Preparing for a job interview can bring about anxiety no matter how experienced you are – pre-performance jitters are always common. A great way to push past those feelings and wow the hiring manager across the table (or Zoom screen) is to come prepared.
That starts with researching the organization you’re interviewing with through Google, Facebook, their social media pages, or their website. It continues with practicing your best possible answers to common software engineering manager interview questions. Here, you’ll discover example answers to highlight what you bring to the table in an engineering manager position.
21 software engineering manager interview questions
Below are some example answers to 21 common engineering manager interview questions. With these answers, engineering talent and tech leads can make the right impression from the get-go.
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1Question: What was a hard choice you had to make in a previous position?
Answer: Early in my software engineering career, I had to choose whether to ask for more time to complete a project. I knew that for the project to be successful, there were some unexpected roadblocks to overcome.
Instead of keeping it to myself and delivering a result I wasn’t proud of, I spoke with my manager. I broke down the roadblocks, asked for advice, and proposed a solution. My manager appreciated the communication, and the final project wowed our stakeholders. I tell this story to all my team members so they know they aren’t working alone – they have a team for a reason.
2Question: How do you simplify bigger projects for your team to make them more manageable?
Answer: When breaking down a larger project to make it more manageable for my team, I make sure that I, personally, have a clear understanding first. Once I understand the expected outcome, I look at the resources and software development tools we’ll need. If everything’s within budget, I then deconstruct the larger tasks into smaller tasks that I assign to the right team members. I usually determine this based on availability and level of experience.
I check in with all my team members weekly during our one-on-one meetings, where they have time to share updates, potential problems, or any general questions. Plus, I like to break the project into phases and meet regularly with the team to move each phase forward.
3Question: How will you bring team building to your team?
Answer: To me, team building is a crucial part of working well together. That’s why I bring team building to the workplace through bonding outside of work. In the past, I’ve incorporated activities such as [give an example of a team building activity]. I did this to [name a concrete reason why, such as to welcome new team members or to build team collaboration].
4Question: How do you keep a project running on time?
Answer: To keep my projects on track, I meet with my team regularly and always factor in extra time. I know that the best-laid plans often go awry. So I look at a project from all angles, spit it into smaller tasks, and leave room for things not to go exactly as planned. A great example is when I [insert example of how you kept a project running smoothly while keeping the unexpected in mind].
5Question: How would you explain the technical project details to a non-tech team member?
Answer: Thanks to my [number] years of experience, I know the software engineering department has to work collaboratively with other departments to get things done. I also know not everyone is well-versed in CMS and APIs. That’s why I don’t throw around a ton of jargon when marketing or sales get involved. Instead, I tie everything to what they’re familiar with – I’ll name the CMS behind the website instead of simply saying “CMS.”
6Question: What security measures are important when developing an e-commerce application?
Answer: Security is maybe the most important part of developing an e-commerce application – nobody wants money and sensitive information leaking. Plus, to maintain the customer’s trust, it’s our responsibility to keep their information secure. A focus on privacy and authentication is most important. This means [provide an example of a privacy feature] to protect the data that customers enter.
7Question: How familiar are you with load balancing?
Answer: I’m very familiar with why dispersing app user traffic across multiple servers is so important. When I worked for [previous organization], I faced a systems design challenge where I [explain the load balancing challenge and how you overcame it]. From then on, I’ve made sure every client knows the importance of looking forward when building a site.
8Question: Have you mentored an aspiring engineering manager?
Answer: At my last job, I worked closely with a senior developer to put them on the path to becoming an engineering manager. This developer was a high performer who had a lot of promise. And after several one-on-ones and performance reviews, I began to coach them on the track to management. When I left my previous position, they were the perfect replacement for me, thanks to my mentorship.
9Question: How do you support your team to help them complete projects?
Answer: I support my team as an active listener who holds weekly one-on-ones with clear, collaborative, changeable meeting agendas. I encourage my team to take courses too – engineering means learning. In my previous role as a [position title] at [organization name], the organization offered various training courses throughout the year. I regularly kept my team up to date on these courses. Plus, when a course overlapped with someone’s goal to improve a certain skill, I messaged them directly to keep them in the loop.
10Question: If you have four developers on your team, how would you delegate tasks?
Answer: To answer this question effectively, I’d need a little more information about the developers and their skill levels. I’d want to know their specialties and what’s on everyone’s plate. For example, if the project is [give project example], then I’d break it down into three separate tasks [explain the tasks]. Then I’d review the team’s bandwidth and set up a meeting so we can all agree on fair expectations.
Pro tip: Use Fellow’s action items feature to assign delegated tasks and keep track of your team’s workload!
11Question: What are the steps you take to keep your team’s coding accurate?
Answer: I swear by [name a best practice for coding accuracy]. I think it helps the most because [explain how it leads to better performance]. I know that from experience too. When I first started as a developer, I ran into a coding issue [explain the issue] that wasn’t caught until much further down the line. This made for a stressful experience where I had to redo a lot of hard work, so I took it as a learning opportunity. Now I bring [name practice] to my team too.
12Question: What qualities and skills do you keep in mind when hiring a new developer?
Answer: First, I look at the level of experience we need to hire. If I’m seeking someone more experienced, I’ll see how all my prospects fit those needs. Then, I’ll ask about their systems design process. I’ll see what their favorite software development tools are and their preferred programming language to make sure we align from a tech perspective. Then I’ll gauge their willingness to learn – that can be just as important as their current skill set.
13Question: What do you do to make sure your team members are always growing?
Answer: I encourage my team members to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and asking questions. I help them grow in traditional ways with training and learning opportunities, but I also encourage them to own their mistakes and learn from them. An example of this is when I [give an example that relates] to [explain why you did it to help a team member grow].
14Question: How do you check in with your team members regularly?
Answer: I check in with all of my team members during weekly one-on-ones. I also hold biweekly team meetings to bring everyone together for a larger regroup. But I also know the dangers of having too many meetings, so I try to be mindful of everyone’s time. Part of that is keeping open office hours once a week at a set time where anyone can pop in and ask questions.
15Question: What is your greatest strength as an engineering manager?
Answer: My greatest strength is [name your best quality]. I’m confident that [repeat the strength] will help me improve the team’s [name an area you see for improvement based on your research] and overall employee performance. I know you’d mentioned previous issues with [name challenges], and I bring [state what you bring] with me to help [explain what you’re solving.]
16Question: What is your greatest weakness as an engineering manager?
Answer: My greatest weakness is [name an area you’re actively working on improving]. Though I’ve improved over time by [explain how you’ve improved], I’m a big believer in progress over perfection. So I’m still working on it by [name the ways you’re working on it] to transform this weakness into a strength.
17Question: How do you balance managing others’ work and managing your own?
Answer: As an engineering manager, I know it’s my job to help everyone else do their jobs well. So [give an example of how you help the team stay on track] while also [give an example of you stay on track]. I also have no problem switching to another task when needed so I can prioritize my time and energy.
18Question: What is your preferred programming language?
Answer: My preferred programming language is [name the programming language] because [give a clear reason why it’s your favorite]. But I also have a good grasp on [list other relevant programming languages], and I’m always learning new things from my team members. I know that the world of software engineering is constantly evolving, so I make sure to evolve with it.
19Question: What are examples of professional development goals you’ve set for yourself in the past, and how have you achieved them?
Answer: When I first became engineering manager at [organization name], I learned quickly that my meeting style needed some work. So I set the professional development goal of hosting more productive meetings. To get there, I sent meeting agendas before every meeting alongside clear meeting objectives. I didn’t realize how important it was to truly know why you’re meeting in the first place, but now, I’m well aware.
20Question: How would you manage team members who work remotely?
Answer: Since so many software developers work remotely, I’ve learned how to adapt to this distance gap. I manage my remote team members by [explain how you do so and why]. I picked up this technique at my last job when we went fully remote at the start of the pandemic.
21Question: What software development tools are a must-have for you?
Answer: My software development must-have tools are [list name of tools] because [explain why they’re valuable]. But I also value learning and growing, so I take courses often to immerse myself in emerging new tools. Last year, I took a course that taught me [explain what you learned from the course].
What else should you expect during a software engineering manager interview?
Whenever you work in management, there are a few other questions to expect during your interview process. For instance, the hiring manager might be curious about how you resolve conflict. They might also ask about your people management skills. And there are other topics specific to software engineering management that’ll probably come up too.
1Questions on background and experience
Come prepared to speak about all the previous experience listed on your resume – or, better yet, expand on it. The hiring manager already has your resume, so give it context. For example, you could mention a conference you went to for leadership development when you worked at an organization on your resume.
2Conflicts and challenges
Employers want to know all about the challenges you’ve faced as a manager and how you overcame them. After all, perfectly smooth sailing is rare – the waters will at least occasionally get choppy. You should talk about conflicts and challenges related to the job you’re going for and explain how you handled them.
3Hiring new talent
When you’re in a management position, you’ll often get the chance to grow your team. That’s why you should be ready to tell a hiring manager how you would go about expanding your team. Let them know what you look for when hiring a new developer or data engineer.
4Questions on coding
You’ll be presented with questions about your management style and experience – that’s expected. But even though you’ve been in the software engineering world for ages, hiring managers might also drill you on your coding knowledge. Brush up on your arrays, strings, and linked lists, trees and graphs, recursion, sorting algorithms, dynamic programming, and graph algorithms. This way, you sound as savvy as the coders you’ll manage day-to-day.
Nail the interview and get the job
Doing well in an interview involves factors such as culture fit, skill set, level of experience, and – you guessed it – how well you prepare. You can use this engineering manager interview guide for the latter. And if you land the job, Fellow’s feedback tools can help you improve how you gather feedback from your team. With that, you can be the best possible software engineering manager – even better than what you described in your interview.