizing Hack Mental Health, I’ve realized that I want to use my product management skills to make an actual difference in this space, which is what brought me here today.”
Question 3: How do you manage team performance?
Engineering managers lead teams, so interviewers want to know if you can handle the inevitable ups and downs of team performance when solving complex problems.
Watch a Facebook Engineering Manager talk about how he manages his team’s performance as they build products.
Check out our full list of the top behavioral interview questions.
As an EM, your primary responsibility is managing your team. You’re directly responsible for their growth and their performance.
There are two aspects to managing. The first is tracking KPIs for the team and company. Then, measuring those KPIs against the standards set forth by the team.
And the other aspect is empowering your team.
KPIs can act as clear markers of success. They create a mutual language between managers and engineers of what success looks like in a project.
My job as a manager is to have open and honest lines of communication with my team. These KPIs and standards are flexible if the whole team is on the same page about the status of a project.
It’s also your responsibility as a leader to understand your team’s blocks and pain points. How can you help them get past them?
But by clearly defining success for a project, you can have open conversations with team members if their performance is lower than expected or if there are ways you can help unblock them.
Question 4: Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
At Amazon, candidates are frequently tested with questions like this one to determine how well they align with the company’s Leadership Principles.
This answer comes from one of our Exponent community members. See more answers to this question here.
“Let me tell you about a time when a website I managed experienced unexpectedly slow performance, which went unnoticed until a user reported the problem to management.
As the engineering manager, I accepted full responsibility for the situation and worked with my engineering team to quickly resolve it. This error taught me the importance of focusing on and monitoring non-functional requirements in addition to new feature development/adoption, which was where I was spending the majority of my time.
After deploying the fix on the weekend, I made sure that such an error didn’t happen again by installing a good application monitoring tool and creating a company-wide dashboard with alerts when website behavior exceeded thresholds.
I made the effort to learn the tool myself in order to further analyze previous issues and identify optimization areas for engineering.
In a lunch and learn session, I also shared my learnings with the other EMs in my org so that they could benefit as well.”
How to Answer Amazon’s Behavioral Interview Questions (Guide)
Getting ready for an Amazon behavioral interview? Learn about key leadership principles and get answers to the most common behavioral interview questions asked at Amazon.
More Engineering Manager Interview Questions (2023)
Engineering manager interview questions vary by company. Tech companies frequently ask these questions:
- Design TikTok (Video answer)
- Design Twitter (Video answer)
- How would you build Instagram? (Video answer)
- Design TinyURL (Video answer)
- Design Facebook Messenger (Video answer)
- How do you organize 1:1 meetings with your team? (View answer)
- How would you characterize your coaching and career development role?
- Tell me about some of your team members and the career development plans you developed with them.
- What was some challenging feedback you received? Why was it so difficult to receive?
- How do you deal with underperformers on your team? (View an Amazon EM’s response)
Recruitment and Hiring
- How do you recruit great engineers? Read our guide to recruiting and hiring.
- How would you go about creating a pool of candidates who are the best in the world?
- What hiring frameworks do you use to ensure you hire the best candidates for your team?
- What makes a good resume?
Management and Team Execution
- How do you set up projects for success? See how to talk about project success.
- Describe a time when you had to lead a team through a reorganization.
- Describe a time when you anticipated a problem and devised a preventive strategy.
- How do you balance feature development and technical debt? Read our example answer.
- How would you create quarterly OKRs for your team? See our recommended approach.
- Tell me about a time when you needed to get your team on board after receiving direction from your manager.
- What do you do when a team completely disagrees with the founder/VP on a product’s direction?
- How do you explain engineering concepts to non-technical team members? View answer question.
- When you’re planning a project involving work across multiple teams, how do you drive alignment? Read our example answer.
- What sort of feedback would you get from a cross-functional peer? Strengths, areas for development, etc.?
- Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
- Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
Engineering Manager Interview Stages
In general, the engineering manager 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, and behavioral questions to assess your personality and working style. 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.
2. Manager screen
In this interview, you’ll speak with the hiring manager about your technical skills and domain knowledge (this is sometimes referred to as the technical screen). Expect to talk through why you’re the best candidate for the job and how you’d add value to the company.
On-site interviews 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. EMs may be given a technical screen or coding challenge (which likely mirrors the first technical screen, if you’ve been given one) and complete 1-2 rounds of people management interviews and system design questions. There may be a separate round for a project retrospective. We encourage you to gather as much information as possible about the exact structure from your recruiter, as well as checking our list of EM interview questions that have been recently asked by tech companies.
While this is a generally universal structure of the interview process, the interview stages can vary across different companies. We recommend taking a look at some of the interview stages at popular tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to get a sense.
Preparing for the Interview
1. Develop a Story Bank
To be successful as an engineering manager, we strongly recommend creating a story bank of your experiences before your interviews. Choose between 5 and 10 relevant experiences that made an impression on you. If you’re prepping for a specific interview, it’s good practice to map stories to company values. For example, if you’re interviewing at Airbnb for example, you’ll want at least four: one for each core value.
For each story, write down the who, what, when, where, and why. Consider how this story demonstrates your experience and how it fits into the larger business goals. Consider the technical decisions and tradeoffs—what complex decisions did you make a part of the project? How do you reflect on those decisions? Also, be sure to think through the people side of the project—how did you work with others to accomplish the goals of the project?
Once you’ve crafted your stories, think about some of the main lessons and values imbued in them. What values do these stories represent? What do they say about your leadership style? By reflecting on these stories yourself, you’ll be prepared to answer all the potential follow-up questions that your interviewer will ask you, while demonstrating your thoughtful and reflective leadership skills.
To double check that your story bank has a comprehensive set of stories, browse our list of recently asked engineering manager interview questions to see if your story bank covers most of the questions. If not, try to brainstorm a few more projects to be fully prepared for the types of questions you might receive.
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:
- Amazon loves to interview candidates using their core leadership values. View the Amazon Software Development Manager Guide here.
- Google emphasizes technical competence in their interviews and often asks system design questions. View the Google Engineering Manager Guide here.
- Facebook interviewers tend to ask about your people skills—like ability to manage conflict or dealing with difficult team members. View the Facebook Engineering Manager Guide here.
Check out our full list of company interview guides here:
3. Prepare for System Design Interviews
System design interviews are often asked in the EM interview process, and require a different type of preparation than the people management interviews. These interviews often are in the format of “Design X” where you’ll be asked to discuss a technical implementation for a software product and consider trade-offs in building it.
For each system you design in the interview, consider how it affects the following aspects:
- Scalability: a system is scalable if it is designed so that it can handle additional load and will still operate efficiently.
- Reliability: a system is reliable if it can perform the function as expected, it can tolerate user mistakes, is good enough for the required use case, and it also prevents unauthorized access or abuse.
- Availability: a system is available if it is able to perform its functionality (uptime/total time). Note reliability and availability are related but not the same. Reliability implies availability but availability does not imply reliability.
- Efficiency: a system is efficient if it is able to perform its functionality quickly. Latency, response time and bandwidth are all relevant metrics to measuring system efficiency.
- Maintainability: a system is maintainable if it easy to make operate smoothly, simple for new engineers to understand, and easy to modify for unanticipated use cases.
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 designing Instagram, your interviewer may ask how your design might hold up when Instagram is scaled to 1 billion users, and where the weak points might be or where you may want to rethink your system architecture. In this scenario, you may want to consider adding load balancers or a content delivery network.
Review some of the system design fundamentals in our system design interview prep course to be fully prepared to ace these questions.
Lastly, be sure to get in some practice to get comfortable answering questions and smooth out your responses.
As you practice, remember to actively listen. Effective engineering managers 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 truly listen to what the interviewer is asking. 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. As you practice more, you’ll know which areas you need to focus your preparation on more.
Ultimately, the best way to prepare for the engineering manager interview is to get out there and practice. To recap, there are plenty of resources on Exponent to help you practice and get ready for your upcoming EM interview:
💬 Get prepared with example EM interview questions
📖 Read through our Engineering Management interview guides
👯♂️ Practice your behavioral and system design skills with our interview practice tool.
👨🎓 Take our complete Engineering Management interview course.