People management primer for tech interviews (competencies, questions, resources)

people management primer for tech interviews

This article was written in collaboration with interview coach Nupur D. A former Technical Program Manager for Google, Nupur has coached more than 300 people over her career. She currently works as a TPM for a fintech company in India.

Demonstrating people management skills is key to the interview process for managerial roles at companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. High performance or seniority alone likely won't be sufficient to secure an offer.

Being a good manager is all about removing roadblocks and empowering your team to do their best work. This can be difficult to demonstrate in an interview setting.

That’s why we’ve put together the following guide to people management in tech interviews, with an overview of the top management competencies, practice interview questions, and a step-by-step preparation guide.

Here’s a brief overview of what we’ll cover:

  1. What is a manager’s role?
  2. Top people management competencies
  3. How to practice people management interview questions
Click here to practice 1-to-1 with ex-FAANG interviewers

1. What is a manager's role?

A manager’s responsibility is to empower their team to do a job well. Managers must put their team first, working to keep them motivated while removing obstacles from their path.

When this is done well, it boosts the productivity and output of a team. However, this is not the same as demonstrating leadership.

Leadership is about how you influence others, even if they do not directly report to you. In FAANG companies, all employees are expected to be leaders, but only some are expected to be managers.

Additionally, many managers have domain expertise (e.g. engineering managers). However, this is a separate skillset from managing people. For instance, there are many excellent software engineers who wouldn't necessarily make effective managers.

To help you get your head around which people management competencies you should demonstrate in your interview, we’ve listed the top ones below, with specific questions to work with in each category.

Let’s get started.

2. Top people management competencies

Now that you’ve got an idea of what we mean when we’re talking about people management, let’s break it into its specific components. Here are the management competencies you’re most likely to be tested on at companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google:

  1. Hiring
  2. Training
  3. Motivating 
  4. Setting culture
  5. Running a team
  6. Retaining
  7. Letting go

In the following sections, we’ll define each competency and provide you with a list of questions you can practice with. These questions are a mix of our own examples and those that were reported by real candidates on Glassdoor.

2.1 Hiring 

Hiring ineffectively leads to bloated teams with mediocre output. In fact, companies like Google sift through thousands of good candidates in order to find just one that meets their high standards.

So your interviewer will be looking for candidates who know how to run an interview and decide who to hire. We’ll give you six ways you can show that you’re up to the task, and then we’ll dive into some interview questions to help you practice.

Six hiring best practices to demonstrate in your interview:

1. Planning for team growth

Talk about how you create a forecast for team headcount and get it approved, as well as how you manage salary and recruiter fees within a budget and time constraints.

2. Building a diverse candidate pipeline

Hiring happens faster when you’ve got a pool of qualified talent to choose from. If you’ve built or helped build a candidate pipeline already, explain your sourcing strategy (e.g. LinkedIn, networking, referral programs, etc.), your template for a job description that attracts the right talent, how you maintain contact with potential candidates, and how you turn prospects into new hires.

3. Fine-tuning the interview process

Show your interviewer that you put thought into every step of the interview process. Explain how you screen resumes and applications, and mix interviews with practical exercises in order to test the right skills and values.

4. Interviewing for skills

Lay out how you assess candidates’ skills through technical exercises or take-home assignments. Talk about when it is appropriate to teach certain skills on the job, and when it is not.

5. Interviewing for values

While many skills can be taught on the job, values cannot. Show your interviewer how you test candidates’ values while removing as much bias as possible. List the objective traits you look for and the types of questions you ask to test them.

6. Closing the candidate

When you’ve met a candidate that is the best fit for a role, explain how you sell the role to that candidate early in the process. Prospective candidates should understand why this is a great team for them to join and how it is the best opportunity for them. When you do make an offer, talk about how you work with recruiters to close the candidate by answering their questions and helping them understand the benefits of the role.

2.1.1 Hiring interview questions

With those best practices in mind, practice your approach to each of them using the interview questions below.

People management example questions: Hiring 

  • How do you ensure you are hiring a healthy spread of diverse thinking in your team?
  • How would you create a headcount forecast to staff your team?
  • What do you look for in a resume?
  • What do you put in a job description?
  • You have to ramp up your team headcount quickly. Would you prefer waiting for the right candidate? Why or why not?

2.2 Training 

To encourage their direct reports’ growth and development, managers must be able to give them useful feedback and teach new skills. For those who have not been managers, mentoring can be a relevant experience, as it means you have invested in the career development of a peer.

Your interviewer is looking for managers who are not taskmasters, but rather give their reports the tools they need to work better. Here are four ways you can demonstrate that.

Four training best practices to demonstrate in your interview:

1. Giving actionable, transparent, and timely feedback

Show your interviewer that you know how to tailor and deliver constructive criticism, rather than tearing them down. Highlight your use of empathy, and give examples of how your use of feedback has helped your past reports.

2. Teaching new skills

Discuss examples of when you’ve identified room for improvement and helped employees get the training they needed to act on it. If applicable, explain how you have trained someone in one of your areas of expertise. 

3. Customizing your approach to each employee 

Demonstrate to your interviewer that you can correctly evaluate your reports’ output with respect to their level and abilities. Talk about how you spell out tasks for those with low task-relevant maturity and lend autonomy to those with high TRM.

4. Running a process for your direct reports’ career growth

Managers are expected to help their direct reports understand what they need to do to get promoted. Explain how you identify areas of improvement and chart out a plan of action in collaboration with your reports. Give examples of people you’ve helped succeed in the past.

2.2.1 Training interview questions

Use the following example questions to prepare your responses for an upcoming interview.

People management example questions: Training

  • Give an example of how you have helped a new employee in your team ramp up effectively
  • How do you structure the feedback you give to your team?
  • How do you deliver criticism to someone who doesn’t take feedback well?
  • Have you helped someone in your team go for a promotion? 
  • How do you evaluate the performance of your team members?
  • Have you ever mentored someone in your team? What were the results of that mentorship?

2.3 Motivating

As a manager, you’ll need to develop time and energy into keeping your team motivated. To foster a driven team, you must develop strategies to keep them challenged, encouraged, and engaged.

Interviewers are looking for managers that have concrete methods of maintaining a consistently motivated team. Let’s get into four ways that you can show that.

Four motivating best practices to demonstrate in your interview:

1. Adding meaning to assigned work

Your team should always understand why they are working on a project. They should ideally know how their projects fit into your team’s strategy and the company strategy. Overall, they should have a good grasp of the difference they’re helping to make.

2. Give ownership to your reports

Your interviewer is not looking for a micro-manager. Show that you’re capable of allowing your reports to lead. Give examples of when you’ve left space for your team to make and solve their own mistakes, or when you’ve asked them to challenge one of your own solutions.

3. Connect with the team

Managing people does not necessarily entail being their friend; however, you should know your reports well. Talk about how you build relationships with your team, keep an open door policy, and ensure that they're connected with the rest of the company.

4. Acknowledge good work

Show your interviewer that you praise your team more often than you criticize them. Talk about how you publicly acknowledge their work and give specific praise, rather than vague compliments (e.g. “thank you for turning in that report a day before deadline” versus “good work”).

2.3.1 Motivating interview questions

Now that you’ve seen some of the best practices for motivating your team, practice discussing them using the example questions below.

People management example questions: Motivating

  • How do you motivate your team?
  • Your team is demotivated because they feel the project is not important. How will you go about fixing this?
  • How do you deal with low performers?

2.4 Running a team

Managing people requires significant administrative effort. You must be able to hold a variety of meetings and other processes that keep the team aligned with organizational and project goals. 

Show your interviewer that you run the right processes to keep your team working smoothly and to help increase output. Let’s get into five common management processes and how you should treat them in your interview.

Five management processes to discuss in your interview:

1. Onboarding

You’ll be the first point of contact for the members of your team, so show your interviewer that you will give them all the tools they need to work and connect in their first weeks on the job. Discuss when it’s appropriate to assign mentors, source training materials or courses, ask for them to shadow a current employee, etc.

2. Setting OKRs

Talk about your collaborative process for setting up OKRs with your team. Ensure that your reports have clarity in their objectives, and that the key results that lead up to them are concrete. Your reports should be completing the majority of their OKRs independently, with your input at the end.

3. Running weekly one-on-ones

Much of what we’ve previously discussed (giving feedback, motivating, building relationships) can be maintained in weekly one-on-ones. So talk about how you create an open dialogue with your reports and make this weekly meeting about their needs, rather than yours.

4. Sprint planning & daily standups

When it comes to team meetings like sprints or daily standups, your interviewer wants you to be able to run them efficiently. Tell them the methods you put in place to keep everybody on task and goal-oriented, how you document the meeting, and how you continuously improve the process.

5. Delivering performance reviews

Explain that the information in your performance reviews typically doesn’t come as a surprise for your reports, as you maintain a regular feedback loop with your employees. Talk about how you organize peer reviews and set goals for improvement.

2.4.1 Running a team interview questions

With those five processes in mind, practice the interview questions below.

People management example questions: Running a team

  • What are OKRs? How do you gather team OKRs? How will you grade OKRs for your team?
  • A person in your team has asked to skip being on-call. How will you handle this?
  • How do you conduct one-on-ones with your team?
  • Give an example on how you measured and improved the performance of a team you were leading.
  • During a meeting, the most senior engineer on your team says that a technical problem cannot be solved within the deadline. What will you do?

2.5 Upholding company culture 

Managers play a vital part in setting the tone and direction of their team’s culture. You must play the part of a cheerleader and a referee: encouraging team players and giving private feedback for misfires.

Your interviewer wants to see what you will do to shape the culture of their company. Let’s get into three ways that you can discuss this.

Three company culture best practices to demonstrate in your interview:

1. Leading by example 

Interviewers will not be interested in candidates with a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. So indicate to your interviewer that you will refer to the company values when making decisions and behave in a way that aligns with them. 

2. Introducing new team members to company values

Explain how you will align new hires with the company’s culture by setting aside time to go over the company values. If new reports are already aware of the values, you should find a way of making sure they're able to fully understand and absorb them.

3. Assigning culture mentors where needed

Managers don’t always have the time or expertise to walk new reports through every aspect of a company’s culture. So talk about how you identify people in the organization who can be good culture mentors. Discuss the qualities of a good mentor, and how you approach both the mentor and mentee to set up the relationship.

 2.5.1 Company culture interview questions

Try to think of a few good examples of upholding company culture using our practice questions below.

People management example questions: Upholding company culture 

  • How do you ensure culture is maintained when the team is remote?
  • You have recently joined a team whose culture isn’t aligned with the overall company culture. Do you think this needs to be fixed urgently?  What will you do to fix it? 
  • Your report has expressed that they noticed a bias against them. How will you go about resolving this?
  • How do you handle conflicts in your team?

2.6 Retaining

It is a common adage that “people don't leave companies; people leave managers.” As managers are the main point of contact for their team, poor ones will drive away star players and hinder their team's progress.

You’ll need to show your interviewer that you have the right practices to increase your team’s longevity, rather than its turnover. Here are three ways that you can do that.

Three retaining best practices to demonstrate in your interview:

1. Watching for distress signals

Managers must be able to keep up with the mental and emotional state of their team, ready to perform check-ins, and careful with assigning unsatisfying tasks. Talk about these methods and any other practices you put in place to check the pulse of your team.

2. Addressing distress signals before it's too late

When a team member has made it clear that they are dissatisfied, you should be ready to devote attention to their needs. Discuss with your interviewer how you identify and address a report’s pain point, then make a plan to act on it. If there has been a time that you were unable or unwilling to address a team member’s issue, explain why that was the case and what was the final result (e.g. letting them go, transferring them, asking for help, etc.).

3. Handling departures

If a report does decide to leave, show your interviewer that you are capable of handling this maturely. Discuss examples of past departures and how you took advantage of the moment to facilitate their transfer or give them a boost in their career growth.

2.6.1 Retaining interview questions

Practice displaying your ability to retain team members using the questions below.

People management example questions:  Retaining

  • Give an example of how you have helped chalk out someone's career and helped them achieve their career goals
  • How do you help an underperforming teammate become better?
  • If you had to advise your VP on preventing attrition, what would you say?

2.7  Letting go

Poor performers not only affect their team’s project execution, but also their team’s general morale. Managers must uphold a standard of what is acceptable performance, what is merely tolerable, and what is unacceptable as explained by in its "Become an Effective Software Engineering Manager" course

Interviewers will be looking for candidates who know how to make difficult decisions for the good of their team. Here are three methods of discussing that.

Three letting go best practices to demonstrate in your interview:

1. Taking preventative measures

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) or a termination should never come as a surprise to one of your reports. Talk with your interviewer about how you have initial conversations about your team’s performance and give them clear and actionable paths to improvement before taking harsher measures. 

2. Creating performance improvement plans

Talk to your interviewer about the conditions that must be met before you assign somebody a PIP, and how you put the plan together. The PIP should include clear and achievable objectives that your report can meet in order to remain on the team. If applicable, give examples of past reports who have passed their PIP and gone on to add value to the team.

3. Communicating with HR and managers

When letting a team member go is absolutely necessary, talk about how you handle it with HR and the employee in a sensitive yet firm way. List the steps you take to facilitate the process with other members of the company. Underline your efforts not to burn bridges and to keep team morale intact after the departure.

2.6.1 Letting go interview questions

Practice discussing tough firing decisions with the following interview questions.

People management example questions: Letting go

  • Talk about a time when you had to make a difficult decision about letting go of someone in your team
  • Have you ever assigned a performance improvement plan? What were the circumstances that led up to it?

Do you need to improve on key skills?

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3. How to practice people management interview questions

It’s best to take a systematic approach to make the most of your practice time, and we recommend the following three steps:

3.1 Learn a consistent method for answering people management questions

In an interview setting, you should focus on your most relevant experiences and communicate them in a clear way. An easy way to achieve this is to use a step-by-step method to answer questions. 

Notice that almost all questions above can be asked as hypothetical questions (e.g. "How do you help an underachieving teammate perform better?"), or behavioral questions (e.g. "Tell me about a time when you helped an underachieving teammate").

Although the two phrasings are similar, they require different answers. For hypothetical questions, you should explain your hypothetical approach to the question asked (e.g. "I would do XYZ to help my teammate"). And for behavioral questions, you need to take an actual example from your past and explain what you did (e.g. "I did XYZ to help my teammate").

When answering behavioral questions, we recommend using the IGotAnOffer method to bring structure to your answer. Here are the steps:

  1. Situation: Start by giving the necessary context of the situation you were in. Describe your role, the team, the organization, the market, etc. You should only give the minimum context needed to understand the problem and the solution in your story. Nothing more.
  2. Problem: Outline the problem you and your team were facing.
  3. Solution: Explain the solution you came up with to solve the problem. Step through how you went about implementing your solution, and focus on your contribution over what the team / larger organization did.
  4. Impact: Summarize the positive results you achieved for your team, department, and organization. As much as possible, quantify the impact.
  5. Lessons: Conclude with any lessons you might have learned in the process.

For more information about this method and a full example answer, take a look at our guide to behavioral interviews. While this is a guide to Facebook’s behavioral interview, the method and example can apply to any company.

This method will help you to understand the structure of a good answer. This is a good first step, BUT just knowing the method is not enough, as you also need to be able to apply the steps in interview conditions. 

3.2 Practice by yourself or with peers

A great way to practice answering management questions is to interview yourself out loud. This may sound strange, but it’s an excellent way to 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.

If you have friends or peers who can do mock interviews with you, that's a great option too. This can be especially helpful if your friend has experience with tech interviews, or is at least familiar with the process.

3.3 Practice with FAANG ex-interviewers

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

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 Google, Amazon, and other leading tech companies. Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.