15+ Engineering Manager Interview Questions & Answers
An outsider with an MBA can’t manage engineers as an engineer can. In many ways, engineering management is just like engineering with one notable difference: instead of building products, we’re building teams who can perform. However, becoming an engineering manager requires a lot of work. In this article, we’ll cover an engineering manager's role. And cover the best engineering manager interview questions.
What Is an Engineering Manager?
An engineering manager is a professional who’s experienced in both engineering and management. Giving them a unique position of organizing and overseeing complex technological projects.
And if companies who want to advance in the field of engineering hire run-of-the-mill managers. Then they lack the knowledge of the field. And the problem-solving skills only engineers have.
What Is the Role of Engineering Managers?
Engineering managers typically operate in one (or more) of the following six areas. Operations management/research/supply chain management. Technology development. Product development. Engineering. Systems engineering. Industrial engineering. And management science.
These unique fields call for a unique role. And for engineers, a management position can be a great way to advance our careers. Here’s what we can expect to be asked in a job interview for that position.
Engineering Manager Interview Questions & Answers
1. What do you believe you’ll achieve as an engineering manager that you couldn’t achieve as an engineer?
I believe my role as an engineering manager will make communication between clients and engineering teams easier for our company. In this position, I’ll help the clients understand the process and help the engineers understand the clients’ expectations. This will make it much easier to set the right budgets and expectations, so everyone’s satisfied with the outcome. I also look forward to offering my insight into the engineering talent at our company.
2. What are the specifics of managing small teams versus large engineering teams?
Managing small teams makes it much easier to communicate with each team member and focus on one project at a time. However, managing a large team makes a large impact when it comes to research and development.
3. How would you describe the difference between leadership and management?
For me, a good manager should both lead and manage. When I think about management, I think about managing processes, projects, and people. In that respect, I’m outcome-driven. And focused on optimizing everything we can. And providing support to my team, so the clients and the company are satisfied with what we produced. On the other hand, leadership means rolling up my sleeves and understanding the people I work with. By being a good leader, a manager like me can make sure engineers are satisfied with their jobs. And feeling like they’re advancing with each project. In the long term, that helps the team, the company, and our clients.
4. So how would you describe the role of an engineering manager?
In my eyes, an engineering manager has to be able to change a lot of hands. From product design and development to communication. As engineering managers, we have three priorities: optimizing the workflow, staying ahead of the curve with developments, and helping our talent grow. When it comes to optimizing the workflow, this can consist of: supply chain management, operations management, and research, industrial engineering, and systems engineering. Our main goal should be reducing waste and improving efficiency. It’s also important to stay ahead of the curve, so the company is constantly getting a competitive advantage over the rest of the market. This includes assisting with product research, creating a strategy to guide the engineers in the right direction, and keeping up with industry news. Finally, we have to help our employees grow if we want to retain them. This should include coaching, career development, and focusing on our engineers as though they were our clients.
5. How would you approach coaching?
That depends on the engineering team and each engineer. Some teams may be comfortable with evaluations strong on feedback and monthly meetings. Others may prefer workshops where they’re actively solving problems. In any case, I would determine the team's main strengths and weaknesses and help them improve accordingly. I would hold one-on-one coaching sessions with the engineering team's individual members. To learn more about their goals and where they see their careers going.
6. How do you manage engineers with performance issues?
Just like I manage those who perform well: I help them improve. Typically, there’s always a cause behind behaviors that cause poor performance. I do my best to understand the engineer and the root causes. Then, I help them re-focus on their career and their position on the team.
7. How would you structure your 1:1s?
First, I’d set a schedule according to the engineer’s needs. We’d then create an agenda for a longer period of time, including their performance-related KPIs and metrics and their career KPIs. We’d establish a baseline for performance, as well. Each meeting would have a separate agenda. First, we’d start by communicating on current projects and challenges to break the ice. Then we’d define the highlights as the engineer sees them. After that, we can discuss long term goals to short term performance improvements. Finally, we’d set a list of to-dos for the next meeting.
8. What do you look for when hiring new engineers?
I look for expertise and teamwork. And since engineering is a demanding field that requires more heads than one to approach a task. An ideal hire is someone flexible when it comes to working with other experts.
9. How do tech leads and engineering managers work together?
In smaller companies, the engineering manager should be the technology leads. However, in big companies, tech leads are responsible for each team's progress and outcomes. I like to think of them as the spokespeople for each team. Tech leads can help engineering managers understand the people. And the projects they’re managing better. And offer a unique hands-on insight to improve the future system.
10. How would you develop tech leads if there aren’t any on your team?
I’d develop them by giving every engineering the room to develop their unique strengths. I think that, without understanding every individual and what makes them so good at their job, it’s tough to nurture tech leads from engineers. It goes without saying that when I notice that someone is showing potential. I’d speak with upper management about allocating a budget to invest in their education even more. Both on tech and communication.
11. How do you resolve conflicts within teams?
If possible, I serve as a mediator between team members who disagree. I focus on giving everyone a chance to speak their minds. And then help them reach the right decision while keeping the company’s best interests in mind. If that’s not possible, I talk to engineers one-on-one. To see what the root cause is and then walk the team through resolving it. This approach means that they’ll have the necessary abilities to resolve the conflicts themselves and feel better about their roles in the long term.
12. How do you manage multiple high-priority projects?
If my team, or teams, have multiple tasks that are all highly important. Then I focus on setting a schedule that suits them. And dividing the attention between tasks. By the time the projects are 75% complete, we can either finish them through 2 sprints. Or by dividing the engineers according to the projects that still need their attention. If that’s not possible, I’d order projects by difficulty and delegate tasks among engineers according to their specialties.
13. How do you manage the triple constraint of budget, scope, and time?
My main focus is on budget and time. In my experience, clients who see the minimum viable product are more willing to increase their budget. And if they have tangible proof of our teams’ expertise. And a vision of what their product would look like with a little more funds. Then it's good!
14. How do you approach tech debt?
Well, when the possibility of tech debt arises because of the client’s expectations. I clearly communicate the reasons behind it to educate them on what we could do better. I understand that clients aren’t as familiar with technology as my team is, so I relay the advantages and the disadvantages of every suggestion.
15. What is your stance on code ownership? Should it be individual?
Code ownership is mainly why I’m an advocate of teamwork and collaboration. A single engineer can’t finish the project, so I believe that there shouldn’t be any individual code ownership. However, recognizing individual engineers’ contribution is necessary, as well as recognizing the team’s achievements. This helps everyone feel more satisfied with the project they’ve finished, without the need to state code owners explicitly.
16. How would you assist an engineer who is struggling with their work?
I would sit with the engineer, talk about the work, and try to pair program. I don't mind getting into the project and then determining the best next steps. I'm happy with spending a few minutes with engineers to educate them, provide guidance, and mentor them.
17. How do you help engineers understand the "big picture" of their work?
I like to sit down with the engineers and explain the company goals. And how our work is going to play into those goals. The best thing to do is to start from a macro picture. And then determine the appropriate next steps to decipher who does the work and what work is done. Engineers tend to appreciate that level of respect.
18. What do engineers hate most about working with a manager?
It's hard for engineers to work with managers who don't have any coding or programming experience. It's because it's difficult for them to be able to connect with the work. Understanding "what's hard" and "what isn't hard" is fundamental. Having that previous coding experience can really help to be a bridge in terms of communication and when estimating work or practicing SCRUM.
19. What's your best strength as an engineering manager?
My best strength is being able to communicate on behalf of my engineers. Being an advocate for them. Sometimes, in previous positions, an engineering manager might place unnecessary pressure on their team by not communicating clearly with other departments about capacity. I like to understand where the team sits, what their stress levels are, their capacity, and making sure I properly represent them.
20. How do you prioritize work outside of SCRUM and agile methodology?
I try to think about the business requirements. What can we go without? What do we absolutely need? It's a process that includes the customer. The customer can sometimes be internal teams or what other engineers require on other teams. Regardless, we need to take an empathetic point of view and perspective with our work. Then try to determine what we can eliminate, what we need to keep, and absolute musts. From there, we can prioritize work based on that.
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