49 top engineering manager interview questions (+ answers)
Engineering manager interview questions help interviewers and candidates successfully prepare for engineering interviews.
Aug 31, 2023 • 12 Minute Read
No matter how qualified you are, interviews can be overwhelming for both interviewers and interviewees.
While a company’s recruiters may know what they’re looking for in a candidate, having a list of prepared engineering manager interview questions can help speed up the vetting process. Plus, our list of questions can help prepare candidates for their interview before the big day.
Table of contents:
Core engineering manager interview questions
The questions below can help interviewees prepare for an engineer manager interview and can help interviewers gauge a candidate’s core knowledge.
1. Why do you want to become an engineering manager?
This question should encourage interviewees to respond by discussing their long-term career aspirations along with their passion for the industry. Ideal answers touch on the strengths of the field, how their career and education have impacted them, and ways they may use their future experience to influence others.
2. In general, what makes a good manager?
Interviewees should respond by listing soft and hard skills, engineering-specific proficiencies, programming language knowledge, and other priorities. Ideally, candidates will use their personal characteristics and experiences prior to an engineering management transition to guide their answers to this question, which can help interviewers better understand the interviewee's values.
3. How do you resolve conflict on your team?
Conflict is inevitable. Teams comprised of individuals with unique backgrounds will experience conflict of some kind. As leaders, managers are responsible for reaching conflict resolutions using soft skills. Candidates may respond to this question with real-world examples that demonstrate their decision-making, highlight mediation actions, and accentuate the resolution’s positive lasting effects.
4. Describe your educational background or technical training for this role.
Depending on your company and the position you're interviewing for, answers to this question may vary. Each organization has individual expectations when it comes to a candidate’s educational and technical background. Consider all forms of education, including two-year, four-year, and graduate-level degrees as well as certifications, online courses, training programs, and on-the-job experiences.
5. How do you like to improve a team’s performance?
It may seem obvious, but a manager is responsible for the performance of an entire team rather than a single individual. This question asks interviewees to consider the performance tracking software they use and explain the specific tactics they've used to improve performance, including but not limited to one-on-one meetings, team check-ins, postmortem meetings, team surveys, professional development seminars, and more. Responses to this question can focus on current and future adjustments.
6. How do you prioritize tasks?
Successful managers understand that task prioritization is an increasingly important aspect of their role. From product development to post-project fixes, an ideal candidate can discuss their process for prioritizing tasks while meeting business goals and respecting project deadlines.
When asking this question, consider providing the interviewee with three to five example tasks to prioritize. They should be able to ask follow-up questions and assign, move, or complete tasks in a prioritized manner.
7. Describe a time you scaled a system.
Many engineering and software companies aim to create systems that can be used across various industries by large quantities of people. Interviewees who understand how to design affordable, supportive, easy-to-use systems can be incredible assets. Ideal answers to this question will contain specific examples of successful systems.
8. How do you approach team building?
It's difficult for teams to grow without consistent team-building exercises. An interviewer may want to know about a candidate’s experience creating and managing team-building activities and regular team collaboration.
Successful responses will outline prior team-building experiences, programs, and methods, and candidates may express new ideas and survey options to grow team bonding throughout a company.
Additional engineering manager interview questions
Interviewers may ask candidates variations of the above questions or include additional core engineering manager interview questions, such as:
9. Have you worked with product managers?
10. How do you feel about managing remote teams or individuals?
11. How do you assess risk when initiating a new project?
12. Describe the size and structure of the teams you manage best.
13. How would you describe your management style?
14. Can you describe a situation where you delivered or received difficult feedback?
15. What kinds of projects did you work on in your last job?
16. Describe a time a project didn’t go as planned. What did you do?
Software engineering manager interview questions
Questions designed with software engineering manager candidates in mind will likely focus on software development, coding programs, and system design.
17. How do you handle system design?
System design is one of the most talked-about subjects in any engineering manager interview. Organizations that depend on systems and databases need to know that a potential candidate has the skills to produce, organize, and manage particular systems.
Quality interviewees may describe past systems they’ve designed, specific courses or professional training programs they have completed, and successful outcomes displayed by systems created for other companies.
18. What types of coding languages do you work with?
19. What are five software engineering tools you can’t live without?
There are various powerful software engineering tools available to engineers of all levels. This question is designed to allow interviewees to discuss the tools they have previous experience with. Candidates may discuss their favorite and least favorite features of their chosen software, and interviewers may follow up with questions related to specific software engineering tools.
Additional software engineering manager interview questions
Software engineering manager interviews may include other interview questions regarding a candidate’s firsthand experience, including:
20. What aspects of software development do you consider when hiring new talent?
21. How would you handle continuous poor performance by a software developer under your management?
22. What is your go-to managerial approach for coding, reviews, and other projects?
Technical manager interview questions
The following questions may be included in technical manager interviews to discuss a candidate’s knowledge and abilities.
23. How do you describe the technical aspects of a project to stakeholders who don’t have a technical background?
This question asks candidates to highlight their strongest soft skills, including communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Many stakeholders—including clients—may not have technical backgrounds, so technical managers need to be able to simplify difficult concepts.
Ideal answers will highlight potential communication plans, including but not limited to relational communication based on a stakeholder’s professional background or visual assets to simplify process communication.
24. What experience do you have in developing features and technical specifications?
This question is designed to give candidates the opportunity to discuss past achievements and industry knowledge. Quality responses contain real-world stories or data-backed facts about systems, features, and processes designed by the managerial candidate.
25. How would you prepare a tech lead?
Before assigning an individual the technical lead role, a technical manager or senior engineering manager needs to help develop their skills. Quality technical manager candidates should discuss how to create and implement training plans regarding design architecture, quality assurances, code reviews, delegation, new employee training, and meeting management.
26. How do you resolve tech debt?
Similar to conflict, tech debt is a given in software development. Candidates should understand its potential impact, and their responses may contain plausible solutions, including engineer training, system testing, continuous documentation, and possible refactoring.
27. How should tech leads and engineering managers collaborate?
It’s possible for the engineering manager and tech lead to be the same person, but many larger companies create separate positions for these jobs. In these cases, ideal candidates should understand that engineering managers are people-focused, while tech leads are technology-focused. Their response to this question may include examples of tech leads and engineering managers collaborating on projects, brainstorming design ideas, meeting with potential team members, resolving conflicts as a team, and more.
Data engineering manager interview questions
Both interviewers and candidates can use the data engineering manager interview questions included in this section to prepare for a managerial interview.
28. What is your risk assessment process when starting a new project?
Any project handling data—internal or external—comes with associated risks. Ideal candidates will understand the importance of a data engineering manager and should be able to describe a step-by-step process for assessing project risks. Consider timelines, probability, and impact when brainstorming or preparing acceptable responses.
29. How do you approach missing or inaccurate data in a dataset?
For this question, quality candidates should discuss their possible solutions for missing and inaccurate data. In many cases, managers may lean on imputation or data removal to solve this problem, but interviewers may be looking for creative solutions. Consider the possible outcomes, setbacks, and dangers associated with missing and inaccurate data when formulating a response.
30. Do you have a background in or certification for secure or private data compliance?
Responses to this type of question may vary. Ideal candidates may have a background in and certification for data compliance, or they may only have one or the other. Consider the candidate’s other areas of interest and experience when evaluating their response to this question.
Additional data-focused interview questions
An interviewer may ask other data-focused questions during a data engineering manager interview, like:
31. What do you look for when hiring a new QA analyst or data engineer?
32. Can you explain how you would optimize a slow-running query?
33. Can you explain how you design and implement a data pipeline?
Senior engineering manager interview questions
Senior engineering managers may have more experience or a more refined skillset than the first-time engineering manager. The following interview questions are best suited for interviews with senior engineering manager candidates.
34. What is the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a manager?
No role—especially a management position—is safe from difficult decisions. Interviewers will want to understand a candidate’s decision-making process, including situation evaluation, potential compromises, final solutions, and communication methods. This question can be vulnerable, but it's designed to foster trust between a manager, their team members, and the company as a whole.
35. Describe a project where you anticipated issues and made proactive solutions.
Designed to highlight a candidate’s problem-solving skills, creativity, and critical thinking, answers to this question should include real-life examples with plausible, effective solutions. Consider discussing the specific strategies used to anticipate, evaluate, and implement changes to a project.
36. Can you describe a time when a project you were working on was not meeting expectations? How did you respond?
This question is designed to assess a candidate’s leadership priorities. While project mistakes are part of every job, how a manager responds to the concerns is telling of their personal and professional values. Candidates should describe how they approached a situation, what steps they made to support their team, any timeline adjustments they made, and other actions they took to set a project back on track.
37. How do you approach upskilling your teams?
The best managers are team players rather than individualists. Ideal candidates will show interest or experience in building team skills. Use this question to learn if an interviewee has experience mentoring, teaching, or training teams in soft and hard skills, which can grow individuals, teams, and organizations as a whole.
38. How do you like to break large projects into smaller components for your team?
This question covers a wide range of requests: How does a candidate schedule projects, assign priorities, and rearrange budgets? This question is also designed to focus on an interviewee’s leadership style and potential.
Ideal responses should include stories or specific examples of ways a candidate has had to systematically organize complex projects. Interviewers should listen for concrete steps and delegation processes when asking this question.
39. Your project is running behind. How would you communicate this to other teams in your organization?
This is not designed to be a trick question—project delays are common. This question is designed to help interviewers learn about an engineering manager's communication standards. Candidates should explain how they would communicate delays to two specific groups: other organizational teams and the executive team. Additionally, interviewees should discuss how they prioritize active listening, problem-solving collaboration, and continuous resilience.
Additional senior-level interview questions
When hiring senior-level engineering managers, interviewers may ask more specific questions about a candidate’s experiences, including:
40. What is your experience with budget management?
41. How do you embrace and approach diversity on your teams?
42. What strategies do you use to streamline processes?
43. What design frameworks and methodologies are you comfortable working with?
44. What do you feel are important factors to consider when delegating tasks?
Engineering director interview questions
Director-level candidates should be prepared to communicate industry, hiring, and training processes during their responses to the questions below.
45. Describe how you plan, develop, and execute employee training programs.
Director-level candidates may be responsible for developing and implementing employee training programs. They may answer this question by presenting the interviewer with physical plans they designed in previous years or by describing the steps necessary to create an instructional program. Candidates can convey leadership values by mentioning specific program options, analysis systems, survey follow-ups, mentorship opportunities, and more.
46. What do you consider when hiring top engineering talent?
Candidates applying for a manager of managers position will most likely be responsible for the team’s recruitment and hiring practices. This question allows candidates to discuss potential referrals, industry connections, personal and professional networking, internal promotion and external hiring considerations, and other recruiting options. Interviewees may also discuss their preferred vetting practices, including phone interviews, culture surveys, and technical skills testing.
47. Do you have experience coaching engineers into management roles?
Mentorship and quality leadership are necessary for growing teams. This question is designed with these two values in mind. Successful candidates should recognize quality leadership and talent across teams, and they will build up other members rather than break them down.
48. How do you maximize quality while staying within budget on a project?
This question can be formatted in two ways: by requesting the interviewee to consider and respond with a true-life story or by presenting them with an example scenario. In both situations, a candidate will need to describe specific steps designed to enhance quality without increasing the cost of a project.
This question is great for understanding an individual’s management style while learning about their project expectations and engineering knowledge.
49. How do you create a culture of accountability in your teams?
Members of a team are not only responsible for their work, but for the completion of team projects as a whole. Discussions may include how interviewees would encourage team members to collaborate on individual tasks. Ideal candidates may also discuss specific accountability actions—like one-on-one meetings, team surveys, and progress reports.
Engineering manager interview template
Interviewees and interviewers alike can use this engineering manager interview template. Candidates can practice their interview responses prior to an official meeting, and interviewers can use the template to take notes during a live interview.
6 tips for engineering manager interview prep
No matter how much professional experience you have, interviews can be nerve-wracking. Below are a few tips to help you prepare for an engineering manager interview.
1. Update your resume and cover letter
Before beginning the application process, you need to update your resume and cover letter. Depending on the position you're applying for, update your resume with your most recent position description and job achievements. Your resume should reflect your career goals and introduce your professional experience succinctly.
When updating your resume, consider including engineering-specific hard and soft skills, including:
Computer science, information technology, or programming
Teamwork and collaboration
If you’ve received additional education, training, or certifications in engineering-specific fields, make sure you clearly display it in both your resume and cover letter.
2. Align your career goals with the company mission
Every company has a unique interview process, but it’s a safe bet to assume that interviewees whose career goals mesh well with a company’s mission are more likely to receive a favorable response than others.
Many companies will also use their own core values and competencies to evaluate your abilities, so come prepared to answer questions about the company’s principles. Doing plenty of brand research is better than entering an interview underprepared.
3. Find the best example stories and referrals
Come prepared to answer interview questions focused on your past experiences. Identify stories that demonstrate your industry expertise, management success, and even failures. Additionally, identify stories that reflect well on your leadership but also show your ability to evolve with your position.
Before entering an interview, attempt to format your stories so they are simple and easy to follow. Interview techniques like the STAR method can help interviewees organize the situation, task, action, and result to prepare for experience-specific questions.
Strong referrals can also help you display your professional abilities. Request referrals from individuals you have previously worked with, who experienced difficult situations with you, or who can describe their experiences as your employee. Make sure your referrals are true, and appropriately describe your strengths, weaknesses, and flexibility.
4. Brush up on core competencies and in-demand skills
As industries evolve, managers should stay flexible and evolve, too. Consider investing in your engineering competencies and skills by:
Joining a professional society
Pursuing an industry-specific certification
Participating in professional development seminars and training
Hiring a professional coach
Enlisting in online or in-person courses
Strengthening soft skills like communication
While continued learning is the spice of life, it’s also one of the best ways to prepare for a new engineering role and additional responsibilities.
5. Remember the best engineering questions to ask interviewers
During the interview process, interviewees will want to discover whether or not the company, team, and culture are right for them before signing an employment contract. Remember to ask your interviewer technical- and culture-focused questions, like:
Can you describe your company culture?
Is the team or company currently facing any engineering challenges?
What is the most pertinent issue that needs to be addressed by this team?
What product metrics do you measure?
What new hire resources does your company provide for learning about products, services, and processes?
Are there specific qualities you look for when hiring for this position?
In this role, what does a typical day look like?
Who works most closely with the individual in this role?
What are the company’s remote and hybrid work policies?
What is the onboarding process like?
How is project prioritization managed?
What growth opportunities are available within the company?
6. Practice your responses
You may know the interview questions and understand a company’s core values, but it’s also vital to be articulate and responsive during the interview. Listen to your interviewer’s stories, questions, and requests, and be prepared to ask follow-up questions or clarify ambiguous responses.
Practice multiple times with different interview questions, and track where you struggle most to anticipate weak areas where you might need additional research and support.
How Pluralsight Flow can help you build and grow your teams
Even with a list of engineering manager interview questions in your arsenal, you need to know your worth in order to effectively answer questions and promote yourself as an ideal candidate.
Pluralsight Flow is a software engineering analytics platform designed with you in mind. You can use this tool to track your performance, improve workflows, and advocate for your experience both inside an interview and on the other side.
Flow can also help managers supervise new hires, adjust the onboarding process, encourage team collaboration, and improve individual check-ins. No matter where you stand in the employee lifecycle, it’s the perfect time to take a tour and prioritize your professional workflows.