Overseeing a team of engineers, facilitating communication, and providing them with the proper support are three of the essential duties of an exceptional engineering manager.
If you’re hiring for an open engineering manager role, you must ensure that your candidates’ project management, communication, problem-solving, and decision-making skills are impeccable.
However, there’s more to the hiring process.
Besides assessing their experience and hard skills, you need to learn more about what drives your candidates to achieve success and evaluate their management style.
The best approach you can use for this is to use skills tests to shortlist the best candidates to invite to an interview.
Afterwards, you need to ask the right engineering manager interview questions to gain an in-depth understanding of your candidates’ skills and strengths.
If you’re struggling to come up with the right questions to ask your applicants, this article will help you.
It contains the best engineering manager interview questions to use during interviews, divided into a few categories. After each question, you’ll find details on what to expect from your candidates’ answers, and what to look out for.
Let’s dive in.
Table of contents
- 9 engineering manager interview questions related to cultural fit, performance, and career progression
- 7 engineering manager interview questions related to experience and background
- 12 behavioral engineering manager interview questions
- ✅ Make skills tests as part of your recruiting process
9 engineering manager interview questions related to cultural fit, performance, and career progression
This initial section features nine engineering manager interview questions to help you whether your candidates are aligned with your organization’s culture. Choose from the list and adapt the questions to reflect your company’s mission and values.
1. If hired as an engineering manager for our organization, what would be your goals?
Are your candidates’ goals and ambitions aligned with those of your organization? This question will shed some light on this. Candidates may mention that their first goal would be to enhance the communication between engineers or between engineers and clients.
They might mention that they want to solve diverse engineering problems efficiently and satisfy your organization’s clients.
The best candidates will explain how they plan to ensure their strategies for improved team cohesion and enhanced communication with clients also fit within your budget. Top applicants will also describe the approach they will take to tackle issues by communicating back and forth with teams, clients, and stakeholders.
2. Why do you want to become an engineering manager at our organization?
Engineering managers who want to join your organization must have a motive for pursuing this role. Do their reasons align with your organizations’ values, culture, and outlook on projects?
More importantly, can your candidates show that they have researched your organization in detail and show how their values—such as open communication, strong work ethic, a drive and passion for software engineering—align with the values of your organization?
Do they strive to facilitate team collaboration, and are they able to explain the specific approaches they’d use to achieve that?
3. Which skills are required to perform successfully in an engineering manager position? Why are those skills crucial?
An engineering manager must know which skills they should have to perform well. Some of the skills they might mention include empathy, communication, and time management skills, as well as different technical skills, such as knowledge of frameworks, APIs, programming languages, and databases.
The best candidates will have used these skills in previous roles, so they must be comfortable describing how their experience will contribute to their success.
For instance, your candidate might have used empathy not only when coaching an underperforming member of the engineering team, but when acknowledging the demands of a dissatisfied client and working with them to find a suitable solution.
They might have found that communication skills are also crucial for success in this role, as communication improves team bonds and helps with addressing different issues for team members.
Candidates should give examples of how these skills have helped them perform well in previous roles, and also what strategies they’re using to hone them.
4. Tell me about a time when you were unable to achieve a goal as an engineering manager.
Regardless of the specific goal that candidates were unable to achieve, responses to this question should show how they used the situation as a learning opportunity.
For instance, if an engineering manager and their team were unable to achieve a particular target in time, they must explain the methods they used to rectify this for their future work.
Perhaps they were unable to communicate successfully with a remote team member (because of the restraints of asynchronous communication) or could not coach a senior developer well enough to help them advance to a management position. Whatever the specific examples are, ask your candidates what they did to be better prepared to handle such situations in the future.
5. Why did you decide to become a manager?
There might be many reasons why your candidates chose to become managers. Maybe they were looking to progress further in their career. Perhaps they wanted to use their skill set in a more challenging position or were seeking to better understand the business side of engineering to help achieve the goals of their clients.
Look out for answers that describe how their values, ambitions, or skills contributed to their desire to progress. Since culture alignment is critical, note down responses that mention values or skills that align with your organization.
6. What would your previous team of engineers say about your management style?
Instead of asking candidates about their own perspective of their management style, ask them about what their team members would say.
Candidates might mention that their previous engineering team found it easy to communicate with them, thanks to their management style, or that their team thought they had a knack for finding solutions to complex issues. They might mention that their team valued their knowledge of handy workarounds to solve problems.
Again, what’s important is whether your candidates’ management style aligns with your organization. For instance, if your organization values a more hands-on management approach, look for candidates who are ready to use their coding knowledge and actively participate in helping their engineers, as opposed to just advising them.
7. Do you sometimes choose to contribute to the coding process?
This question will help you better understand the management style of your candidates. Knowing whether your candidates have more of a coaching leadership style, a transformational leadership approach, or a servant leader management style will help you understand how they’d fit into your organization.
8. Have you ever gotten negative feedback about your management style? How did you improve as a result?
Common types of negative feedback received by engineering managers might be related to the fact that they:
- Still participate too much in day-to-day tasks
- Cannot offer team members substantial feedback
- Fail to provide the right updates for their team
One of the important factors, regardless of the feedback they received, is how they used it to improve their management skills.
They might have had to adopt an alternative approach and set different team expectations or gain a deeper understanding of the technical and non-technical skills required to offer accurate feedback, for example. Look for specific information on how they incorporated feedback from team members.
9. What skills do you look for in candidates when hiring an engineer for your team?
A strong engineering manager should be familiar with the skills required for an engineer to succeed. Some attributes they might look for are:
- Attention to detail
- Communication skills
- Critical thinking skills
- The capacity to solve complex problems
Since engineering managers should be comfortable hiring engineers for their team, they might mention some ways they evaluate candidates for an open position, such as asking the right interview questions and inviting candidates to complete a technical skills test.
7 engineering manager interview questions related to experience and background
The next section features seven engineering manager interview questions to help you assess your candidates’ experience.
1. Can you outline your primary responsibilities in your previous role?
Ask your candidates this question to find out more about their experiences and whether they align with your organization.
Candidates might mention that they were responsible for hiring new team members, tackling diverse issues, communicating with stakeholders, clients, and team members, and overseeing the career progression of their team members.
They might mention that they were responsible for coaching senior engineers, or that their role involved assessing the performance of the team, organizing 1-on-1 meetings, delegating and redistributing tasks, or improving team collaboration.
2. How big was the largest team that you managed?
The perfect team size for Agile engineering teams is seven, so if you’re looking for candidates who have extensive experience with Agile, you’ll rarely hear a candidate mention that they’ve managed a team larger than this.
The most important factor, however, is how this aligns with your organization’s needs and goals. Your organization might be looking for a candidate with experience with large teams, or for a candidate who has managed smaller teams.
If your company is in an expansion phase, look for candidates who have experience of managing growing teams. Candidates who have started managing small teams that have grown will most likely have the right experience required for your open position.
3. Do you have any experience managing engineers remotely?
Remote work is increasingly common in software engineering. If your organization is working with remote teams, you must ensure that your candidates have experience managing engineers remotely.
In response to this question, candidates might mention different methods and tools to manage remote teams. Two of the methods might include synchronous and asynchronous communication, and two of the tools you’ll likely hear mentioned are video conferencing apps and task or project management tools.
Candidates who have experiences that align with your organization’s work style are ideal, but a top engineering manager will be able to quickly learn how to manage remote teams, even if they’re not already comfortable doing so.
So, take note of the candidates who can explain how they would learn to manage remote teams. This might include reading books on remote management, learning how to use remote tools, or brushing up their synchronous and asynchronous communication skills.
4. What are your experiences with improving team motivation?
Team motivation has a few key components, and your candidates should be aware of them.
The first is setting achievable goals and providing opportunities for team members to grow. Are your candidates able to set clear goals for their teams and establish which steps are required to grow?
The second is ensuring that their team members don’t become demotivated because of unexpected roadblocks. How do your candidates ensure their team can approach them to help tackle issues? How do they solve issues?
The third is giving the team rewards and an acknowledgment of their work towards each milestone.
5. Could you describe your experience with team conflict resolution?
As leaders, your candidates should have plenty of experience with team conflict resolution. Candidates might mention situations where the work styles of two team members weren’t aligned. Or they might mention that inefficient communication led to an issue.
When describing conflict situations, candidates should show how they were able to:
- Get to the root of the problem
- Encourage communication
- Address the conflict
- Prevent future issues
6. How many years of experience do you have as an engineering manager?
Hiring an experienced engineering manager is beneficial to most organizations.
For your organization, perhaps more experience might equate to a more successful hire, so you might look for candidates who have upwards of three or five years of experience and can go into detail about what they have learned in their previous management roles.
7. What is your experience with providing feedback to engineers?
Engineering managers must be able to provide their engineers with feedback to help them grow, so you should look for a candidate who understands how important feedback is—both positive and constructive.
Do your candidates recognize that 1-on-1s are the ideal time for providing feedback to team members? Do they provide regular feedback?
12 behavioral engineering manager interview questions
This final section features 12 behavioral engineering manager interview questions. With them, you’ll get a better understanding of which actions and processes your candidates use to address complex situations.
1. Tell me about a time when you had to hire top talent for a team. What was your approach to this?
Hiring is a critical part of the engineering manager’s role. They might need to build a team from scratch or recruit a new team member if an engineer from their team moves to a different role.
For this reason, they should have a clear process for hiring top talent, including referrals, hiring internally, using social media, or using their network.
Exceptional candidates will explain the entire hiring process that takes place after sourcing. For instance, they might mention that they:
- Use technical skills tests or job simulations
- Conduct structured interviews with candidates
- Do reference checks
They shouldn’t forget to talk about onboarding, which might also include encouraging new team members to have informal chats with their team members and assigning them a mentor.
2. Talk me through a time when you helped promote an engineering team member. What was your process?
The continuous performance assessment and promotion of team members are critical parts of the engineering manager’s role.
Can your candidates explain how they assess previous job performance and create predictions for future success? Are they able to explain their process for helping others progress in their careers?
More importantly, do your candidates understand the importance of testing a candidate’s skills and analyzing their performance before suggesting or approving a promotion?
3. Have you ever coached a senior-level engineer? What is your process?
Your organization should look for engineering managers capable of coaching all engineers, no matter their seniority. Your candidates might have coached senior engineers so that they could become engineering managers themselves.
Look for candidates who could support their talent and monitor career progress in their teams using a particular method. They might work alongside their candidates to prove that they have achieved certain criteria for the promotion.
4. Describe a time you carried out a 1-on-1 session that helped an engineer solve a problem. Which approach did you use?
Sometimes problems can arise within an engineering team. For instance, a team member might be unsure who to approach to solve an issue, and it’s the engineering manager’s responsibility to offer guidance.
For example, an engineer might feel stuck on an issue, whether that’s about a cloud service license or an issue related to communication in the team. Or they might have failed to meet the client’s criteria when completing a project.
Whichever problem arises, managers should encourage team members to document the problems they are encountering, so that they can then discuss them in 1-on-1 sessions. Your candidate might then explain that they encourage team members to work through their lists and offer their support for each problem.
5. Have you ever had to coach an engineer who had performance issues?
The approach used by an engineering manager to work with team members who have performance issues is important. In response to this question, candidates should not only mention how they have made an improvement plan for the performance of their coworker but also how they have implemented the plan.
This performance plan should be backed up with 1-on-1 coaching that offers feedback tailored to the underperformer’s needs, and managers must always have a plan to assist team members if their performance doesn’t improve. For instance, they might try to move the engineer to a different team or a role where their performance might improve.
6. Which process do you follow when coaching tech leads?
When coaching a tech lead, an engineering manager should be aware of the responsibilities that the role of a tech lead entails.
Responses to this interview question should outline the key responsibilities of tech leads and how the engineering manager would monitor these. These responsibilities might include:
- Coding reviews
- Task delegation
- Quality assurance
- Solution architecture
- Performance monitoring
Engineering managers should keep a document or spreadsheet to track the progress of the tech lead and assess whether they’re able to successfully manage these responsibilities. Take note of candidates who have a progress monitoring strategy, too.
7. Have you ever transitioned between two teams that were different in size? How did you adjust your management style?
If your organization comprises several engineering teams different in size, your candidate must be able to manage both bigger and smaller teams. They must therefore know which skills are required to handle each, and the best answers will emphasize how communication will differ between teams.
Especially in a larger team, communication is critical, as it helps engineering managers ensure that all team members are on the same page.
Candidates might mention that communication tools are an essential part of their management style when managing larger teams or that video conferencing tools facilitate the process—especially if the team works remotely.
8. Tell me about a time you had to coach engineers to solve technical debt. What processes do you follow?
Even though many projects might incur technical debt, it’s important to handle it appropriately and keep it to a minimum. Some approaches that engineering managers might use to help their team members with technical debt include:
- Ensuring the software product is aligned with its expectations or requirements
- Refactoring to make improvements to software systems without altering how the code functions
- Training their engineers
- Ensuring the proper documentation is maintained
9. Have you ever struggled to delegate tasks in a project? Could you explain how the project was finally completed?
Engineering managers who are new to the role may find it challenging to delegate tasks, particularly if they are still working on programming tasks and haven’t transitioned yet. This is why asking them about task delegation is important.
Candidates must outline the methods they are using to learn how to delegate tasks more efficiently. Whether they seek support from senior management or read books to gain more knowledge about task delegation and servant leadership, they should work towards more efficient task delegation.
Engineering managers should also recognize which tasks have a higher priority, since task delegation and task management go hand in hand.
10. Have you ever had to let an engineer go? What was your process?
Even though it might not be the most pleasant part of an engineering manager’s role, they might need to be involved in firing an engineer who consistently underperforms.
So, does your engineering manager candidate understand that formal improvement plans must be maintained?
Are they aware that there are other options available for tackling underperformance, such as offering the underperforming engineer another career option or role within the same company?
But, let’s suppose the issue couldn’t be resolved this way. In that case, engineering managers should be capable of explaining that documenting all solutions offered is imperative (especially due to labor laws) and that, although it’s unfortunate, firing an engineer might sometimes be necessary.
11. Describe a time you had to reject an engineer’s request to incorporate new technology into the stack.
Engineers can often suggest new technology for an organization, but sometimes the suggestion might not be appropriate. Since engineering managers should stick to tech that has been tried and tested, candidates must outline how they would evaluate whether the proposed technology is valuable to the organization.
Candidates might respond by acknowledging three factors when evaluating new tech—in-depth research into what the technology can do, engineers’ experience when using the technology in the past, and considering the organization’s budget.
12. Describe a time where you made a tough decision when managing a team.
There are several “tough calls” that engineering managers face, and decision making is an essential skill. That’s why asking this question is vital: It’ll help you understand how your candidates make decisions.
Candidates might mention that they were unsure whether to promote a candidate with exceptional talent but poor soft skills. They might mention that they had to choose carefully when selecting two team members to work together on a project because of a difference in their work styles.
Top responses must explain that the candidate looked at all the information available to make the decision. They must outline that they looked at the track record of engineers when making decisions, besides past outcomes from similar decisions.
They should explain how they assess the pros and cons of each option and be comfortable talking about their decision-making process.
Which stage should you use engineering manager interview questions?
Using the right interview questions is crucial when hiring new employees, especially for management roles. Nevertheless, interviews are very resource intensive, which is why they should be used towards the bottom of your hiring tunnel, and only with a few selected candidates.
One of the best ways to pre-screen candidates is to use skills tests. Ideally, you should have candidates complete a skill assessment (of up to five different tests) before any other part of the hiring process.
The next step would be to analyze the results and invite top performing candidates to an interview. This means that you can filter out candidates efficiently and save time when making a decision.
Based on what you learn about candidates from the test results, you’ll also be able to come up with interview questions that allow you to gain a more in-depth understanding of their skills.
Make your list of engineering manager interview questions to hire top talent
Now it’s time for you to make your list of engineering manager interview questions!
Remember to always make sure the questions align with your organization’s needs and the requirements of the role. Before you interview candidates, though, we advise you to use skills assessments to evaluate the skills of your applicants. This way, you’ll only spend time interviewing the best ones.
Then, you’ll be able to learn more about your candidates’ experiences, skills, and culture fit, and hire an engineering manager effortlessly by using the right engineering manager interview questions.
With TestGorilla, you’ll find the recruitment process to be simpler, faster, and much more effective. Get started for free today and start making better hiring decisions, faster and bias-free.