It’s tough to prepare for an engineering manager interview. The title can mean different things to different companies, so checking all the right boxes isn’t as easy as interviews for other roles. Companies looking for an engineer manager will need a candidate who can show strong leadership and prioritization skills and the technical know-how to be a reputable authority.
For people seeking out the role, many see it as a chance to code less and work with people more. Now this isn’t entirely wrong, but it doesn’t quite represent the role. Regardless of the role definition, a great engineer manager will need to have great people and technical skills. It’s important to remember this during the interview so your answers aren’t leaning towards one side.
With such a wide scope, both the interviewers and interviewees need to be well prepared. So with that in mind, let’s dive into the questions!
Table of contents
- Technical competency questions
- Project management questions
- How would you prioritize the following work?
- What have you been working on over the past year?
- How do you handle trade-offs as a manager?
- Could you explain how you deal with change management?
- Tell me in detail about a project that failed
- Tell me about a past project that ran over schedule and explain the steps you took to remedy the situation
- How would you balance engineering limitations with customer requirements?
- Tell me about a time you needed to deliver a project on a deadline but encountered various setbacks, and explain how you managed that situation.
- People management questions
- Culture fit questions
- Brush up on more great interview questions on our blog
16 of the best engineer manager interview questions
Technical competency questions
How would you design ___ system?
This is almost guaranteed to come up and is a common question with big tech companies. Technical know-how is crucial to this position, and interviewers will want to know that the candidate can tackle ambitious projects in a structured way.
Project management questions
How would you prioritize the following work?
This is a great opportunity for the interviewer to see how candidates will fit into their workflows. The candidate will have the chance to show off their prioritization skills, which is a crucial responsibility for engineering managers. A great engineering manager will know how to ask the right questions to aid prioritization efforts and should be able to explain their approach during the interview.
What have you been working on over the past year?
An engineering manager should have plenty of experience behind them. This question allows the candidate to highlight relevant experience while also allowing the interviewer to identify candidates with a true passion for their work.
How do you handle trade-offs as a manager?
Analyzing trade-offs is crucial to decision-making and successful software development in general. There are multiple ways to manage trade-offs, so this question allows the interviewer to see how well the candidate will fit into current processes. It also allows candidates to dive into their previous experiences and demonstrate success.
Could you explain how you deal with change management?
Product development rarely goes according to the original plan. Adapting and guiding your team is a crucial skill for any manager in the tech world.
Tell me in detail about a project that failed
Failure is an opportunity to learn. This question isn’t about finding flaws but finding out how the candidate learned from mistakes and corrected them in future projects.
Tell me about a past project that ran over schedule and explain the steps you took to remedy the situation
Projects often go off schedule, so the ability to put the train back on the tracks is a highly valuable skill. That said, cutting corners isn’t the answer we’re looking for on this question!
How would you balance engineering limitations with customer requirements?
Customers often shoot for the stars with feature requests. An engineer manager needs to understand which requests are realistic from a technical standpoint while still building value into the product.
Tell me about a time you needed to deliver a project on a deadline but encountered various setbacks, and explain how you managed that situation.
With this question, we’re looking for design, technical, and people management problems the candidate has faced. Being able to turn things around during difficult periods is the difference between a good and a great engineering manager.
People management questions
How do you deal with high and low performers?
One of the toughest jobs any manager will have is sitting down with poor performing employees. There could be a number of reasons why their performance is down. A good manager will go into these meetings with empathy and understanding. On the other side of things, a great manager will make sure to acknowledge good work in a way that doesn’t devalue the efforts of other team members.
How do you develop and retain your team members?
Employers don’t just want an engineer manager who can deliver on time and within budget. They want someone who will invest in their team members, focus on growing their skills, and ensure they feel valued. The more effort you put into your employees, the more you will get back, and the longer they will stay with the company.
Have you had any conflict with a supervisor? If so, how did you resolve it?
Engineering teams often have conflicts with management who have big goals but maybe don’t have the technical knowledge to understand what they’re asking for. These conflicts are often nerve-racking because you don’t want to upset higher-ups, but you must clearly explain why some things just aren’t possible — and why.
Culture fit questions
How do you view the engineering management role?
As we mentioned earlier, this role can have a different definition depending on the company. This question will help the interviewer understand if the candidate fits the company’s definition of an engineering manager.
How do you handle conflicts?
Conflict is inevitable when working closely with the same people every day. As with any management role, an engineer manager needs to be able to handle conflict in a swift manner that addresses each party’s issues.
Describe a time when a customer asked you for one thing, but you knew that they needed something else
Customers rarely know what they want, and even when they think they know, they’re likely asking for a superficial solution. A great engineer manager will be able to identify the root cause of an issue and solve it in a way that surpasses customer expectations.
When was the last time you did something innovative?
It’s pointless working in software development if you’re happy toeing the same old line. Not every idea someone has will be a million-dollar idea, but having a creative and innovative management team is essential for businesses looking to grow.
Brush up on more great interview questions on our blog
If you’re looking to fill multiple roles in your team or are a candidate eager to learn what might come up in an interview, be sure to visit the EasyRetro blog where we’ve recently covered interview questions for different roles including IT managers and product owners.