Most common questions asked in Engineering Manager interviews

David McDonald

David McDonald

23 Sep 2022 • 5 min read

As a new or recent hiring manager responsible for interviewing Engineering Managers, it can be tough to know what questions to ask to get the right signal. To help with that, we looked at the data to understand what teams using Metaview most frequently ask in these interviews.* If you’re new to running hiring manager interviews—or a veteran looking to optimize your process—this data can help guide your thinking on what topics to cover when hiring a new engineering leader.

Most common competencies and questions covered in hiring manager interviews for Engineering Managers

The data shows that the most commonly-asked questions in hiring manger (HM) interviews for EMs cover three fundamental topics: people management, personal style, and motivational alignment. Here are the most frequently-asked questions across each topic and why they’re helpful to consider including when interviewing engineering leaders.

People management

There are strong opinions, on both sides, about how technical an Engineering Manager needs to be. But the data from interviews is clear: People management is far and away the most frequent area of investigation in HM interviews for engineering leaders. Metaview customers place a lot of focus on uncovering the specifics of their management experience.

"How large is the team that you're managing?"

📊 Asked in ~21% of hiring manager interviews.

Asking about the size of the team a candidate is currently leading is a high-signal data point that can be easily glossed over. Depending on the size and stage of their current company, the scope of management responsibilities could vary widely, and it’s necessary to know whether management experience aligns with what you’ll need the candidate to do.

"What is your typical interview process, and what do you look for in a candidate?"

📊 Asked in ~20% of hiring manager interviews.

Investigating how a leader approaches team building and what they look for when hiring is key to understanding whether your visions for scaling the team are complementary. Teams using Metaview often ask these types of questions to understand the skills and qualities that a leader wants to bring into a team and how they evaluate for those things—an important point of alignment when growing a team.

"Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict between team members, and how you resolved it."

📊 Asked in ~17% of hiring manager interviews.

Another skill hiring managers often assess for is the ability to mediate and diffuse conflicts between reports. By asking about a specific time when a leader had to do this, HMs gain insight into whether leaders have been effective in managing interpersonal dynamics and maintaining an environment that’s conducive to delivering great work.

"What is your approach to understanding perspectives of teammates from different backgrounds?"

📊 Asked in ~15% of hiring manager interviews.

Finally, Metaview customers often ask about how a leader brings together diverse teams. To foster an open and inclusive team dynamic where engineers feel comfortable expressing different viewpoints, leaders need to demonstrate empathy and curiosity to understand people who might be different to them.

Personal style

The hiring manager interview is a good opportunity to gain a sense for a candidate’s personal leadership style by understanding not only what they’ve achieved, but also how they’ve done it. At the HM interview stage, Metaview customers tend to ask candidates to self-reflect about their own personal style in order to check for alignment.

"If you were to do this project over again, what would you do differently?"

📊 Asked in ~16% of hiring manager interviews.

Metaview customers ask candidates to look back on a project and identify what they would have done differently. This line of questioning can help uncover candidates’ capacity to self-analyze and willingness to identify and share areas for personal improvement.

"What is your management style?"

📊 Asked in ~15% of hiring manager interviews.
"What do you think is your greatest skill as a manager?"

📊 Asked in ~14% of hiring manager interviews.

Asking a candidate about their management style and strengths can also be telling. While they may seem like basic questions to ask, a candidate’s ability to clearly and concisely articulate their management approach can reveal how thoughtful they are about these responsibilities and whether the dynamics they’ll bring to the team fit well into your organization’s existing culture.

Motivational alignment

Lastly, understanding a potential new leader’s motivation is crucial to cover in a hiring manager interview. No matter how good someone’s management or technical skills are, motivational misalignment is likely to prevent a new leader from succeeding in the role.

"What is important for you to have in your next position?"

📊 Asked in ~24% of hiring manager interviews.

Because leadership mis-hires are so costly, you want to be confident you have a grasp on what the candidate aims to achieve next in their career and whether or not the opportunity you’re offering can realistically meet those expectations. For example, are they hoping to scale a big team? Overhaul the company’s engineering strategy? Mentor young talent?  Knowing what someone wants can help you give an honest take on whether there’s likely to be a mutual fit and can avoid scenarios where you hire in a leader, who hires in a team, only to move on in short order.

The single most common technical question asked of Engineering Managers

Interestingly, none of the most common questions cover technical proficiency, which highlights a noteworthy truth about the types of skills hiring managers care most about assessing at this stage.

"When your team is making engineering decisions, what do you do to make sure that those decisions are sound?"

📊 Asked in ~7% of hiring manager interviews.

Though less common than the top questions highlighted above, this question does appear in many HM interviews. The data suggests that at this stage, it can be more helpful to assess how a leader enables technical teams to make good engineering decisions, rather than digging into their personal technical proficiency.

When you’re planning hiring manager interviews for your next leadership role, this data can help you sense check whether you’re covering topics that are most valuable to gain signal on. Of course, you could consider adding variants of these questions or come up with some of your own. The goal should be to develop a clear idea of what you want to know about a potential new leader at this stage and have a plan for how to uncover that information in your interviews.

Here's a recap of the most common questions, ranked by overall frequency of mention in hiring manager interviews for engineering leaders:

Most common questions in HM Interviews, ranked by frequency of mention
Want to run higher-quality, more consistent interviews? Metaview can help.

* We'll probably write another more technical post about how we went about doing this. But, for now, and in simple terms: first, we extracted all assessment questions asked in interviews captured by Metaview customers at the hiring manager stage for engineering leadership roles. We only looked at interviews for engineering managers, directors/heads of engineering, CTOs, and similar roles. Then, we grouped semantically similar questions and manually classified them into topics. Finally, we ranked them by frequency.

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