Ace the Engineering Manager Interview + Questions (2023 Guide)

Engineering Management
Stephen CognettaStephen CognettaLast updated
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:

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

Engineering manager interviews are among the most difficult in tech. You have to demonstrate your technical knowledge and experience designing complex systems.

And don't forget your skills in people management too!

The interview process is often opaque too. EM interview questions can cover a wide range of technical and people-management topics.

We sat down with engineering manager interviewers from 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. 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. 

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

This is the part of the interview where you want to demonstrate your creative and structured ability.

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).

We recommend using Whimsical for your whiteboarding. 

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

Watch a Google technical program manager answer the system design interview question, "Design TikTok."

Key Takeaways:

  • Know what the app is for. TikTok's primary goal should be to give users a place to share and discover short videos.
  • Define the architecture. Design a scalable and reliable architecture to support the purpose of the app. Consider scalability, performance, and cost.
  • Build the backend services. Design and build the backend services that will power the application, render videos, store new uploads, and make recommendations for content.

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.

For example, if you were to interview for an engineering management position 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 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."

Key Takeaways

  • Mention your direct experience. Have you worked in this role before or in a similar capacity?
  • Align with their mission. Highlight your skills and passions that align with the company's broader vision.

Question 3: How do you manage team performance?

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

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

"As an EM, my primary responsibility is managing my team. I'm 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 my responsibility as a leader to understand the team's blocks and pain points. How can I help them get past them?

But by clearly defining success for a project, I can have open conversations with team members if their performance is lower than expected or if there are ways I can help unblock them."
Watch a Facebook Engineering Manager talk about how he manages his team's performance as they build products.

Key Takeaways

  • Use the STAR Method. Structure your interview using a familiar framework like the STAR method so you can clearly explain projects to your interviewer.
  • Mention hard and soft KPIs. Businesses succeed when their teams are healthy, and they have clear, measurable targets. Emphasize both in your answer.

Question 4: Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

At Amazon, candidates are frequently tested with questions like this to determine how well they align with the company's Leadership Principles.

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

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 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.
A glimpse at the total compensation of salary, stocks, and bonuses across tech. 

More engineering manager interview questions for 2023

System design

Managing individuals

  • 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?

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?

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.

Engineering manager interview process

In general, the engineering manager interview has the following interview stages:

An overview of the engineering manager interview process from resume screen to a final offer.

Step 1: Prepare your application

Review your resume and tailor it to the company you're applying to. Highlight relevant skills that were mentioned in the job posting.

Then, see if you can get a referral to help your application stand out.

Step 2: Recruiter screen

In this 30-45min interview, your recruiter will ask:

  • about your resume,
  • light technical questions to gauge your domain knowledge,
  • and behavioral questions to assess your personality and working style.

Be authentic and genuine while showing that you've researched the company and are genuinely excited to work there.

Be prepared to answer questions like:

Look up your interviewer on LinkedIn to understand them a bit better.

Step 3. 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 discuss why you're the best candidate for the job and how you'd add value to the company.

Step 4. On-site

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 first be given a technical screen or coding challenge. If so, this will likely mirror the first technical screen.

You'll then complete 1-2 people management interviews and answer system design questions. There may be a separate round for a project retrospective.

Gather as much information as possible about the exact structure from your recruiter.

While this is a generally universal structure of the interview process, the interview stages can vary across different companies.

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

Preparing for the EM interview

Do you want to know the secret to deliver 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!

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

  • 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:

Prepare for system design interviews

System design interviews are a key part of 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." 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 designed to handle the additional load and 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 can 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 can 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.

If you're designing Instagram, your interviewer may ask how your design might hold up when Instagram is scaled to 1 billion users.

In this scenario, you would consider adding load balancers or a content delivery network.


Lastly, practice getting comfortable answering questions and smoothing 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 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.

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