Microsoft Engineering Manager Interview Guide

Interview Guide Jul 20

Detailed, specific guidance on the Microsoft Engineering Manager interview process - with a breakdown of different stages and interview questions asked at each stage

The role of a Microsoft Engineering Manager

Microsoft is in the business of crafting, building, and running vital infrastructure and systems. We're talking about the backbone stuff that clients lean on every single day. Their focus is on keeping these systems rock-solid amidst the constant flux, thanks to some cutting-edge research and an A-team of engineers.

They're on the lookout for EMs who can handle large tech teams and tackle a mix of tech challenges – think software-defined networking, load balancing, and making global systems speedy. For insights into related roles, refer to the guides for Microsoft Software Engineer and Apple Engineering Manager. As a Microsoft EM, you're not just managing teams; you're leading them to deliver value in high-stakes scenarios. The culture is all about growth hacking, and if you're into that, Microsoft is the place to be.

Here's a breakdown of the total compensation Microsoft EMs can expect:

  • Base Salary: $225,000
  • Average Annual Total Stock (RSUs): $120,000
  • Annual Target Bonus: $50,000

Microsoft Engineering Manager Interview Guide

Rounds:

The Microsoft EM interview has 4 main rounds

  • First → Recruiter Phone Screen
  • Second → First-round interviews with EMs
  • Third → the Onsite interview 
  • And fourth → The “AS appropriate” interview
Relevant Guides

Microsoft EM - Recruiter Phone Screen

Overview

Step 1 is typically the Recruiter interview, conducted either over the phone or online. It's a concise 30-minute session primarily aimed at understanding your professional background and confirming your eligibility for the job.

3 Tips for the Recruiter Interview:

  • The interview often kicks off with the classic "Tell me about yourself." Make sure you have a short and engaging introduction ready. Highlight your professional journey briefly, focusing on key experiences and skills.
  • You will most likely be asked the question, "why did you apply to Microsoft?" Make sure you have a clear and compelling reason for choosing Microsoft as your workplace. Highlight your alignment with the company's values, mission, or any specific aspects that resonate with you. Also, articulate why you believe you'd thrive in their environment.
  • Finally, be super familiar with your past work experiences. Have a project in mind from each of your previous roles that you can discuss in detail. Organise your thoughts around your contributions, the overall experience, and the lessons learned. This demonstrates your preparedness and provides insight into your professional journey.

If you make it past the recruiter phone screen, the recruiter will schedule and inform you about your next interview, which is again a phone screen.

Microsoft EM - First-round interviews with EMs

Overview

This segment involves 1-2 phone screens with EMs (your recruiter will let you know exactly how many you can expect).

Microsoft tends to dig a bit more into behavioural questions, so that's what your first screen will typically be about. The second will be more technical in nature. 

2 tips for this round:

  • During the first screening, they'll be looking to assess your people management and leadership prowess. So, think ahead and craft engaging narratives that highlight instances, for instance, where you've led, mentored, or guided teams to achieve meaningful outcomes. Make sure to emphasise how your leadership approach helped you drive positive results within your team.
  • As for the second phone screen, questions will revolve around system design & architecture, problem-solving, and your approach to technical leadership. We'd suggest practising designing scalable and fault-tolerant systems for different scenarios, like for instance, a distributed caching system for a high-traffic e-commerce platform. When discussing previous technical projects, delve into the architectural decisions you made, the challenges you overcame, and the innovative solutions you implemented. Recall instances where you resolved critical technical issues and guided teams through technology transitions, etc. Go beyond the technical details and share how your decisions aligned with broader project goals and contributed to overall business success.
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Microsoft EM - Onsite Round

Overview

Once you're through the first round of interviews, you’ll be called onsite for 4 to 6 one-on-one interviews—which include a mix of system design, coding, and behavioral rounds. 

Each lasts 40-45 mins each and you'll face the team you'll potentially join as well as senior executives. 

System Design

Microsoft's products are used by millions every month, so they're big on scalability. Make sure you're ready to design a system that solves a specific problem – with a focus on scaling.

5 tips for this round: 

  • First, System design questions aren't your typical tech questions with one perfect answer. Microsoft goes for more open-ended prompts and they typically tweak the question based on your background. For instance, if you've dabbled in APIs, they might throw an API design your way. So be on your toes – you should be game to design just about any product or system at a high level. 
  • Next -> make sure you really understand the problem before diving into solutions – clarifying, defining scope, and explaining your approach is key. This lets the interviewer drive you into the direction they want.
  • Third -> keenly listen for feedback from your interviewer. They often drop hints about the topics they want to cover. For instance, phrases like "let's assume xyz isn't a constraint" signal that it's time to shift to the next theme. If they ask specific questions, such as "what if this has to be used extensively every day by a diverse user base globally”—it may be a cue to explore scaling strategies, like using CDNs. 
  • Fourth -> come up with multiple ideas considering the given constraints. It's a positive approach, and it's essential to succinctly present these ideas, explain trade offs, and then make a deliberate decision. Practice is key here, and seeking help from friends or using platforms like Prepfully, where Microsoft EMs mentor candidates, can provide valuable insights.
  • Finally -> there might be instances where you find yourself stuck or unsure about the interviewer's expectations. Don't worry, it's completely normal; just admit to it rather than bluffing — offer to explore through guesswork if needed.

Interview Questions

  • How would you design Instagram?
  • Can you design an OpenTable?
  • Explain the working of buffer overflow.
  • Explain the working of ALB.

Coding

While coding questions are the least reported type for Engineering Manager candidates at Microsoft (some folks even claim they faced zero coding questions), don't ditch prepping for them entirely. Your interviewer still wants to know that your tech skills are on point—that you can think in a structured way and write code that's not just accurate but also bug-free and quick.

Make sure you have a solid grasp of fundamental algorithms and data structures. Brush up on sorting algorithms, searching algorithms, and common data structures like arrays, linked lists, trees, and hash tables.

Interview Questions

  • For a given sequence of size N, determine a code to print the original.
  • For a given array of positive integers, write a code that computes the sum of the elements.
  • Write a function to locate and delete duplicate elements from an ordered array.
  • Given an unordered array of integers, write a program that finds a contiguous subarray whose sum is equal to the given one.
  • For two unsorted arrays in ascending order, write a code to merge them such that the new array is in ascending order.
  • Write a program that returns the longest palindrome substring of a given string.
  • Write a program that will delete duplicate letters from a string.
  • Write a code to convert a given string into a palindrome.
  • For a given string L: write code to remove successive identical characters recursively.

Behavioral

Given that you're interviewing for a management position at Microsoft, the interview process will heavily focus on behavioral questions. Plenty of candidates face challenges here because they are unprepared for the unpredictable nature of the interview. 

3 tips for this round:

  • They're gonna throw some typical behavioral questions your way like "Tell me about a tough project you managed," or “Have you ever disagreed with a manager?” They’ll dive deeper into what you did and why you did it. You’re also likely to be asked questions about how your previous work aligns with your career and whether you embody a growth mindset (Microsoft is huge on growth mindset). You need to show that you are adept at tackling challenges head-on… that you keep pushing through hiccups, and even learn from criticism and failure. 
  • People management questions can be tricky, delving into situations where you've encountered failure or made mistakes. Be ready to discuss instances such as "How do you handle an underperforming employee?" or "Tell us about a time when you failed to get a deserving employee promoted." To ace these questions, have a couple of real-life stories showcasing your people management skills. We're talking real-life stuff like how you mentor, build teams, lead by demonstrating empathy, learn from mistakes, and essentially navigate team dynamics and complexities of growing, developing, and supporting individuals in your team or organization.
  • Final tip— Prepare right. Lots of candidates stumble in a Microsoft interview because they're not quite ready for the behavioral part. Your interviewers want to see that you learned from these experiences, not just successfully dealt with them. So, a bit of professional help in this scenario can go a long way. This isn't something you want to go unprepared for since interviews have a habit of going down tangents you can't anticipate beforehand, and it's less the "content" part of the practice and more the "mindset" that practicing with coaches can help you get into, that is the most valuable part of working with a coach. Prepfully has excellent Microsoft Engineering Managers who provide 1-1 interview coaching. Book a slot with them directly here.

Interview Questions

  • Why are you applying to Microsoft?
  • Why did you apply for this role? 
  • Which is your favourite Microsoft product and how can you improve it?
  • Tell me about an incident where you learned from your past mistakes. 
  • Are you open to new ideas?
  • Tell me about an incident where you helped your teammate solve a problem with a new approach.
  • What is your biggest accomplishment so far?
  • Tell me about an event where you managed someone’s performance.
  • What is the difference between managing managers and managing individual contributors?
  • Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
  • Have you ever made an unpopular decision? If yes, when?
  • How would you disagree with your manager?
  • Tell me about the time you had to drive a feature through
  • Tell me about a time you had to manage someone’s performance
  • Did you ever fire someone? Did you ever put someone on PIP? Why?
  • How is managing other managers different from managing individual contributors?
  • How will you be an asset in supporting the career development of those working under you?
  • How would you disagree with your manager?
  • Tell me about a time you made an unpopular decision

Microsoft EM - The “as appropriate” Interview

Overview

This is the Senior Executive or Hiring Manager interview at Microsoft—also commonly known as the "AA or ASAPP interview"—and it comes into play only if you've aced the previous three rounds.

This interview serves a dual purpose. First off, they're making sure there are no blind spots in your assessment. Secondly, and this is key, they want to make sure you're all in for the offer if you've passed the previous rounds.

Therefore, you can expect questions that probe your skills and experiences. Microsoft wants to be sure they're making the right call in bringing you on board.

Microsoft Engineering Manager Roles and Responsibilities

Following are the roles and responsibilities of a Microsoft Engineering Manager:

  • In this capacity, you'll serve as a leader for engineering teams, actively engaging in architectural and design reviews. The emphasis is not solely on delivery, but on delivering with an unwavering commitment to high quality.
  • Collaboration is key, extending beyond team boundaries to contribute to cross-functional projects that enhance the platform's reliability.
  • Beyond the internal dynamics, you'll find ample opportunities for collaboration across the vast Microsoft organization and with our external customers. 
  • Ownership is a fundamental aspect of this role – from the inception of features through implementation to the crucial phase of production.
  • The role involves active participation in an on-call rotation, a commitment to mentorship within your team, and the establishment and refinement of operational procedures. Your responsibilities span the creation and updating of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), the development of Troubleshooting Guides, active system monitoring, mitigation and restoration of network incidents, and the meticulous analysis of root causes in the event of outages.

Microsoft Engineering Manager Skills and Qualifications

Here are the skills and qualifications that a Microsoft Engineering Manager must have:

  • A Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science or a related technical discipline is the foundational requirement. Accompanied by a substantial 4+ years of technical engineering experience, showcasing proficiency in coding languages such as C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, or Python.
  • For those with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science or a related technical field, a prerequisite of 8+ years of technical engineering experience in the mentioned coding languages is essential. 
  • Beyond technical expertise, the role requires a minimum of 2 years of people management experience. This signifies the need for individuals who not only excel in technical domains but also demonstrate adeptness in leading and managing teams effectively. Understanding the processes at Google Engineering Manager and Netflix Engineering Manager can be beneficial.
  • You need experience building and nurturing high-performing engineering teams. Exhibit strong mentorship skills to foster the professional growth of team members.
  • You should showcase a proven track record in solving complex problems, navigating challenges, and making sound decisions within technical and organizational contexts.

Frequently Asked Questions