Generally, the engineering manager interview process can be thought of as four steps:
Preparation - Tailor your resume to highlight your most relevant skills for the job you are applying for.
Recruiter Screen - A high-level assessment of your fit for the company's EM position.
Managerial Screen - Coding, system design, and behavioral questions to determine your skills and suitability.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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.
Your Exponent membership awaits.
Exponent is the fastest-growing tech interview prep platform. Get free interview guides, insider tips, and courses.