TikTok Engineering Manager Interview Guide

Interview Guide Jan 13

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

The role of a TikTok Engineering Manager

TikTok, being the go-to platform for short-form mobile video, is on a mission to inspire innovation and bring joy to its millions of global users. Recently, they've set their sights on the booming e-commerce industry, recognizing its significant growth and the competitive landscape among leading Internet companies. Given their commitment to delivering an unparalleled e-commerce experience, they're actively expanding their product engineering team to achieve this ambitious goal.

The role of an Engineering Manager at TikTok is exciting, given its focus on building an innovative, secure, and user-intuitive e-commerce ecosystem. The company is particularly keen on welcoming passionate and talented individuals to contribute to shaping the future of e-commerce.

The average yearly total for a TikTok Engineering Manager is an impressive $900,000. This comprises a solid base salary of $320,000, a substantial stock package of $500,000 per year, and a bonus component amounting to $80,000.

TikTok Engineering Manager Interview Guide

The TikTok Engineering Manager interview process comprises 3 key rounds, namely

  • Recruiter Call
  • Technical Phone Screen
  • Onsite
Relevant Guides

TikTok EM - Recruiter Call

Overview

The recruiter call with TikTok for EMs is a 30-minute session that is typically an informative, get-to-know-you session. 

It basically serves as a briefing on the upcoming interview process, where a recruiter makes you understand what to expect and provides guidance on preparation. During this call, you can also anticipate questions about the company and your background.

Tips

Our advice? 

  • Have a brief and engaging introduction about yourself ready to roll. 
  • Express genuine enthusiasm about the prospect of joining TikTok as an Engineering Manager. 
  • Think ahead and pinpoint a couple of impactful stories from your past experiences that not only showcase your background but also affirm your suitability for the role. If you need a preparation check, you can schedule a “recruiter” style mock interview with one of TikTok's EM on Prepfully.

TikTok EM - Technical Phone Screen

Overview

TikTok's first phone screen is typically technical—it's pretty straightforward and typically wraps up in about 30 minutes. They often use HackerRank for this stage, so if you're well-versed with platforms like that, you're in good shape.

The key to acing this screen is to brush up on your LeetCode questions. They tend to focus on problem-solving skills, algorithms, and data structures. So, spending some time practising on LeetCode will set you up for success in the TikTok technical phone screen.

EMs typically also have a second phone screen where the focus is on people management—essentially how you mentor/coach teams, lead, guide, acquire talent, deal with the challenges of navigating cross-functional teams, and so on. To prep for this segment, make sure you have a couple of compelling examples from your past ready to go—specifically those that demonstrate your people management skills.

Read these articles

TikTok EM - Onsite Rounds

Overview

TikTok's hiring process doesn't exactly follow the traditional onsite setup. Instead, you tackle each interview one by one, and you've got to pass each to move forward. Once you clear the initial technical screens, the interview order starts resembling the onsite format you'd find in other companies.

Now, keep in mind that the specifics of the onsite loops can vary based on the role and seniority. But in general, here's the gist of what you can expect:

  • Coding Round
  • System Design Round
  • Behavioural Round
  • 1. Coding Round 

So, the coding round, lasting a good hour, is a step up from the technical phone screen. It's typically done again on HackerRank, and you'll be grilled by someone from the team you're interviewing for. 

Language-wise, being solid in at least one of C++, Java, Python, Go, or C is crucial, but remember—they're more interested in your conceptual understanding than expecting you to memorise code snippets. Because, let's be real, coding isn't what an EM role at TikTok is all about.

So yes, they'll throw in some conceptual curveballs—you might get questions delving into APIs, Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) principles, testing best practices, and the ability to navigate through tricky edge cases.

  1. System Design

This one is again an hour long and you’ll essentially be evaluated for your ability to design a system which solves for a specific problem – always eventually at scale. Depending on the role, you will have more than 1 system design interview (your recruiter will inform you in advance); make sure you're well-prepared.

You'll need to showcase your knowledge of the major components within the architecture of a high-performing technical system and be ready to weigh the tradeoffs involved in your design choices.

Here are my four key tips:

  • First -> First off, really get a handle on the problem. We can't stress this enough – tons of candidates dive straight into solution mode, but it's a huge mistake. Take a beat to clarify things, define your scope, lay out your goals, and only then explain your action plan. This will let the interviewer guide you where they want.
  • Next – listen up for feedback. Interviewers know the scope is basically infinite. They've got a list of themes to hit during the interview, so pay attention. If they drop hints like "let's assume xyz isn't a constraint," that's your cue to shift gears. Or if they throw a curveball like "how about if this gets accessed worldwide daily," take it as your chance to dive into scaling strategies and maybe drop some knowledge on CDNs and caching.
  • Third -> you're gonna be coming up with a bunch of ideas, and that's cool—encouraged, in fact. Just make sure you mention them, explain the tradeoffs, but then commit to a decision. 
  • Finally -> there'll be moments when you hit a wall or aren't sure what the interviewer's fishing for. No big deal – it happens to everyone. The right move? Own up if you don't know. Ask if they want you to explore through some educated guesswork, but don't try to fake your way through.

Interview Questions

  • Design LeetCode. What technologies would you use and why? What are you optimising for?
  • Design a system that can handle logging on a large scale for every single user action. Imagine 100k users are coming in, and there are 5 different services. Each service has to do its own logging and send it to one final database. How would you do this?
  • Design a scalable architecture for an e-commerce platform. Discuss the technologies you would choose and the considerations for optimising the system's performance.
  • Propose a system to handle real-time analytics for a streaming service with a large user base. How would you manage logging and ensure efficient data processing?
  • Architect a solution for a social media platform to handle user-generated content at scale. What technologies would you employ, and how would you address potential bottlenecks?

  • 3. Behavioural Round

This one is typically a skip-level manager doing the grilling, and they will want to get a feel of your leadership style and how you tackle the challenges that come with navigating workplace situations. They will also dive into previous technical projects you've managed.

A huge chunk of this round will focus on people management and cross-functional collaboration, considering that forms a major part of the Tiktok EM role. The interviewer will be keen on digging into work experiences that you found super interesting or challenging, especially if it tied into what you see as an opportunity at TikTok. They'll be curious to know about times you've worked cross-functionally to break down barriers for your team or perhaps dived deep into team dynamics to boost productivity.

Our best tips here:

  • Be armed with a couple of stories that showcase your people management, coaching/mentorship, team-building, and talent acquisition skills. And don't forget to include examples of both successes and failures, mistakes you made, lessons you learned – they want the real deal.
  • 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.

Practice is key here; seek help from friends or use platforms like Prepfully, where TikTok EMs mentor candidates and can provide valuable insights. Book a 1:1 session directly here.

Interview Questions

  • What interests you about this role?
  • What is your communication style?
  • Do you have any strategies for working with a team?
  • How do you define a successful engineering manager?
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What methods do you use to set goals?
  • How do you motivate and engage engineers?
  • What steps do you take to ensure you complete projects on time and within budget?
  • What is your approach to handling disagreements among engineers?
  • When you receive feedback or criticism at work, how do you respond?
  • What are your strategies for dealing with high-pressure situations at work?
  • How do you evaluate a good team?
  • How do you course-correct a team that has become unhealthy?
  • How do you help develop people in your team?
  • Tell me about a time you had to fire somebody.

TikTok Engineering Manager Roles and Responsibilities

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

  • In the role of a TikTok Engineering Manager, the responsibilities are multifaceted, spanning critical aspects of delivering a seamless user experience and driving key functionalities for the platform's success.
  • You will be expected to drive continuous improvements in engineering excellence and efficiency—as well as lead research and development efforts in key areas of optimization for backend systems and services, covering aspects like data security, systems architecture, and computational efficiency & scalability.
  • You will play a pivotal role in shaping the growth of a highly effective engineering team. You will provide professional and technical leadership, fostering an environment that supports the professional growth of individual team members.
  • You will be expected to collaborate closely with product and data teams to evolve data-empowered capabilities in various verticals. This includes areas such as data visualisation, operational analysis, intelligent diagnosis, product/strategy optimization, and market intelligence.

TikTok Engineering Manager Skills and Qualifications

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

  • They typically want a degree in Computer Science or a related field. You've got to have some serious experience in tech; they prefer a solid 5-7 years of experience.
  • If you're eyeing that EM title, you need to show you can manage teams. They're keen on at least 3-5 years of leadership experience, and bonus points if you've mentored and developed junior team members.
  • Show them you've owned and led project deliveries, and that you're not just a manager but still deep in the technical trenches.
  • Communication is key. You should be able to build partnerships and communicate effectively with everyone from product owners to business stakeholders. 
  • They want to see your prowess in coaching, mentorship, team-building, and talent acquisition. 

Frequently Asked Questions