Advice > Software engineering

Engineering Manager Interview Prep (6 steps to a FAANG offer)

By Tom Parry with input from the following coaches: Pranav P   and  Mark K . June 11, 2024
an engineering manager points at her  computer screen to show something to one of her team

Engineering manager interview prep is a big challenge. There are a variety of question types you'll need to master, and the top tech companies like Meta, 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 the top companies.

Below, we've mapped out the six high-level steps you'll want to take to prepare for your engineering manager interviews. Along the way, we've provided links to other resources that will allow you to do a deep dive into the topics where you need the most help:

  1. Learn the engineering manager interview process
  2. Know the question types
  3. Practice with example questions
  4. Follow interview tips from our expert EM
  5. Research your target company
  6. Do mock interviews

Ready? Let's go

Click here to practice 1-on-1 with ex-FAANG interviewers

1. Understand 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 often be a 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 "fit" 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 PDF 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

If you’re interviewing at Amazon, there’s a chance you’ll have a written test. This is the one major tech company 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 or to a virtual "loop" 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 questions on leadership, people and project management, and system design. 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.

Right, ready to get into the interview questions?

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. Leadership 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. Technical questions (low frequency) to test your problem-solving skills, coding ability, or domain knowledge.

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.

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 Leadership 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 leadership questions to be the most frequently asked.

Leadership questions often take the form of "behavioral" questions in that they'll test your past behavior in order to predict future behavior. 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 understand your motivation for the role and 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 leadership 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
  • When was the last time you did something innovative?
People management Project management

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 Meta 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.

Pranav, ex-Meta engineering manager, told us that Meta looks for the following key traits in its candidates (you can safely assume that other companies will be searching for similar traits):

  • How good are they at resolving conflict with their peers, managers, or external teams?
  • Do they have a growth mindset? Do they accept feedback openly and work on them to resolve it?
  • How well do they deal with ambiguity? How do they bring structure in place when there is none?
  • How do they sustain progress despite multiple hurdles?
  • How well do they communicate with peers, cross-functional partners, and teams?

Be ready to answer questions that test for these traits, and practice demonstrating them in your answers.

We also recommend watching the video below. It's a deep dive with Mark (13 years as an EM at Google) into answering leadership questions, and will help you understand what the interviewer wants from you in this part of your interview.

 

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

There are two types of system design questions you can face as an engineering manager.

The first is the typical "Design X" question where you are given ~45 minutes to design a large, complex system such as "YouTube" or "Instagram" etc. You'll talk the interviewer through your thought process as you design your system on a whiteboard or digital drawing tool.

The second, used at Meta, is where your interviewers ask questions around your past system and product design and building experiences. You'll need to take them in detail through past system design projects, also using the whiteboard to illustrate your explanations.

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

Example "Design X" system design questions asked in EM interviews

  • Design TikTok
  • Design a system that reads book reviews from other sources and displays them on your online bookstore?
  • 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?
  • Design a ticketing platform
  • Design a boggle solver
  • Design a distributed ID generation system
  • Design a system that counts the number of clicks on YouTube videos

Example "past project" system design questions asked in EM interviews

  • Describe a system/product/app you or your team built.
  • How did you evaluate the design of your system?
  • How did you test performance and scalability?
  • Describe the bottleneck of the system you designed.
  • Tell me about a time you scaled a system

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.

We also recommend watching this deep dive into system design interviews from Mark.

 

 

Let's move on to the final question type.

3.3 Technical/coding questions

Engineering managers spend more time leading and using their soft skills than getting technical and writing code, etc. But they still need excellent technical knowledge to help their teams tackle some of the most important and complex challenges their companies face.

Therefore, some companies will want to test you directly on your technical skills (in areas outside system design).  Google, for example, asks engineering manager candidates to write or review code.

Other top companies, such as Amazon and Meta, don't typically ask coding questions in engineering manager interviews but the interviewer will ask behavioral questions that test your technical knowledge.

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

As a rule of thumb, if you're told you'll have a coding interview as an EM candidate, you can expect "medium difficulty leetcode" type questions.

The questions below come from Glassdoor data on 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.

Example coding questions asked at engineering manager interviews

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • A strobogrammatic number is a number that looks the same when rotated 180 degrees. Find all strobogrammatic numbers that are of length = n. (Solution)

To prepare for coding questions we recommend learning the approach outlined by Google in the video below.

 

 

Here's a summary of the approach:

  1. Ask clarification questions to make sure you understand the problem correctly

  2. Discuss any assumptions you're making

  3. Analyze various solutions and trade-offs before starting to code

  4. Plan and implement your solution

  5. Test your solution, including corner and edge cases

Once you’ve got this approach down, practice using the questions above and find more resources in our coding interview prep guide.

4. Follow interview tips from our expert EM

Mark spent 13 years as an engineering manager at Google and conducted well over 100 EM interviews during his career. He's now one of the top coaches on our platform and has helped hundreds of candidates just like you ace their engineering manager interviews.

Here are some of his most important tips.

#Tip 1. Show that you have a growth mindset

At top companies, you'll continuously face new and different challenges, and you'll need to adapt quickly and learn fast. Interviewers are on the lookout to see if you have a growth mindset which will help you adapt and learn in new situations, versus someone who is stuck in their ways.

"Do the stories and experiences that you're giving show that you're always looking to grow and learn, rather than having a fixed mindset? That's an important signal the interviewer is looking out for" says Mark.

#Tip 2 Show humility

Humility is an important trait in an engineering manager and you should make sure to convey that you have it. You can do this in various ways; for example, by being open about failures when you're answering leadership/behavioral questions, or reacting positively to hints from the interviewer about the limitations of your design in a system design interview.

"The interviewer wants to see that you're someone who is truly willing to admit their mistakes and take responsibility for them." says Mark.

#Tip 3. Differentiate between different types of leadership questions

In the leadership interview, it's important to give the interviewer the kind of answer they're looking for. If they ask you a "tell me about a time" question, that's your cue to give them a well-prepared story from your past. But if they give you a scenario, they want you to answer in the hypothetical. Likewise, if they ask about your skillset, avoid giving a long anecdote and instead list some of the leadership tools you use.

Watch this video for Mark's detailed explanation of story, scenario, and skillset categories of leadership questions.

#Tip 4. Read the interviewer

Different interviewers have different personalities and the tone and energy of the interview can vary depending on that. Be yourself, but read the interviewer - if they're being very formal and serious, then you should keep your answers on point.

#Tip 5: Communicate efficiently

An interview is an artificially compressed time. You won't be used to working and talking about things at this speed, and so you need to communicate with the interviewer efficiently. This takes practice. Especially for technical rounds, where you need to be sure that the interviewer can follow your thought process.

#Tip 6: Explain your thinking

For technical rounds such as system design and coding, give your reasons as to why you're making each choice you do. Why did you choose one particular technology over another one?

"The interviewer wants to understand what's behind your thinking in order to assess your level of technical judgment" says Mark.

#Tip 7 Practice, practice, practice!

There is a knowing and doing gap when it comes to interviews. Learning the theory and reading prep guides is great but you need to practice out loud with friends or experts, or at least record yourself and watch yourself back.

"If you do some mock interviews, which are hugely helpful, ideally allow time for a long feedback and conversation afterward" recommends Mark.

5. Research your target company

Different companies handle the EM interview process differently. For example, Amazon heavily emphasizes their 16 Leadership Principles during their interviews, Google includes coding rounds, while Meta doesn't directly test your technical skills.

Familiarize yourself with your target company's specific interview steps and points of emphasis. To help with that, we've put together the free company guides below, which go into detail on each company's interview process and how to best prepare for it.

No matter which company you're targeting, you'll also want to research their methods and products. Check out their developers' blog (e.g. Uber) and research their engineering team on LinkedIn to try and get a sense of the sort of challenges they're facing at work.

6. 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.

6.1 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.

6.2 Practice with someone else

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.

6.3 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.

 

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