I recently completed a loop of interviews for a software engineering manager position. Below is a collection of 100+ mostly management and behavioral questions I was asked by panels and on phone screens at a variety of tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. No one asked all these. I didn’t write notes in the interviews so these are taken from memory.
I was also asked a variety of technical questions in my field e.g. most often system design but also sometimes algorithms, reviewing code or documentation and commenting on it, and even some whiteboard coding. This varied by the company as to how important it was for an engineering manager to be technical and close to the code, or more a people manager. Finally, one company asked me to deliver a technical presentation and do a mock interview.
Hopefully, if you are interviewing these job questions will help you prepare, or if you are hiring give you ideas as to what you might ask an engineering management candidate yourself.
>> If you are interviewing and want some help preparing or need introductions, you can reach out to me. <<
- What is the role of an engineering manager?
- What was your purpose in moving into management?
- What are you looking for in your next role?
- Why are you leaving your current role?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What is the difference between leadership and management?
- What is the largest team you have ever managed?
- What size team are you looking to manage?
- How big a team are you comfortable to manage?
- What are the differences and tradeoffs between managing a small team and a large team?
- What is the composition of your current (or last) team, and how is your team organized?
- Have you managed other managers?
- How is managing other managers different from managing individual contributors?
- How would your current (or last) team describe you?
- How hands-on are you with the team? Are you involved in coding, design reviews, architecture, etc.?
- Do you have experience managing remote teams or individuals? What is different about that?
- What kinds of meetings do you hold to run your team?
- Do you have any questions for me?
Feedback and Performance Management
- What was some difficult feedback you had to give recently? and why was it hard to deliver?
- What was some difficult feedback that you received? and why was it hard to receive?
- How you do coaching and career development?
- Tell me about a few people on your team and the career development plans you created with them.
- How do you coach engineers on your team that are smarter and better engineers than you?
- Have you ever promoted anyone?
- How have you managed low performers?
- Tell me about a time you turned around a low performer.
- How do you deal with difficult team members?
- Have you ever had to fire someone?
- How often do you do 1 on 1s?
- What is the structure of your 1 on 1s?
- What do you look for when hiring?
- Tell me about the diversity of your team.
- What do you do ensure you have diversity?
- How do you recruit and hire in SF Bay Area (because it is so hard and competitive)?
- How much time do you spend hiring and sourcing candidates? What do you do?
- How do you work with your recruiters?
Working with Tech Leads and Technology
- What is the role of a tech lead?
- What is the relationship between the engineering manager and tech lead?
- What if all your team is new and junior and you don’t have a tech lead? What if no one on your team wants to be a tech lead, or do the things tech leads do?
- How do you grow and develop tech leads?
- Have you ever disagreed with one of your tech leads?
- What do you do, or say, if one of your engineers is really pushing hard for a new sexy technology (assume: you don’t agree it is the right choice)?
- How do you ensure (code) quality and keep a lid on tech debt?
- How do you establish ownership in your teams?
Prioritization and Execution
- How do you manage multiple requests to your team? How do you deal with competing priorities?
- Did you ever disagree with your product manager about the priority of tasks or if something needed to be done at all?
- How do you see the tradeoffs between scope, quality, and schedule?
- How do you work with product managers, UX team, etc.?
- Tell me about a project you are most proud of.
- Tell me about a time you exceeded expectations and went above and beyond.
- Tell me a time when a project you were responsible for was late or not meeting expectations. What did you do?
- Tell me a mistake you made that hurt the business.
- What was your biggest failure?
- What are you not good at?
- Explain to me the roles and responsibilities in a Scrum team. (This company was very into Agile and Scrum.)
- Tell me a time you had a conflict with another manager and how you resolved it.
- Tell me about a time you did not see eye to eye with your manager and how you resolved it.
- Tell me about a time there was a conflict between members of your team and how you resolved it.
New Questions in 2019 Since this List was First Published
- What is the hardest lesson you have learned as an engineering manager?
- What would you say is the main responsibility or most important thing for an engineering manager to do?
- Tell me about a project that did NOT go as planned and what you learned from it.
- What is an area you are working on improving?
- How have you grown as a manager over the last year?
- Tell me when you took a risk hiring someone and how it worked out.
- How do you measure your success?
- How do you describe your job to people outside the industry?
- How do you build a team?
- How do you keep people motivated?
- What is the point of a 1:1?
- Think of a mistake or failure you’ve made in the past two years. What did you learn from it and/or do differently in the future?
- What would a report/peer/manager feedback on you be? Strengths, areas for development, etc.
- How would you assess if someone is a good manager?
- Why is management attractive to you?
- What in your mind are the responsibilities of a manager?
- What kind of process have you followed in the past and what has worked well for you? What hasn’t worked?
- How do you institute the right process at the right time? How do you know when you need something more formal?
- Have they ever removed process? Why or why not?
- What are you looking for in an engineer when you recruit? Do they prefer to hire only experienced folks? Are they more comfortable with generalists or specialists?
- How have you optimized the recruiting process in the past? Have they thought about the recruiting funnel and how you can optimize different parts of it?
- What are their thoughts on structured interview loops vs. non-structured free-form loops?
- How do you deal with people performance issues?
- Have you ever had to implement a PIP (performance improvement plan)? What are your thoughts on it?
- What are the pros/cons of public vs. private titles?
- How do you identify engineers who could make good managers? How do you help them develop?
- What do you do when a team completely disagrees with the founder/VP on the direction of a product?
- How do you bootstrap technical leadership in an organization that has no public titles?
- How do you handle a great engineer with communication problems?
- How do you handle someone who really wants a promotion but isn’t ready?
- Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
- Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
- Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
- 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.
- Please discuss an important written document you were required to complete.
- Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
- Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split-second decision.
- What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
- Tell me about a time you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
- Tell me about a difficult decision you’ve made in the last year.
- Give me an example of a time when something you tried to accomplish and failed.
- Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
- Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.
- Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
- Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
- Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
- Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
- Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
- Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
- Please tell me about a time you had to fire a friend.
- Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
- How do you “run” your team?
- Tell me when you got feedback about your team and had to make a change based on that feedback.
- Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult resource tradeoff.
- What was your most successful product or project and why?
- What was your worst product or project and why?
- Explain your quarterly or long term planning.
- How do you manage dependencies in your team and across teams?
- How do you manage existing tech debt?
- How involved were you in developing features and tech spec creation?
- How do you ensure quality?
- What was the interaction like between dev, product management and design and were there opportunities to make improvements?
- Tell me how you helped drive a process or cultural change across teams or orgs.
- Tell me how you communicated your roadmap externally.
- Tell me about a time you received guidance from manager and had get buy in from your team.
- Tell me about a time you had to lead a team through and org change.
If you have any other recommended questions, please share in the comments.
For me, the behavioral questions were the most challenging. I found this book Kindle ebook helpful, “How to Answer Interview Questions: 101 Tough Interview Questions“
Structure of the job interviews
This varied by the company but generally, there was 1 recruiter call, then 1 hiring manager call, and then often a phone screen with someone other than the hiring manager, and then an initial onsite with 5 or 6 people. The largest onsite panel I faced was 8 people and the smallest was 3. If the first onsite was successful there would often be another onsite with typically 4 to 5 people more senior than the first panel, but this was not always the case.
The phone screen was usually centered on engineering leadership although I had a few companies that asked for online coding assessments or technical phone screens instead.
The exact structure varied but most typically it was 1 coding, 2 design interviews, and 3 managerial/leadership interviews. A few companies added some unique interviews described below.
Coding, Algorithms and Data structures. About 50% of the companies I interviewed with for an engineering manager position required a coding interview on a whiteboard or computer. To me, this became an indicator as to whether managers are expected to be more than people managers.
Even though companies would say that engineering managers are not expected to code, the questions were not easy or entry-level. Contrary to what some will tell you there is also no credit for effort, or brute force solutions. Panelists were expecting working solutions with efficient algorithms and proper use of data structures in the 45 min to 1 hour. Prepare as if you are interviewing for a senior software engineer or higher. One of the best resources I found for preparing was https://www.algoexpert.io/. [Use this code jojfu-46 for 15% off.]
Design. There were at least 1 and often 2 design interviews. These interviews as the same as those for any senior software engineer or higher. Examples, design any popular website or app such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google docs, Whatsapp, Uber, etc. I think the best place to prepare for these is to watch videos on Youtube where people explain the architecture of all these popular systems.
Managerial/leadership. These interviews were divided into a variety of topics with each panelist drilling into a particular topic with behavioral interview questions. You can find the topics above.
Unique one-off interviews. In place of one of the usual segments above, I was also asked to do a mock 1 on 1, a mock interview, a culture fit interview, and a technical presentation on a topic of my choice by different companies. No company I interviewed asked for more than 1 of these kinds of segments. These were pretty rare.