If you’re an experienced software engineer hoping to take the next step in your career, an engineering manager role could be just right for you. As an engineering manager, you’ll have the opportunity to take real ownership of the projects you work on. You’ll be responsible for work carried out across multiple teams, as well as for the ultimate outcome of each project.
Ready to take on that new challenge? Not so fast – first, you have to get past the interview process. Because engineering manager roles are so demanding, the interview processes can be rigorous. You’ll need to be extremely well prepared if you want to stand a chance of landing your dream engineering manager job.
Fortunately, the VisualCV team is here to help! On this page, we’ll cover the following points:
Engineering managers are experienced tech professionals who have progressed into a management role. They are responsible for developing concepts for new products, as well as for solving any problems that come up before or during the development process. Usually, they work across multiple departments in a supervisory capacity.
Engineering management is a field that focuses heavily on logistics. If you’re used to being in the trenches of product development, with a specific focus on a particular set of tasks, you will need to shake off that mindset to succeed as an engineering manager. You’ll need to take a broad view of the project as a whole, overseeing the logistical side of the development process and assigning work to employees as needed.
This means you’ll need to be adaptable, with the flexibility necessary to respond to unexpected developments. You will also need the ability to communicate well. After all, you’ll need to remain in contact with employees from multiple teams, as well as your clients and your own managers.
You can expect your interviews to cover all of these bases – which means you can expect several rounds of interviews! After you’ve had initial remote screening appointments with both a recruiter and a hiring manager, you will be invited to attend a day of interviews on site. You’ll probably need to prepare for a mixture of the following:
However, it’s important to note that the exact interview process can vary between companies. Talk to your contact at the company you’re interviewing with, if you’re not sure what to expect from your interview.
It’s important to remember that engineering manager roles require a range of skills. You need to prove that you have expertise in the field of engineering – but the role also involves management responsibilities. That means you need to be able to demonstrate leadership skills, communication skills, and the kind of personality that can manage others effectively.
As such, you can expect your interview questions to reflect all aspects of the role. Here are some of the most common interview questions for engineering manager roles, along with some advice and example answers to give you a head start as you prepare!
Management can be fraught with challenges, particularly in an industry as fast-moving and high-pressure as software engineering. Whether or not you have any previous management experiences, hiring managers will want to know about how you have handled difficulties in the past. Are you capable of making the tough decisions that will be necessary in your new role?
As with any behavioral question, it’s good to have a direct example prepared for a question like this – particularly since the question specifically calls for one. Regardless of the level of responsibility you had, think about times when you’ve had to make tough calls. Be ready to talk about the implications of all the choices available to you, as well as the reasoning behind your eventual decision.
And keep in mind that it’s smart to talk about a time when you made the right choice, or at least a choice that had a positive outcome. You want to show your interviewer that not only can you handle the pressure – you can think clearly enough to assess your options effectively and find the best way forward.
Example answer: “In my previous role as a senior software engineer, I had to decide whether to ask my team to work overtime so we could meet a deadline, or liaise with the client to push the delivery date back. On one hand, I was worried about my team’s wellbeing and work-life balance, but I also didn’t want to let the client down. Ultimately, I was able to compromise – I discussed the question with my team, and they were all willing to put in the extra hours to meet the project’s due date. The client was happy with the work we put in, and the team came together in a way that kept morale very high.”
As an engineering manager, you will be responsible for providing high-level estimates for how long tasks will take. Usually, this is informed by the task prioritization decisions made by the project manager. Once you have that estimate, you will need to assign the appropriate resources to all the relevant teams, so you can make sure all the work gets done in time.
But it’s not always that straightforward. Unexpected setbacks like bugs, staffing issues, or client feedback can cause the priority order of project-critical tasks to change. If you want to succeed as an engineering manager, you will need to respond to these challenges flexibly and thoughtfully, protecting the integrity of your teams’ work while also managing client expectations.
Though the question itself is fairly broad, it’s important to think about how you may have demonstrated the skills you will need as an engineering manager in the past. Were you able to communicate professionally with clients and team leaders alike, making sure that all parties understood the impact of any new developments? Were you able to take ownership of the software development process, while still listening to input from your colleagues?
Example answer: “In my previous role, our initial timeline was affected multiple times by bugs that needed to be resolved before we could continue. I worked closely with the developers to allocate them the resources they needed, so we were able to limit delays to the project. However, I ultimately had to explain to the client that our initial estimate would need to be revised – I made sure to be as specific as possible about the impacts of the bugs on our overall process, which helped the client to understand and accept the slight delay.”
While the last question dealt with your ability to respond to impromptu setbacks, this question focuses on another crucial skill for an engineering manager: your ability to identify and plan for problems in advance. Needless to say, this is a skill hiring managers love to see in candidates. If you’re able to come up with preventative measures ahead of time, your projects are more likely to run smoothly, without unexpected delays that could hurt the company’s reputation.
Think about occasions, whether or not you were a manager at the time, when you’ve thought ahead and taken potential future problems into account. Did you raise them with the relevant colleagues at an early stage of the planning process? Did you help to come up with a solution – and if so, how did you do it?
Interviewers want to see evidence of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Pick your proudest forward-planning moment from your career so far, and don’t be afraid to get into the details of how you made it happen.
Example answer: “While preparing for a project in my previous role, I identified some potential concerns about the forward compatibility of the software I was working on with the operating system it was designed for. I spoke to the project manager straight away, and we consulted with the development team, who agreed that it could be a problem. I helped them to come up with a solution that meant our software would continue to work well with future versions of the OS – and that it could be updated easily to reflect any unexpected changes in future OS updates.”
This question is about your ability to communicate. As a manager, you will have to liaise with stakeholders across multiple teams – and some of them may not be as deeply enmeshed in the technical details of your projects as you. It’s up to you to make your work accessible to those people, so your project can benefit from the experience and expertise they can bring to the table.
Watch out, though: this is also a question about your ability to collaborate with others. The tech industry as a whole has a problem with ‘insufferable geniuses’, who are brilliant in their own right but can’t play well with other people. You need to show that you respect people outside your immediate field, and that you’re prepared to meet them where they are without being condescending or unkind.
For a managerial role, both of these skills will be especially important. Make sure you have a great example of your teamwork and communication skills ready to go if this question comes up!
Example answer: “I always try to find ways for other people to relate to the concepts I’m describing. For example, whenever I have to explain the software development process to the company’s sales team, I try to compare it to sales processes that work similarly. Describing the process in terms of a sales funnel has worked really well in the past, and has enabled me to help my non-technical colleagues feel included.”
This last question is about one of the most fundamental elements of any management role – taking responsibility for the employees you manage. You won’t just be expected to give them instructions! You’ll also be responsible for their personal and professional development, both within their specific role and within the company as a whole.
If you haven’t been a manager before, this question may seem tricky – but rest assured that it isn’t only asking about your past management experience. If you’ve ever supported a colleague with something that wasn’t their strong suit, or given someone a brief stint of training to cover your role before you took a period of leave, that’s all relevant experience that you can mention here. The point isn’t the level of responsibility you had: it’s the willingness you showed to help and support your colleagues.
That attitude will reflect on your ability to succeed as a manager. So come prepared with an example of a time when you’ve gone out of your way to help a colleague succeed. Talk about how you did it, and as always, make sure you’re clear about the impact it had!
Example answer: “When I had to take a period of leave from work, I had to make sure my junior colleague was prepared to cover my work in my absence. I planned ahead to make sure we had plenty of time for multiple sessions, during which I trained her thoroughly in the work I do from day to day. I also built in time for her to shadow me, so she could see the way I approached my tasks. She did really well during my sick leave, and I actually continued to coach her once I returned – she’s now taken over my former role on a permanent basis.”
On top of the behavioral questions listed above, you will also need to prepare for some technical questions. These could come up during your initial screening rounds, and will almost certainly come up during your on-site interviews. Because technical questions are designed to give hiring managers a sense of how you approach specialized problems, we haven’t provided sample answers here – the whole point is for you to show your interviewers how you, in particular, approach a technical question.
Bear in mind that these specific questions may not make an appearance! Questions are often rotated in and out of use, so don’t waste your time preparing form answers. Instead, pay attention to the common themes that emerge, and make sure you revisit those topics before your interview begins.
Compare the incremental model and the classic life cycle model.