Airbnb's mission is to create a world where people can belong anywhere. The company invests significant time and effort into attracting diverse, talented candidates, and creating a welcoming company culture. As the company expands, it's always looking to hire highly technical, hands-on, mission-driven Engineering Managers to lead engineering efforts.
EM roles at Airbnb are often domain-specific, but the company recruits from a huge pool of applicants. The interview process itself emphasizes management experience and fit along the company's core values, as it's a given that candidates' technical skills will be sharp.
We spoke to an Airbnb EM and experienced EM interviewer who gave us the low-down on the interview loop. Her biggest piece of advice? "The main thing would be just to study up the company's mission and have examples of how you've demonstrated each [value] in the past."
Let's dive into the details of the EM interview loop.
The general structure of Airbnb's EM interview loop is similar to other large tech companies. You'll begin with a few screening calls, and if you do well, you'll move on to an on-site with 4-6 rounds.
First, a recruiter will set up a call. Airbnb recruiters go above and beyond, so if there’s a better fit out there than the position you initially applied for, your recruiter will work hard to get you connected with the right hiring manager.
The phone screen typically lasts from 30-45 minutes and consists mainly of behavioral questions. Airbnb is fanatic about employing candidates who embody its core values:
Put your best foot forward by preparing a few examples of how you embody these values in your life (both personal and professional).
Your domain-specific knowledge will also be lightly explored. Recruiters won’t go super deep with you, but you should be prepared to talk through your resume in a crisp manner.
Once you pass the initial recruiting phone screens, you’ll be connected with your hiring manager. This will be another 30-45 min phone screen. Expect to go more in-depth on your domain knowledge here. The hiring manager will be evaluating whether you have the skills to warrant the onsite interview loop. Have plenty of anecdotes prepared to illustrate your knowledge of both Airbnb’s business model and how your experience has set you up to be an asset. And never forget Airbnb's mission: "create belonging anywhere." It's completely within your power to embody that mission as a manager, so be sure to infuse your stories with this quality.
Airbnb employees work hard to build a culture of trust, and transparency is valued. Feel free to take these screens as opportunities to ask questions on Airbnb’s culture, priorities, processes - anything on your mind.
The onsite interview lasts roughly half a day and includes 4-6 rounds falling into 3-4 categories. These categories are:
The architecture / system design round mirrors other system design interviews you may be familiar with. You'll be asked to design a system, likely something relevant to Airbnb's operations. We'll give you a much more detailed overview next.
The experience interview is an interesting one. It's quite similar to Stripe's project retrospective or Dropbox's technical deep-dive, in that you'll be asked to describe a single, complex project you worked on. You'll be asked numerous and detailed follow-up questions for roughly an hour. The point of the experience interview is to get a good understanding of technical abilities and decision making skills, but at Airbnb in particular, your project management abilities and your management style are explored in-depth.
The cross-functional interview is highly important at Airbnb. A cross-functional peer, say a PM or a designer, will ask you experiential and hypothetical questions about how you've worked (or would work) with them. They're evaluating your communication skills, conflict resolution tactics, and how much of a team player you are. You may be asked some light project management questions around resource allocation, but don't forget that the point of this round is to prove that you'll be an effective and pleasant co-worker.
Finally, you'll undergo a leadership round if you're interviewing for a very senior position -- director level, etc. These are relatively rare. Senior candidates will be interviewed by senior interviewers on their management and leadership abilities, and qualities like strategic vision. Core values are also stressed again heavily.
Airbnb's EM candidates are assessed on people management skills as well as technical competency and culture fit. Overlap between categories is heavy, so we recommend you think about people management and technical considerations whenever you review past projects.
You'll get behavioral questions focusing on your team management skills throughout the interview loop, from the hiring management screen through the experience and cross-functional interviews. The purpose is to evaluate how you build and maintain cohesive teams and how you deal with people issues that inevitable come up.
At a high level, you're being evaluated on:
Airbnb's not going to let you get away with shallow "pop management" answers, so be sure to spend time reflecting on your experience and summarizing your own management philosophy - based on examples! To prep for management questions, we recommend creating a story bank and choosing a meaty project. Spend some time thinking through the people issues.
Here are some questions to help you think through your stories:
Finally, take this summary and translate details into the STAR Framework. This will help you communicate succinctly during the interview.
Airbnb assesses your fit throughout the interview, but this is a major focus of the cross-functional round. Your cross-functional interviewer won't be a part of your group, and 2) may be quite senior to you. All of your preparation around Airbnb’s core values and mission statement will come into play, as will your management skills. You'll be asked standard behavioral questions to get a sense of why you want to work at Airbnb and whether you'll be an addition to compnay culture. but as an EM you'll be asked about how you handle tricky interpersonal situations too.
Some questions you may run into are:
To answer these well, spend a lot of time mapping your story bank](/courses/tpm/behavioral-interviews-creating-story-bank) to Airbnb's values. List all your cross-functional stakeholders and think through your interactions with them. If conflicts arose, try to step into their shoes and understand their position. Once you can articulate that, think about your own decisions and the outcome. What happened? What did you learn?
For more practice, check out our interview question bank for recently-asked behavioral questions at Airbnb.
The architecture / system design round at Airbnb evaluates your technical abilities, decision-making, and your domain experience. Beginning system design questions with a strategy is key. Your interviewer will ask you to design a large system in a very open-ended way. This may involve designing a way for your systems to communicate, proposing an API, and modeling database tables. You're expected to ask clarifying questions throughout, so avoid making assumptions when you can.
Generally, Airbnb is looking for the following:
The best way to prepare for system design interviews is to watch our practice system design interviews like this one on Facebook's news feed, and try your hand at some practice system design questions in our interview question database.
Airbnb's experience interview is similar to a technical deep-dives (sometimes known as project retrospectives) at other tech companies. You'll focus on one particular project and talk through the technical and people management questions. While this interview gets into the weeds technically, the focus is still on people management issues, so be sure to practice the examples above.
A current Airbnb EM described the process to us. She says "In the experience interview, we actually ask them to focus on one project that they helped their team ship. And then we try to dig into the behavioral issues. And interestingly enough, we actually give a similar question to the technical hires, but instead of going into the behavioral people and team stuff, we go more into the actual architecture of it. For engineering managers, we like to ask them about a project, but we dig into how it went. Were there any issues? How did they resolve them? I don't know if that's a common thing at other companies, but when choosing what project you talk about for that question, you want to talk about one that went well and was big enough. But you can also talk about things that didn't go well and what you learned and things that are meaningful in that way."
At a high level, these characteristics are assessed:
As with the rest of Airbnb's EM loop, your best bet is to return to your story bank and choose a technically complex project. Add technical detail. Include trade-offs and edge cases, and write down logically sound argments for any tech decisions you made. Then, incorporate the work you've done on management questions.
A current EM at Airbnb reported that the company "changed how we make the decision to hire in 2020. At Airbnb, before it was all based on the interview panel, and the interview panel would come to a consensus with guidance from the recruiter. And the recruiter would kind of make the group lean one way or another, depending on how they saw the general group feeling. But it's very consensus driven.
In 2020, we changed it so that the hiring manager actually makes the final decision. [That means] this person could have gotten two No's, but the hiring manager still looks at the packet and if they really want this person they can actually bring them on. But all the feedback still goes to a leveling committee that decides what level this person is brought on. And the hiring manager makes the final decision on whether or not they're hired."