Complete Guide to Engineering Manager Interviews (and Top Questions)

Engineering Management
Exponent TeamExponent TeamLast updated

Are you preparing for an upcoming engineering manager interview?

By the end of this guide, you'll understand which parts of engineering manager interviews you feel confident in and which areas need improvement.

Engineering manager interviews are among the most difficult in tech.

As an EM, you're trusted for your technical knowledge, experience in designing complex systems, and people management skills.

The interview process is designed to test these skills, although it varies across roles and companies.

This guide accompanies Exponent's engineering manager interview course, trusted by 19,000+ software engineers and engineering managers.

Sneak Peek: The three most common engineering manager interview questions are:

- Design TikTok. Watch Google TPM answer.
- Tell me about yourself. View expert answers.
- How do you manage team performance? View expert answers.

Who Wrote this Guide?

This guide was created with 10 engineering managers and software engineers at Dropbox, Amazon, Google, startups, and other large tech companies.

By the end of this guide, you will feel confident:

  • answering common behavioral and leadership questions,
  • discussing your engineering experience,
  • and demonstrating your technical proficiency in system design and shipping code.
Engineering manager interview loops comprise system design, behavioral, and software engineering components. 

Engineering Manager Interview Process

Generally, the engineering manager interview process can be thought of as four steps:

  1. Preparation - Tailor your resume to highlight your most relevant skills for the job you are applying for.
  2. Recruiter Screen - A high-level assessment of your fit for the company's EM position.
  3. Managerial Screen - Coding, system design, and behavioral questions to determine your skills and suitability.
  4. On-site Interviews - In-depth discussions about your management style and technical knowledge.

During these interviews, you'll be assessed on your programming skills, engineering management experience, and high-level understanding of system design.

Below is an overview of the interview process, from the initial resume screen to the final offer.

Step 1: Preparation

Spend time reviewing your work history and career goals before submitting an application.

  • Resume: Review your EM resume and tailor it to the specific company you're applying for. Highlight your relevant programming and management skills mentioned in the job posting.
  • Career Goals: Familiarize yourself with the company's mission and goals to ensure they align with your aspirations as an engineer. Do you want to lead a large engineering team? Have the opportunity to ship code?
  • Core Concepts: Brush up on core concepts and commonly asked questions for engineering manager interviews, such as system design, behavioral interviews, people management, and collaboration across functions.
  • Stories: Prepare a story bank of scenarios from your past jobs demonstrating your engineer strengths. These could include times when you led your team through a challenging engineering problem or had to handle layoffs.
  • Referrals: Finally, consider getting a referral to help your application stand out.
The goal of tailoring your resume isn’t to get past applicant tracking software.

Instead, a strong resume can help a recruiter easily match your skills and work experience with the job they are hiring for, envisioning you in the role and how you can solve the engineering challenges they face.

Step 2: Recruiter screen

Almost every engineering manager interview starts with a recruiter screening call.

Recruiter screening calls determine which candidates will advance in the interview process.

During this 30 to 45-minute interview, a recruiter will ask about your resume, pose light technical questions to gauge your domain knowledge, and ask behavioral questions to assess your personality and working style.

To succeed, be authentic and genuine.

Research the company you’re interviewing for, and show real excitement about their teams' opportunities and challenges.

Recruiters often ask engineering managers questions like:

  • "Why do you want to work at Amazon? Google?"
  • "Tell me about your experience building highly scalable, fault-tolerant systems."
  • "Why are you leaving your current company?"
Use LinkedIn to research your recruiter. See if you share mutual connections and interests or went to the same school. These conversations can help break the ice.

If all goes well, you’ll advance to a hiring manager interview.

Step 3. Manager screen

In this interview, you'll speak with the hiring manager about your technical skills and domain knowledge.

This is sometimes called the technical screen and is usually conducted over the phone or via video call.

Practice for your coding interviews with peers for free every day on Pramp.

The interviewer will ask questions about data structures and algorithms or basic system design during these screens.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • You’ll be asked an open-ended question. Make sure to ask clarifying questions. Your interviewer may purposely leave out critical information, so checking all assumptions before starting is essential. Your goal is to define a problem statement and devise requirements.
  • Explain your thought process algorithmically. Walk through your thought process before writing any code.
  • Write workable code in your most robust programming language. Expect to make mistakes or encounter bugs on the first draft. You can optimize and test later. Focus on getting the code out now, considering corner and edge cases, and preparing for testing.
  • Optimize and test. Refine your code, check for cleanliness, follow with test cases, and identify bugs.

Coding Interview Rubric

Below is a standard coding interview rubric used to assess technical competency.


  • Strong Hire: Constantly communicated in a clear, organized manner.
  • Hire: Communicated sufficiently but needed follow-up questions.
  • No Hire: Communicated insufficiently and disorganizedly.
  • Strong No-Hire: Could not communicate effectively or remained silent.


  • Strong Hire: Quickly and accurately approached the problem, discussing alternative solutions.
  • Hire: Approached the problem reasonably well but didn't have time to explain other solutions.
  • No Hire: Didn't understand or solve the problem well.
  • Strong No-Hire: They couldn't solve the problem and weren't confident in their code.

Technical Competency

  • Strong Hire: Showed a strong understanding of coding practices with few bugs.
  • Hire: Had some challenges with code optimization.
  • No Hire: Couldn't produce working code due to syntax errors or lack of understanding.
  • Strong No-Hire: Made many syntax errors and couldn't produce a finished solution.


  • Strong Hire: Systematically tested and corrected throughout the interview.
  • Hire: Had some difficulty managing bugs, but worked through them.
  • No Hire: Didn't test corner cases and couldn't correct bugs.
  • Strong No-Hire: Didn't test against typical use cases and left obvious bugs unaddressed.

Problem Solving & Coding

Engineering Managers are expected to help their teams solve technical problems using sound reasoning and excellent code.

While most companies don't require managers to write code daily, they expect EMs to be able to solve problems using code.

There are three main reasons why this skillset is essential:

  • Engineering managers (EMs) can write code with their team if needed, especially in smaller companies.
  • EMs can give advice to junior engineers on best practices when needed.
  • EMs can talk with other managers about the pros and cons of engineering decisions.

Companies use different approaches to measure candidates on these skills in interviews:

  • A standard coding interview where you reason through different approaches and write code to implement the most efficient one. Unlike individual contributor interviews, coding speed is not as important. The focus is on your thought process, knowledge of best practices, and testing, not how well you remember syntax.
  • A code review interview is where you review a block of code, identify gaps in correctness or testing and offer suggestions on best practices. Some companies may even make this into a role-play.
  • A take-home project where you implement a working solution with production-quality code. Good code quality and testing are important here, along with being efficient with your time.
Engineering managers at Google and software development managers at Amazon are not exempt from technical work. They are expected to be technical experts willing to dive in and contribute to delivering results.

They are also expected to be exceptional leaders who can unite brilliant, non-conformist engineers around a common goal.

Some coding questions and concepts to practice are:

  • Top ‘K’ Elements: Find the top ‘K’ elements in an unsorted array of numbers.
  • Maximum Sum Subarray of a Given Size: Given an array of positive numbers and a positive number ‘k’, find the maximum sum of any contiguous size ‘k’ subarray.
  • Smallest Missing Positive Number: Find the smallest missing positive number in an unsorted array of numbers.
  • Maximum CPU Load: Given an array of jobs with different time requirements, where each job consists of a start time, end time, and CPU load when running, determine the maximum CPU load at any time if all the jobs are running on the same machine.
  • Subarrays with Products Less than a Target: Given an array with positive numbers and a target number, find all the contiguous subarrays whose product is less than the target number.
  • Minimum Number of Coins: Given a number array representing the denominations of coins and a total amount ‘T’ to make change for, find the minimum number of coins required to make change for the given amount.

Step 4. On-site

On-site interviews follow a predictable structure, although the details vary across companies.

Typically, you will interview for 3-5 hours, with a lunch break midway through. Each round will last 30-60 minutes.

  1. Engineering managers (EMs) may first be given a technical screen or coding challenge. If so, this will likely mirror the first technical screen and scope of questions.
  2. You will then complete 1-2 people management interviews and answer system design questions.
  3. There may be a separate round for a project retrospective.

To better understand the interview process, ask your recruiter.

See some interview processes at popular tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to get a sense.

You usually only have 45 minutes to discuss technical details in a system design interview. 

System Design Interview Framework

A typical system design interview lasts between 45 to 60 minutes.

Good interviewers will leave a few minutes in the beginning for introductions and a couple at the end for questions.

A system design interview is usually composed of 5 steps:

  • Step 1: Understand the problem. Get to know the problem and define the scope of the design.
  • Step 2: Design the system.  Outline the most essential parts of the system and show how they work together to achieve the desired function.
  • Step 3: Explore the design. You or your interviewer will choose an interesting component and discuss its details.
  • Step 4: Improve the design. Consider the current design's issues and how to fix them and support more users.
  • Step 5: Wrap up. Check that the design meets all requirements and suggest ways to improve it.

System Design Interview Questions for EMs

Refresh your knowledge of these common system design questions and concepts:

"Trying to prep for a tough interview? Concentrate on the basic principles of system design instead of memorizing particular product setups.

Knowing the underlying principles will help you apply your knowledge to different situations and technologies, no matter the question." - Daisy M.

Daisy Modi is an Exponent technical interview coach and senior engineer with experience at Google, Uber, Adobe, and Twitter. Get coached by Daisy M.

Management Skills

Having excellent technical skills as an engineering manager is assumed. However, being an effective manager requires more than technical expertise.

It means empowering the rest of your technical team to succeed.

Here are the most essential engineering management skills, according to hiring managers:


As an individual contributor, you likely shipped a lot of code.

But to succeed as a manager, you must assign work to the rest of your team and manage their output and career growth.

Good managers know how to assign and delegate work to their team.

They let go of control and empower your team to take ownership of their work.

Expect to answer questions in your interview like:


Every problem has multiple solutions.

However, compromising on technical requirements, deadlines, and cross-functional requests moves projects forward.

Good engineering managers know how to weigh the trade-offs between solutions and find compromises.

Expect to answer questions like:

  • As a manager, how do you handle tradeoffs? View expert answers.
  • How do you communicate necessary technical changes of a project to your team?


Great technical teams comprise engineers of all skill levels who trust each other.

Your fellow engineers should trust you. But that trust goes both ways.

EMs should believe their team can do great work without micromanaging every git-commit.

Micromanagement leads to burnout and team members feeling unseen in their contributions.

Do your teams trust you?

Expect to answer questions like:


Hiring managers seek engineering managers who can provide meaningful feedback.

As an EM, your team looks up to you for guidance on their role and career.

Honest and invested in professional development, EMs should help their team members succeed, even if it means delivering harsh truths.

Indifferent feedback is harmful.

To do this, you need to be introspective about what personal and professional success looks like for you, your team, and the organization.

Every person on a team has different stakeholders, expectations, and ideas for growth.

Expect to answer questions like:

  • How do you coach and develop your engineering team? Watch a Yelp EM answer.
  • How do you set goals for your engineering team?

Leadership vs. Micromanaging

The following engineering management advice is from Sergio Cruz (EM, Ramsey Solutions).

Leadership is not about controlling and micromanaging every aspect of your team's work.

It is about coaching and empowering your team members to take risks and grow beyond what they think is possible.

Leaders must establish psychological safety within the team to foster a culture of calculated risk-taking.

This means creating a safe environment where team members can express their doubts, failures, opinions, and ideas without fear of judgment or retaliation.

Establishing psychological safety requires leaders to lead by example, encourage open communication, and reward honesty and calculated risks.

When team members step out of their comfort zones to learn and help others grow, it's essential to recognize and reward their efforts.

Doing so creates a culture of learning, innovation, and mutual support where team members can thrive and reach their potential.

Leaders should also be aware of their team members' personal challenges, affecting their work and life quality.

This level of openness and transparency also provides you with insights into how you can support your team members professionally and personally.

You may find that simple adjustments to the work environment can significantly affect team members' ability to manage their stress levels and perform at their best.

Q1: Design a Message Queue

Nailing the system design interview will be a big part of succeeding in your EM interviews.

"Design a distributed message queue" is a fundamental system design interview question.

What are Message Queues?

Message queues are a common and widely used component in distributed systems. They help different parts of a system talk to one another, even if those parts don't operate at the same time.

Messages are stored in a queue until they are used by a part of the system that needs them. This can help make sure that information doesn't get lost.

RabbitMQ is a popular message queue that helps with these information exchanges.

Message queues are part of a distributed system with many servers. These servers are also called brokers. Brokers form a cluster that works to keep the whole system reliable.

Message queues can help different parts of a system work more independently and efficiently.

Message queues can be used in many situations, like:

  • Processing orders for a store,
  • Dealing with money,
  • and keeping information secure.

Some popular message queues include RabbitMQ, Apache Kafka, Apache ActiveMQ, Google Pub/Sub, AWS SNS/SQS, and Azure Queue.

High-Level Message Queue Design

Learn more about using a system design interview framework to answer questions like these.

  • Step 1: Understand the problem. The problem is to design a distributed message queue system that can handle many messages while minimizing each operation's failure rate.
  • Step 2: Design the system. The system should have features such as topic-based queues, a pull model for consumers, and a message structure including a topic, payload, and key for partitioning purposes. The message queue itself should be highly scalable and able to handle abrupt spikes in traffic. Storage solutions such as SQL, NoSQL, or Write Ahead Log (WAL) can be utilized. Fault tolerance and successful writing of messages should be ensured through approaches such as acknowledgments and replicating to followers.
  • Step 3: Explore the design. Interesting components such as metadata and state storage can be discussed in more detail.
  • Step 4: Improve the design. Issues such as a single file bloating up can be fixed by segmenting the file into multiple segments and splitting based on buyer ID. Back-end jobs can also be created to improve the system's efficiency.
  • Step 5: Wrap up. Make sure that the design meets all the requirements. Provide suggestions for improvement. You can improve the design by following best practices, like implementing a leader-follower approach, using metadata and state storage, and designing storage solutions for a read-and-write-heavy system.

Q2: Tell me about yourself.

Another common question in EM interviews is "Tell me about yourself." This behavioral question is often used to break the ice at the beginning of an interview.

When answering this question, tailor your response specifically 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.

Additionally, 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.

For instance, if you were interviewing for an engineering management position at a mental health startup, you might say:

"Hello, I'm a former Google engineering manager who worked on Google Search and Android Wear.

I've spent the last few years as the CTO of a startup, a company dedicated to assisting people in breaking into tech career fields such as Product Management and Software Engineering.

I've grown the company to partner with top-tier MBA schools such as Stanford and Yale.

One aspect of managing teams that I enjoy is when an EM 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 engineering skills to make an actual difference in this space, which is what brought me here today."

Q3: Managing Team Performance

Engineering managers lead teams, so interviewers want to know if you can handle team performance's inevitable ups and downs.

Check out our complete list of the top behavioral interview questions for engineering managers.

Watch a Facebook Engineering Manager talk about how he manages his team's performance .

Team Check-Ins

As an engineering manager, your primary responsibility is to manage your team's performance.

To achieve this, you need to track the progress of each team member and measure their performance against the company's expectations.

Conducting regular one-on-one meetings with every engineer is crucial to determine their goals and what they are currently working on.

The frequency of these meetings may vary depending on the size of the team.

Underperformers must give regular feedback, identify the root cause of the issue, and set milestones to track progress.

On the other hand, recognition and constant challenges with more significant problems to solve are necessary to keep top performers motivated.

It is also essential to compensate, promote them accordingly, and provide mobility opportunities within the company.

Retaining Talent

If you notice a top engineer looking for another job, it's important to understand their reasons and try to retain them.

Additionally, setting someone up for a promotion requires planning six months to a year in advance.

Work with the engineer to understand the expectations and what needs to be done to achieve them. Goals should be set and achieved before a promotion can be made.

As a manager, you should provide ample opportunities for your team members to demonstrate their abilities.

This may involve:

  • working on significant projects,
  • leading initiatives,
  • improving documentation,
  • or collaborating with other teams.
Focus on your own leadership qualities, experience, and ability to manage complex situations using real examples from your work.

The responsibilities of an engineering manager include tracking and measuring performance, identifying and addressing underperformance while keeping top performers motivated, providing opportunities for growth and development, and promoting from within the company.

Q4: Making Mistakes

At Amazon, candidates are frequently asked, "Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

This question determines how well they align with the company's Leadership Principles.

Amazon's leadership principles are a key tenet of their behavioral interviews.

An EM at Square discusses a time he made a mistake at work.

Getting Defensive

A common mistake made by leaders is becoming defensive about engineering decisions.

An engineering manager may strongly believe in a particular solution to a problem, while the product management team disagrees.

It's important to prioritize building relationships with cross-functional stakeholders and work collaboratively to find solutions.

Consider modifying your communication approach.

Implement a "yes and" philosophy by flipping the situation and making the stakeholders feel heard. Listen to feedback, respect it, self-reflect on your communication style, and act accordingly.

When providing feedback, approach the person directly and express your feelings.

Check out books on difficult conversations or non-violent communication, which can provide better communication tools.

Expressing a growth mentality is important when interviewing for an Engineering Manager or Director of Engineering role.

Be able to present organized thoughts and concrete examples from your past leadership interactions.

In leadership roles, good communication, building positive relationships, and taking responsibility for shortcomings are valuable qualities.

This additional 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 spent most of my time.

After deploying the fix on the weekend, I ensured 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 tried to learn the tool myself 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."

Key Takeaways

  • Demonstrate ownership. Show your willingness to own a mistake and learn from it in the future.
  • Describe the solution. Explain how your solution fixed the problem and prevented it from happening again.
  • Share your learnings. Institutional knowledge among engineers is a common problem. Share your findings with others to level up your entire team.

Top Engineering Manager Interview Questions

These are the most common interview questions for EM positions.

They are designed to assess your knowledge of high-level system design, management skills and style, and ability to understand coding challenges and best practices.

Check out Exponent's complete engineering manager interview question database for more practice.

System Design

Billions of people use Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other big tech products.

Their engineering managers must be capable of designing highly scalable systems.

About 15% to 20% of Google, Meta, Amazon, and Microsoft's interview processes are focused on system design for engineering managers. 

System design questions are usually open-ended and feel more like a conversation. To illustrate your answers, you'll use a whiteboard (or an online equivalent like Whimsical).

Interviewers want to see how you approach ambiguous problems and guide them through your thought process.

Management Style

  • 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 create 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?

Team Success

  • 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 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?

Cross-Functional Communication

  • 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 used persuasion to 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 disagreed.

FAANG+ Manager Interviews

During interviews at FAANG+ companies, expect to answer behavioral questions like:

  • Facebook: What product that you led are you most proud of and why?
  • Facebook: What is the value of 1:1’s with your reports?
  • Amazon: Tell me about the most complex project you worked on.
  • Amazon: How would you build a high-performance engineering team?
  • Amazon: Tell me about a time you fired someone.
  • Google: How would you handle poor performers on your team?
  • Dropbox: What project are you most proud of and why?
  • Dropbox: How do you contribute to diversity and inclusion?
  • Airbnb: Describe your management style with examples.
  • Microsoft: What would you do if you disagree with your manager?

Preparing for EM Interviews

Do you want to know the secret to delivering great answers in your engineering manager interviews?

Develop a Story Bank

Create a story bank of your experiences before your interviews.

Choose between 5 and 10 relevant experiences that made an impression on you.

Practice mapping stories to company values.

For example, if you're interviewing at Airbnb, you'll want at least four stories—one for each of their core values:

- Champion the mission.
- Be a host.
- Embrace the adventure.
- Be a cereal entrepreneur.

Write each story's who, what, when, where, and why.

Consider how each story demonstrates your experience and how it fits into the larger business goals.

  • What are the technical decisions and tradeoffs?
  • What complex decisions did you make as part of the project?
  • How do you reflect on those decisions?
  • How did you work with others to accomplish the goals of the project?

Think about some of the main lessons and values imbued in your stories.

What values do these stories represent? What do they say about your leadership style?

By reflecting on these stories, you'll be prepared to answer all the potential follow-up questions your interviewer will ask while demonstrating your thoughtful and reflective leadership skills.

Research the Company

Each company has its own process for interviewing and evaluating candidates along different core values, so do your homework!

During the interview, you'll understand more about the company's culture and goals and be better prepared to demonstrate those values and principles.

  • Amazon loves to interview candidates using their core leadership values. View our Amazon SDE interview guide.
  • Google emphasizes technical competence in their interviews and often asks system design questions. View our Google EM interview guide
  • Facebook interviewers tend to ask about your people skills—like managing conflict or dealing with difficult team members. View our Facebook EM interview guide.

More company-specific interview guides:


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 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 to focus your preparation on.

Learn everything you need to ace your engineering management interviews.

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