/ Engineering Management

How to Prepare for an Engineering Manager Interview

Hey there! This article is part of our series on Engineering Management. For even more help and resources, check out our complete Engineering Management Interview Course.

Engineering manager interviews are some of the toughest in the tech industry. Not only do you need to demonstrate your technical prowess and experience with designing complex systems, you also need to showcase your soft skills in people management.

Unfortunately, engineering manager interviews can often be quite opaque - EM interview questions can range a wide spectrum, and it's usually unclear what good preparation looks like. We sat down with engineering manager interviewers from some of the top tech companies including Google, Facebook, Stripe, and more to clarify what's actually asked in the engineering manager interview and how to prepare.

Engineering Manager Interview Stages

In general, the engineering manager interview has the following interview stages at most companies:

1. Recruiter screen

In this 30-45min interview, you'll be asked questions about your resume, light technical questions to gauge your domain knowledge, and behavioral questions to assess your personality and working style. In general, try to be authentic and genuine, while also showing that you've done research on the company and are genuinely excited to work there. We often recommend looking up your interviewer on LinkedIn to understand them a bit better.

2. 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 talk through why you're the best candidate for the job and how you'd add value to the company.

3. 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 be given a technical screen or coding challenge (which likely mirrors the first technical screen, if you've been given one) and complete 1-2 rounds of people management interviews and system design questions. There may be a separate round for a project retrospective. We encourage you to gather as much information as possible about the exact structure from your recruiter, as well as checking our list of EM interview questions that have been recently asked by tech companies.

While this is a generally universal structure of the interview process, the interview stages can vary across different companies. We recommend taking a look at some of the interview stages at popular tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to get a sense.

Engineering Manager Interview Questions

As mentioned, engineering manager interview questions can vary widely from company to company. Here's a list of questions we've seen most frequently asked at tech companies.

Managing Individuals

Recruitment and Hiring

  • How do you recruit great engineers? Read our guide to recruiting and hiring.
  • How would you build up a pipeline of world-class candidates?
  • What frameworks and processes have you set up on your teams to hit hiring goals?
  • What do you look for when you screen resumes?
  • What questions do you ask candidates who want to join your team?

Management and Team Execution

  • How do you set up projects for success? See how to talk about project success.
  • 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 you had to lead a team through a re-organization.
  • Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
  • Tell me about a time you received guidance from your manager and had to get buy in from your team.
  • What do you do when a team completely disagrees with the founder/VP on the direction of a product?

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 were able to use persuasion to successfully 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 did not agree.

System Design

Preparing for the Interview

1. Develop a Story Bank

To be successful in the engineering manager interview, we strongly recommend creating a story bank of your experiences before your interviews. Choose 5-10 relevant experiences that made an impression on you. If you're prepping for a specific interview, it's good practice to map stories to company values. For example, if you're interviewing at Airbnb for example, you'll want at least four: one for each core value.

For each story, write down the who, what, when, where, and why. Consider how this story demonstrates your experience and how it fits into the larger business goals. Consider the technical decisions and tradeoffs—what complex decisions did you make a part of the project? How do you reflect on those decisions? Also, be sure to think through the people side of the project—how did you work with others to accomplish the goals of the project?

Once you've crafted your stories, think about some of the main lessons and values imbued in them. What values do these stories represent? What do they say about your leadership style? By reflecting on these stories yourself, you'll be prepared to answer all the potential follow-up questions that your interviewer will ask you, while demonstrating your thoughtful and reflective leadership skills.

To double check that your story bank has a comprehensive set of stories, browse our list of recently asked engineering manager interview questions to see if your story bank covers most of the questions. If not, try to brainstorm a few more projects to be fully prepared for the types of questions you might receive.

2. Research the Interview Process for Companies

Each company has its own process for interviewing candidates and evaluates candidates along different core values, so do your homework! If you understand the mission and core values of the companies you're applying to, you'll not only understand more about the company's culture and goals, you'll also be better prepared to demonstrate those values and principles during the interview. We've put together an extensive catalog of interview guides that give you an inside look at the interview process and criteria for most tech companies. Here are a few examples:

Check out our full list of company interview guides here:

3. Prepare for System Design Interviews

System design interviews are often asked in the engineering manager interview process, and require a different type of preparation than the people management interviews. These interviews often are in the format of "Design X" where 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 it is designed so that it can handle additional load and will still 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 is able to 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 is able to 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.

While covering all of these concepts may not be in your initial answer, your interviewer will likely push on your initial answer with follow-up questions related to these concepts. For instance, if you're designing Instagram, your interviewer may ask how your design might hold up when Instagram is scaled to 1 billion users, and where the weak points might be or where you may want to rethink your system architecture. In this scenario, you may want to consider adding load balancers or a content delivery network.

Review some of the system design fundamentals in our system design interview prep course to be fully prepared to ace these questions.

4. Practice

Lastly, be sure to get in some practice to get comfortable answering questions and smooth 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 really 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 you need to focus your preparation on more.

More Resources

Ultimately, the best way to prepare for the engineering manager interview is to get out there and practice. To recap, there are plenty of resources on Exponent to help you practice and get ready for your upcoming EM interview:

💬 Get prepared with example EM interview questions
📖 Read through our Engineering Management interview guides
👯‍♂️ Practice your behavioral and system design skills with our interview practice tool.
👨‍🎓 Take our complete Engineering Management interview course.

Stephen Cognetta

Stephen Cognetta

Hi, I'm Stephen Cognetta, co-founder of Exponent and a former Google PM who has conducted hundreds of interview sessions. I've spoken about product management at Google, WeWork, Duke, Yale, and more.

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