Engineering Manager Interview Guide

Interview Guide Dec 23

Detailed, specific guidance on the Engineering Manager interview process - aggregated across all major companies (Meta, Google, Amazon, Netflix etc) - with a breakdown of the expectations and interview question types (and samples) asked at each interview stage.

The role of Engineering Manager

The impact of engineering managers on the success of product delivery (and on organizations at large) cannot be overstated. They serve as a bridge between technical teams and the broader organizational goals, ensuring that projects are completed efficiently and effectively.

This role requires a blend of technical expertise and interpersonal skills. A successful engineering manager should have a very deep understanding of the entire software engineering process, from initial design and development through testing and deployment, the mission and vision of their team, while also being able to align a teams' efforts with the broader business objectives.

The average salary for Engineering Managers is ~$315,000 (in the US). However, it's worth noting that in large tech companies like Google and Meta, the salary range for engineering managers can be significantly higher, averaging between $375,000 to $2.3 million and $405,000 to $3.1 million respectively. This larger number takes stock into account (which has appreciated massively for these companies over the past few years).

Engineering Manager Interview Guide

A typical Engineering Manager interview process comprises the following rounds:

  • Recruiter Screen 
  • HR Screen
  • On-site Interviews

EM Interviewers broadly check for 5 major skills to see if you have the following range of skills

  • People Management skills: Can you successfully manage an engineering team, deliver against your space's expectations, and against the impact your team needs to drive. What your approach to people management is. Can you grow your peoples' skills and careers; and also manage situations of conflict or underperformance? How do you drive retention? For some companies which allow remote work - you'd also want to ensure you're familiar with managing distributed teams or remote teams. For more senior roles you will also be tested for mentorship/coaching, managing other EMs and org design. If you're looking to practice this, there are a bunch of EM coaches on Prepfully who support advice and mocks on this theme.
  • Technical skills: Can you understand the underlying tech; guide your team in making technical decisions? Can you coach on what "good architecture" looks like? Can you get hands-on with coding or reviewing code when needed? For context, nearly all companies have system design interviews for EMs. The best ones often do coding interviews for EMs too (and more rarely, code reviews eg. Google)
  • Product and Project delivery/execution: Can you build a high quality roadmap, plan milestones, identify risks and dependencies and mitigate them? Can you retrospect how things went? Can you manage strong but differing opinions, and achieve progress?
  • Stakeholder or crossfunctional / partnership skills: How you handle a really wide range of stakeholders, drive decisions even in the face of differing opinions, how you manage your own leadership and top-down vs bottoms up guidance. How you shield your team from overload or scope switching.
  • Behavioral signals: Why you're motivated by being in this company as an EM; how it ties into your longer term plans; what you find enjoyable vs draining in the role; how you handle challenges and learn from them. How you make decisions, and your own personal growth.
Relevant Guides

Engineering Manager - Recruiter Screen

Overview

The recruiter screen is typically the first step in the engineering manager interview process. These are typically 30-45min long, and serve as the initial filter to decide which candidates will proceed further.

In these conversations, the recruiter is going to deepdive into your background + resume. They'll try to get a sense of whether your past technical and people management experience fits what their company is looking for. And they'll try to gauge your personality and working style.

Tips

3 tips, actually

  1. It's particularly important to know what a company looks for -- for instance, Meta, Amazon, Netflix, Google etc - nearly never hire Engineering Managers who don't have previous people management experience. Similarly, both Meta and Google expect their EMs to be very hands-on, so your recruiter is often going to outright ask if you actively review code.
  2. Be prepared to answer why this specific company is the right one for you, as a next step -- and why you'd be a good match for them. This is basically a supercharger for the rest of your interview process, if you can convince your recruiter you'll be a good fit - they tend to be extraordinarily helpful throughout the process. An effective tactic is to look at the company's values or info from recent news, or just see if you have a domain overlap with the specific team (if provided). In some companies, this can even be a go/no-go - for instance, Apple hires EMs for specific teams and doesn't have a generalist process, so you will definitely want to share your fit for a team's needs upfront.
  3. Finally - be confident. If you come across as worried or uncertain about your own fit, you're NGMI. Recruiters have to hyper-optimize to pick candidates they think are going to get through an aggressive hiring funnel.

Interview Questions

  • Why do you want to work at (whichever company you've applied to - Meta, Amazon, Google, whatever)?
  • Could you tell me about your past people management experience? How large was your team and what was the craft mix?
  • What's your leadership style?

Engineering Manager - HM / Initial Screen

Overview

This round is usually done by an Engineering Manager - sometimes your hiring manager (who will then be a Sr. EM or a Director of Engineering). It typically has two components:

  1. People skills
  2. Technical skills
  3. The technical screen is where the hiring manager assesses your technical skills and domain knowledge. This phase often takes place over a phone call or a video call.

People skills will focus on your ability to lead a team of engineers to impact and success. Can you lead an engineering team well and hit your goals? How you handle managing people generally - what your management philosophy is. How you handle high performers vs underperformers. How you keep your team motivated. How you defend against scope creep, etc. Here are a couple of questions to give you an idea, but if you want more practice, I'd recommend checking out the Prepfully EM interview question bank.

  1. Tell us about a time you were able to help someone in their career ambition. Tell us about a time when things didn't work out quite as well
  2. You've received top-down guidance from your manager that your team will need to pivot towards resolving a new regulatory requirement. How will you manage this situation?
  3. A high performing team member is absent from his job due to personal circumstances. What would you do?

Technical skills will almost always be a system design question. You might sometimes get an interviewer who throws in a bit of coding (this happens more in companies which explicitly expect EMs to be hands-on with the code). It's also common to get technical topics to gauge your understanding of these; or role-specific technical questions to evaluate your domain knowledge (eg. for ML Engineering Manager candidates at Meta, you often get questions testing your ML knowledge at this stage). Some questions to give you an idea:

  1. Design a URL shortening service (like Bitly). Let's deepdive into how we store data.
  2. What happens behind the scenes once you type google.com in a browser?
  3. How would you approach designing a photo sharing app?

Tips

3 tips for this round

  1. Be concise. Interviewers need to "tick the checkbox" on a lot of topics. We recommend going broad then deep (which is generally good advice for most interviews, but particularly important for this round). Don't automatically deepdive into a topic, even if it seems tempting to because you know the answer; check-in with your interviewer if they'd like you to
  2. Be ready for the curveballs. This interview, very much because of its overarching scope, can go off on sudden tangents if your interviewer sees an opportunity to cover more ground by going in a certain direction. It's important in this context to "close the loop" efficiently in any stories or discussions you're going through - so your answers have a logical conclusion before you move on to the next theme
  3. Practice. Get someone to hear your answers, ask you those back-and-forths which go down unexpected routes, and give you feedback. Or book some time with one of the EMs on Prepfully who can give you finegrained feedback on the gaps in your answers against expectations.
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Engineering Manager - Onsite Round

Overview

When it comes to on-site interviews in the tech industry, they usually have a consistent structure, though it can differ from one company to another

You'll typically spend 3-5 hours at the company's location. The structure involves a series of rounds, each lasting around 30-60 minutes. 

  • For engineering roles, you might start with a technical screen or coding challenge. If that's the case, it's likely to be similar to the initial technical screen you faced during the application process. 
  • These interviews might include questions about your experience managing teams, handling conflicts, and nurturing your direct reports. 
  • Next, you should be prepared to tackle system design questions to assess your architectural and problem-solving skills
  • In addition to this, there will be a separate round for a project retrospective. This is a chance for them to understand how you've contributed to past projects and what you've learned from them.
  • They usually throw in a lunch break midway through to recharge your energy.

System Design Interview

A typical system design interview usually lasts for around 45 to 60 minutes where you are evaluated for your ability to architect high-level solutions. It's common for interviewers to ask follow-up questions regarding potential issues with your design and how you would address them. You’re expected to know all major components that go into the architecture of a high performing technical system - and the tradeoffs involved in each of the options within.

Here’s a quick and easy way to start getting some practice. Just pick a major product that you interact with, and spend some time thinking about how you’d design it - so for instance, How would you design Facebook’s News Feed? How would you design the architecture of a photo sharing app? What about a new website for booking hotels? … and so on. And think about the end-to-end aspects of this design, from user touchpoints, to scaling this geographically and driving performance through caching, to the backend architecture and your choice of databases, how you’d speed up reads and writes through indexing and partitioning or sharding, how you’d ensure redundancy, and so on.

Here's a few sample questions you might encounter:

  • What are deadlock and livelock? How can they be avoided in a system design? Provide examples.
  • How does scheduling work in an operating system? What are some common scheduling algorithms you are familiar with?
  • Explain your understanding of the various components that make up the internet, such as routers, domain name servers, load balancers, and firewalls. How do they interact with each other in a system design?
  • How would you design a distributed system to handle high traffic and ensure robustness? What trade offs would you make in such a design?
  • Can you discuss your knowledge and experience with parallel computing and distributed systems? Provide an example where you utilized these concepts to improve system performance.
  • How would you design a system to monitor the performance of a machine learning model in real-time?
  • How would you design a system to process a large amount of unstructured data from multiple sources?

Organization Design Interview

If you're interviewing for a senior EM role (like the Director of Engineering or Manager of Manager role), you'll face an Organizational Design interview- where you can expect questions and scenarios that evaluate your experience in scaling a team and its capacity. You should be prepared to discuss your approach to team growth, including hiring strategies, onboarding processes, and ensuring the team's ability to meet increasing demands.

Creating a leadership structure for different situations is another key aspect of this interview. You may be asked about how you design and implement leadership roles within your team or organization. Consider how you define roles and responsibilities, distribute decision-making authority, and foster collaboration among leaders. You may be expected to share examples of how you have successfully led or participated in reorganizations.

You can also expect questions about your experience in leading capacity planning initiatives, including determining resource needs, forecasting future requirements, and making data-driven decisions to optimize team efficiency and productivity. Be prepared to share examples of how you have identified weaknesses within your organization and implemented strategies to address them. Consider your approaches to process improvements, skill gaps, communication breakdowns, or any other organizational challenges you have encountered.

Coding Challenge & Coding Review

Engineering Managers are expected to be problem-solvers, even though they may not code on a daily basis. To that end, you will be presented with technical problems, where the emphasis will be on your problem-solving approach and coding skills.

You will be evaluated based on your proficiency in at least one programming language such as C++, Java, Python, Go, or C. It is important to have a strong understanding of APIs, object-oriented design and programming. You will be required to approach problems using both bottom-up and top-down algorithms. Sorting, searching, divide-and-conquer, dynamic programming, recursion, and algorithms related to specific data structures are quite common. Familiarity with Big-O notations, runtime analysis, and complex algorithms like Dijkstra and A* will be beneficial.

You may also face code review interviews, where you will be asked to treat the given code as a real code review and leave comments as you walk through the code. You should look for variable naming, errors in the code and suggest better algorithms. You should also check for boundary conditions - improvement of the time complexity of the algorithm. The coding areas that you can brush up on for this round include: recursion, DFS and BFS.

In some cases, this exercise is done as a role-play, simulating a real-world code review situation. So, our key advice here is to practice beforehand with engineering managers under simulated conditions. You can book a session with an EM from your target company on Prepfully.

Some sample interview questions for this round:

  • Given a piece of code, review it for any potential errors or bugs and suggest improvements in terms of algorithmic efficiency. Identify any potential boundary conditions that are not handled in the code and propose modifications to handle them.
  • Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using recursion in the given code. Can you suggest any alternative approaches?
  • Explain the difference between depth-first search (DFS) and breadth-first search (BFS) and discuss their potential applications in the given code.

Throughout this round, the interviewers are more interested in your thought process, and your ability to thoroughly test your code than how quickly you write it. It's not a memory test for syntax—so, take your time to reason through various solutions and aim to write clean, efficient code. If you are given a take-home project, to solve at your own pace, you can use that to demonstrate your ability to deliver a production-quality solution.

People Management Interview

You will be asked situational questions about team leadership in which the interviewer will evaluate your people leadership skills. This round also evaluates your cultural fit within the company. For instance, if you're interviewing at Google, you'd be expected to project “Googleyness”, demonstrating that you align with Google's values and collaborative work environment.

All aspects of people leadership are tested - from how you approach hiring, to how you think of development and retention. How you manage high performers vs low performers. How you create the right sort of opportunities and drive growth, but also how you protect your team from things that are less relevant or distractions.

To show next level thinking, also give some space to explore topics like how you think of the organisation as a whole, where your team fits into the larger mission. Think about how to effectively lead in a non-hierarchical team environment and what your personal leadership style and people management philosophy is. You should expect both situational and experiential questions - so “how would you achieve X” and “how did you handle Y” sorts. In both, you should ideally have a bit of a framework explaining how you approach such scenarios at a high level before fleshing this out either with a past example or a theoretical situation.

Project Retrospective Interview

In this round, you will be asked hypothetical and experiential questions on project management. You should be able to talk end to end about a project (ideally a very technical one) which you drove. How you evaluated and chose between different project management methodologies and their relative merits (or example - tradeoffs between flexibility and process in an agile environment). Technical dependencies you identified and how you mitigated risks. How you drove the team forward when there was potential lack of clarity or uncertainty in approach. The goal of this is to flesh out how well you can simply drive topics forward, in a way that achieves max impact / velocity while ensuring the team is healthy.

Interview Questions

Interview Questions

  • Find the top 'K' elements in an unsorted array of numbers.
  • Given an array of positive numbers and a positive number 'k', find the maximum sum of any contiguous subarray of size 'k'.
  • Find the smallest missing positive number in an unsorted array of numbers.
  • 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.
  • Design a content delivery system for a video streaming platform, considering scalability and performance. How would you handle high-demand situations like live events?
  • Create a high-level architecture for a social media platform, taking into account user interactions, data storage, and real-time updates.
  • Design a distributed task scheduling system that can handle millions of jobs per day, ensuring fault tolerance and load balancing.
  • Architect a recommendation system for an e-commerce website, explaining how you'd personalize recommendations for users.
  • Given an array of positive numbers and a target number, find all the contiguous subarrays whose product is less than the target number.
  • Given a number array representing coin denominations and a total amount 'T' to make change for, find the minimum number of coins required to make change for the given amount.
  • Determine the majority element (element that appears more than n/2 times) in an array, if one exists.
  • Merge two sorted arrays into a single sorted array efficiently.
  • Find the intersection of two arrays, i.e., the elements that appear in both arrays.
  • Given an array of stock prices over time, find the best days to buy and sell to maximize profit.
  • Implement a function to rotate an array to the right by a given number of positions.
  • Find the subarray with the maximum product in an array of integers.
  • How did you ensure you dealt with team challenges in a balanced way?
  • How would you take ownership and stay creative while moving quickly?
  • How would you address a skills gap or personality conflict?
  • How would you ensure your team is diverse and inclusive?
  • How could you spot burn out?
  • How would you organize day to day work activities?
  • How would you convince a team to adopt a new technology?

Skills and Qualifications for Engineering Manager

  • Experience with Agile/Scrum or similar collaborative tools is advantageous, as is familiarity with computer-aided design (CAD) platforms and System Applications and Products (SAP) software. 
  • A BS in engineering is a requirement, along with 4-5 years of relevant work experience. 
  • Having 1-2 years of management experience is beneficial, and holding a Master’s degree in engineering or an MBA is a plus.
  • Strong organizational and planning abilities, along with proficiency in using presentation software, are vital for conveying complex information to non-technical stakeholders. 
  • Managing multiple projects simultaneously is common, so efficient time management is key.
  • Expert-level knowledge of your industry's technology and processes is a must, allowing you to make informed strategic decisions. 
  • Your leadership and team-building skills will play a significant role in achieving project success. 
  • Effective communication and conflict resolution skills are equally important.
  •  analytics skills are valuable, as is attention to detail. You should be adaptable and capable of pivoting when needed

Frequently Asked Questions