Engineering manager interview prep (relax, start here)

software engineer interview prep

Engineering manager interview prep is a big challenge. There are a variety of question types you'll need to master, and tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon don’t always focus on the same ones.  

So, what do you do? And where do you start? 

That’s where we come in. From analyzing 200+ engineering manager interview questions reported by real candidates on Glassdoor, we’ve learned how the recruitment process works at top tech companies. Below, you’ll find an interview timeline, a breakdown of the three most common question types, practice examples, and links to resources for extra interview prep.

To begin, here’s a quick overview of our step-by-step guide:

  1. Learn the engineering manager interview process
  2. Know the question types
  3. Practice with example questions
  4. Do mock interviews
Click here to practice 1-on-1 with ex-FAANG interviewers

1. Learn the engineering manager interview process

We'll be giving a general overview of the engineering manager interview process here, but if you need insight into a particular company, refer to one of our company-specific preparation guides below. You'll notice that Amazon uses the term “software development manager,” but it's essentially the same role.

So, what’s the general interview timeline? It normally takes between one and three months and follows these steps:

1.1 What interviews to expect

  1. Resume, cover letter, referrals
  2. Recruiter screen (~30 min)
  3. First round interviews (1-2 interviews, 45-60 min each)
  4. Writing exercise (Amazon only)
  5. Onsite interviews (5-6 interviews, 45-60 min each)

1.1.1 Recruiter screen

After you’ve applied, or if a recruiter has reached out to you on LinkedIn, your next step will be a brief 30 minute phone call with a recruiter.

During this call, the recruiter will be looking to confirm that you've got a chance of getting the job at all. In order to do this, the recruiter will evaluate your "fit" with the culture of that company, as well as your qualifications in the role for which they're currently hiring. You should be prepared for behavioral and resume questions like "Tell me about yourself", "Why this company?", etc. 

If you get past this first HR screen, the recruiter will then help schedule your initial interview. They may also send you some documents afterwards to help you prepare for the next interview. Google, for example, typically sends a guide like this one.

1.1.2 First round interviews

Your first interview after talking to the recruiter will take the form of one or two phone screens and/or video calls that last 45-60 minutes. You’ll likely be talking to a hiring manager who will ask a mix of behavioral and technical questions. 

Depending on the company, the proportion of behavioral versus technical questions will vary. For example, Amazon will ask more behavioral questions that focus on their 16 leadership principles, while Google may schedule an entire second call that focuses exclusively on technical skills.

Your recruiter should let you know which type of interview you can expect so that you can prepare properly. We’ll investigate the various question types and how to practice them in section 2 below. 

1.1.3 Writing exercise (Amazon only)

If you’re interviewing at Amazon, there’s a chance you’ll have a written test. This is the one major tech company out of the three we’ve analyzed (Facebook, Google, and Amazon) that uses them. As this only happens in some cases, you may not have to complete this step.

If you are asked to do the writing assignment, you can expect to receive a prompt with instructions. You'll usually be given a choice from a few topics. For example, you may be given a short list of questions, where you choose one and respond to it in writing.

If in doubt, you can always double-check with your recruiter. They are there to help you navigate the interview process.

1.1.4 Onsite interviews

If you pass the initial interviews, you'll be invited onsite for five or six one-hour interview rounds. These final interviews are the biggest test for engineering management candidates.

You'll mostly be interviewed by current engineering managers. But, depending on the company, role, and circumstances, you may also have interviews with an HR rep, a senior executive or, in Amazon’s case, the “Bar Raiser.” 

The rounds will vary depending on the company, but will likely consist of a combination behavioral, system design, and coding interviews. More on that in section 2.

If you’re physically onsite, you'll likely have lunch with a fellow engineer. This lunch is meant to be your time to ask questions about what it's like to work there. The company typically doesn’t evaluate you during this time, but we recommend that you behave as if they are.

[COVID Update] Given the Covid-19 pandemic, your onsite interviews will likely be conducted virtually. You can ask your recruiter for the latest information on their Covid-19 adjustments.

Right, ready to get into the interview questions? 

Let's go.

2. Know the question types

The questions you'll be asked in engineering manager interviews can be boiled down into three broad categories. Here is a breakdown of each type, showing the frequency at which they appeared in the 200+ questions we’ve analyzed from leading tech companies:

  1. Behavioral questions (high frequency) test your ability to lead people and projects while working with cross-functional teams.
  2. System design questions (medium frequency) test your technical knowledge, your thought process, and your familiarity with architecture and scaling.
  3. Coding questions (medium frequency) test your problem-solving skills and your ability to think in a structured way when it comes to code (note that Amazon tends not to ask many coding questions in SDM interviews).

While these make up the general categories of the most common questions, they can be broken down into more specific subcategories. Consult the graphic below for a full breakdown.

engineering manager interview question types

In the following section, we'll dig deeper into the broad categories and each subcategory in order to give you a clearer idea of what questions to expect. We'll also provide example questions that you can practice with, as well as solutions to check your answers.

These questions come from real interviews that were reported on Glassdoor. We've just categorized the questions, and we've changed the grammar and phrasing in some places to make them easier to understand.

3. Practice with example questions

Now that you’ve seen the high-level breakdown of the most common engineering manager interview questions, let’s get into some examples.

3.1 Behavioral questions

Engineering managers need to have excellent soft skills to coordinate teams and lead projects. For that reason, no matter the company, you can expect behavioral questions to be the most frequently asked, and they’ll broadly fit into these three sub-categories:

  1. Culture fit questions. Top tech companies make an effort to cultivate their own unique culture. Interviewers will want to see whether your personality will have a positive impact on the company's way of doing things. 
  2. People management questions. People management questions tend to dive into how you will lead your team. You can expect questions about how you will get the best out of people, and how you’ll deal with problems and conflicts that may arise.
  3. Project management questions. These explore how you would effectively lead projects end-to-end. You should expect questions about project management methodologies, your ability to deal with complex and ambiguous situations, and your experience delivering results.

Let’s take a look at some example questions.

Example behavioral questions asked in engineering manager interviews

Culture fit

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • Why this company? (sample answer from Amazon interviews)
  • Tell me about a mistake you made and the lesson you learned from it
  • How do you handle conflicts?
  • When was the last time you did something innovative?
People management
  • How do you deal with high and low performers?
  • How do you manage your team’s career growth?
  • Tell me about a difficult employee situation that you handled well/not so well
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with your supervisor and how you resolved it
Project management
  • Tell me about what you've been working on over the last year
  • As a manager, how do you handle trade-offs?
  • Describe how you deal with change management
  • Describe in detail a project that failed
  • Tell me about a project, product, or system you worked on. What were the design and technical problems you faced? How did you solve them?

When you’re preparing for this part of the interview, we recommend consulting our leadership, people management, and program/project management primers, as well as using this step-by-step guide we wrote on answering behavioral questions. The guide focuses primarily on Facebook behavioral questions, but it can be applied to any company. If the company has published its core values or leadership principles, learn them and practice answers that align with each one.

Let’s move on to the next type of question you’ll face.

3.2 System design questions

The products offered by big tech companies typically have huge user bases to support. Their engineering managers therefore need to be able to design systems that are highly scalable.

This is the part of the interview where you want to show that you can both be creative and structured at the same time. The questions you'll be asked are typically quite open-ended and feel more like a discussion. You'll be using a whiteboard (or an online equivalent) to illustrate your answers.

In most cases, your interviewer will adapt the question to your background. For instance, if you've worked on an API product, they may ask you to design an API. But that won't always be the case, so you should be ready to design any type of product or system at a high level.

Here are some example system design questions asked by Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

Example system design questions asked in engineering manager interviews

  • Design the next Twitter
  • How would you design a system that reads book reviews from other sources and displays them on your online bookstore?
  • Tell me about a time you scaled a system
  • Design a short URL system
  • Design a real-time comment system to go under a Facebook post which may have millions of concurrent active users
  • How would you use a load balancer for memcache servers?
  • How would you design a ticketing platform?
  • Design a boggle solver
  • Design a distributed ID generation system
  • How would you design a system that counts the number of clicks on YouTube videos?

To help you dig deeper into system design questions, refer to our guide on system design interview preparation. There, you’ll find the method and concepts you’ll need to break down each question, as well as extra resources to help answer the questions above.

Let's move on to the final question type.

3.3 Coding questions

Engineering managers and their teams use code to tackle some of the most important and complex challenges their companies face. It's therefore essential that they have strong problem-solving skills.

Amazon typically doesn’t ask many coding questions in engineering manager interviews. But Facebook, Google, and other companies still do, so you’ll need to show that you can write well in at least one programming language, think in a structured way, and apply good understanding to a range of coding and algorithm challenges. Like the system design rounds, you’ll likely be working on a whiteboard or its virtual equivalent.

If you’re unsure whether to expect coding questions in your interviews, check with your recruiter.

The questions below come from Glassdoor data on Facebook and Google engineering interviews. We’ve taken some questions from non-management software engineer interviews, as there is more data available for those roles. However, these questions should also be relevant to management candidates.

To make these questions easier to study, we've divided them into the following categories, with the most frequent first.

  1. Graphs / Trees (34% of questions, most frequent)
  2. Arrays / Strings (32%)
  3. Dynamic programming (15%)
  4. Recursion (6%)
  5. Search / Sort (5%)
  6. Geometry / Math (5%)
  7. Linked lists (2%)
  8. Stacks / Queues (1%)

We've also modified the phrasing to match the closest problem on Leetcode or another resource, and we've linked to a free solution.

Finally, we recommend reading this guide on how to answer coding interview questions and practicing with this list of coding interview examples in addition to those listed below.

Example coding questions asked at engineering manager interviews

Graphs / Trees (34%)
    • Given the root node of a binary search tree, return the sum of values of all nodes with value between L and R (inclusive). (Solution)
    • Given a binary tree, find the maximum path sum. The path may start and end at any node in the tree. (Solution)
    • Given an encoded string, return its decoded string. (Solution)
    • Given two words (beginWord and endWord), and a dictionary's word list, find the length of shortest transformation sequence from beginWord to endWord, such that: 1) Only one letter can be changed at a time, and 2) Each transformed word must exist in the word list. (Solution)
    Arrays / Strings (32%)
      • Implement a SnapshotArray that supports predefined interfaces (note: see link for more details). (Solution)
      • Given an array nums of n integers where n > 1,  return an array output such that output[i] is equal to the product of all the elements of nums except nums[i]. (Solution)
      • Implement next permutation, which rearranges numbers into the lexicographically next greater permutation of numbers. (Solution)
      Dynamic Programming (15%)
        • Given a matrix and a target, return the number of non-empty submatrices that sum to target. (Solution)
        • Say you have an array for which the ith element is the price of a given stock on day i. If you were only permitted to complete at most one transaction (i.e., buy one and sell one share of the stock), design an algorithm to find the maximum profit. (Solution)
        Recursion (6%)
          • A strobogrammatic number is a number that looks the same when rotated 180 degrees. Find all strobogrammatic numbers that are of length = n. (Solution)
          • Given a binary tree, find the length of the longest path where each node in the path has the same value. This path may or may not pass through the root. The length of path between two nodes is represented by the number of edges between them. (Solution)
          Search / Sort (5%)
            • We have a list of points on the plane.  Find the K closest points to the origin (0, 0). (Solution)
            • Given two arrays, write a function to compute their intersection. (Solution)
            Geometry / Math (5%)
              • A group of two or more people wants to meet and minimize the total travel distance. You are given a 2D grid of values 0 or 1, where each 1 marks the home of someone in the group. The distance is calculated using Manhattan Distance, where distance(p1, p2) = |p2.x - p1.x| + |p2.y - p1.y|. (Solution)
              Linked lists (2%)
                • A linked list is given such that each node contains an additional random pointer which could point to any node in the list or null. Return a deep copy of the list. (Solution)
                Stacks / Queues (1%)
                  • Implement the following operations of a queue using stacks. (note: see the link for more details.) (Solution)

                  You’ll find even more of these coding question examples in our Facebook/Google software engineering interview guides. Also this onsite interview guide that Facebook offers its software engineers could be useful for any company. Finally, try out the approach mentioned in the video from Google below.

                  Once you’ve got this approach down, practice using the questions above.

                  4. Do mock interviews

                  Learning the question types and the specific interview process for your favorite company will go a long way in helping you prepare. But this information is not enough to land you an engineering manager job offer. 

                  To succeed in your engineering manager interviews, you're also going to need to practice under realistic interview conditions so that you'll be ready to perform when it counts. 

                  The easiest way to start practicing under simulated interview conditions is to practice interview questions out loud or with peers.

                  4.1 Practice on your own

                  A great way to practice all of these different types of questions is to interview yourself out loud. This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve the way you communicate your answers during an interview. 

                  Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer, asking questions and answering them, just like two people would in an interview. Trust us, it works.

                  4.2 Practice with peers

                  After you've started to get the hang of some engineering manager interview questions by practicing by yourself, then a great next step is to do mock interviews with friends or peers.

                  This can be especially helpful if your friend has experience with engineering manager interviews, or is at least familiar with the process.

                  4.3 Practice with ex-interviewers

                  Finally, you should also try to practice engineering manager mock interviews with expert ex-interviewers, as they’ll be able to give you much more accurate feedback than friends and peers.

                  If you know an engineering manager or someone who has experience running interviews at a big tech company, then that's fantastic. But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. And it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them really well.

                  Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can practice 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from leading tech companies like Meta, Google, and Amazon. Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.