As you work on a tech project, at some point, the number of developers on your team will grow. Keeping track of their job progress will become more challenging – in some technical aspects, a business owner will quickly feel out of his depth. That’s when company managers start considering hiring a professional who would oversee programming and be in charge of building a scalable, reliable tech infrastructure. In other words, an engineering manager.
In this post, we will share software engineering manager interview questions that help business owners tell pretenders apart from reliable leaders. Before we do that, we’ll take a look at the responsibilities of an engineering manager and explain how the software engineering manager job description is different from that of a software developer.
Software Engineering Manager: Job Responsibilities
The list of day-to-day tasks of an engineering manager is drastically different from that of a developer. Programmers are focused on building solutions and writing code. Engineering managers are focused on encouraging the team to not stray from best development practices and creating a comfortable working environment for the team.
Here’s a brief rundown of the responsibilities of a software engineering manager:
- Establishing project requirements and objectives (as well as ensuring the team is meeting them). An engineering manager is the one in charge of setting and tracking project goals, setting benchmarks, and deadlines. This professional is also in charge of hyping the team up to help developers meet these goals.
- Balancing tech and business needs. It’s no secret that most developers aren’t fluent at translating technical requirements into business language – that’s where the assistance of a skilled manager comes in handy. The leader of an engineering team is in charge of finding an approach to programming that combines pragmatism (delivering a ready solution as quickly as possible) and idealism (creating a product that’s as good as possible).
- Recruiting. Once you hire a software engineering manager, there will be no need to run technical interviews on your own. From that point on, it’s a manager’s job to assess candidates’ skills and provide business owners with a review on each shortlisted tech professional.
- Knowledge management and education. A good software engineering manager should focus on improving the team’s technical skills. Be it through peer-to-peer workshops, clear documentation, or regular code reviews, a skilled leader needs to make sure each professional is progressing – this way, the team will be able to work more efficiently and build higher-quality products.
If you have open programming positions as well, take a look at top software developer interview questions to ask job candidates.
10 Cultural Fit Software Engineering Manager Interview Questions
According to the engineering manager job description, it is a fundamental role in the project’s success. That’s why business managers want to be as thorough as possible when hiring engineering team leaders.
Make sure your hiring decision is not hasty by taking some time to research and select engineering manager interview questions that show the clearest reflection of a candidate’s technical proficiency and management skills.
Here are 10 engineering manager interview questions that help business owners understand whether a candidate in front of them is the right cultural fit for a software engineering manager role.
1. What part of software engineering are you passionate about?
It’s a simple yet powerful ice-breaker that helps see if a candidate is a good fit for a managerial position. Unfortunately, it’s common for good software developers to take on a leadership role without being interested or passionate about running a team.
If, as an answer to such software engineering manager interview questions, a candidate describes the processes related to writing code, it’s better to consider hiring this person as a programmer.
On the other hand, if the key drivers to work in the field are the desire to have a big picture view of the project, have a lot of decision-making power, and make the most out of all skills available in a team, you have found the right software engineering management candidate.
2. What does your ideal day at work look like?
When candidates answer such software engineer interview questions, make sure that their workflow description is communication-centered. At the end of the day, you want to hire a manager who understands the importance of talking ideas through with the team and enjoys doing this every day.
For reference, you can compare a candidate’s answer to this list of software engineering daily tasks.
- Catching up on emails and messages from the team.
- Running team meetings and 1:1 calls to address all questions teammates have from the previous workday.
- Onboarding new talent and off-boarding developers who decided to leave the company.
- Getting on calls with project managers to make sure business objectives and technical requirements of the project align well.
- Reviewing task progress sheets and monitoring the team’s productivity.
- Keeping up-to-date work backlogs and updating documentation.
3. How do you face disagreements within the team?
It’s common for software engineering managers to face rejection from developers, designers, and other team members.
As a business owner, you want to make sure that your hire has enough confidence to defend his point of view – on the other hand, a manager should be open-minded enough to admit a shortcoming and agree with teammates if the evidence backing up their points is more constructive.
4. Describe your management style
Asking candidates to describe their approach to team management helps business owners understand how experienced these managers are. Also, it’s an opportunity to see if you agree on the way a prospective hire approaches internal processes.
Here are a few successful management strategies you want candidates to talk about::
- Avoiding micromanagement – a good software engineering manager should know when to withdraw from reviewing code and trust the team to work through requirements.
- Encouraging questions from the team and taking developers’ suggestions seriously.
- Promoting continuous education by suggesting reading sources, sharing links to nearby conferences with the team, or hosting skill exchange workshops.
- Practicing constructive criticism, balancing negative, positive, and neutral engineering manager jobs feedback.
5. What is the biggest problem tech teams usually face?
This is an interesting question because it shows the extent to which a candidate in front of view is perceptive of the challenges and issues that affect the industry. While the list of challenges software engineering managers come up with can vary, it would be great if they cover the following hurdles tech teams typically fight:
- Restructuring processes and introducing new tools to the infrastructure.
- Security training and keeping up with data protection regulation compliance.
- Lack of continuous education and obsolescence of tech skills.
- Talent sourcing and retention.
- Balancing routine tasks and long-term strategic projects.
6. How would you keep software developers on your team motivated?
Unfortunately, there’s only so much a good salary and a pack of employee benefits can do when it comes to keeping developers motivated – a skilled software engineering manager should be aware of this. That’s why improving the team’s morale should be on a candidate’s mind. Here are some strategies for keeping developers engaged skilled managers typically share:
- Constantly improving the toolset, replacing redundant and outdated tools with cutting-edge technology.
- Recognizing each teammate’s contribution to the project.
- Creating growth and career advancement opportunities.
- Ensuring a flexible working schedule.
- Surround developers with skilled peers to promote a healthy degree of competition.
- Playing games and organizing retreats to encourage the team to have fun and socialize at work.
7. What are the red flags that a developer on your team is struggling or burning out?
In tech, burnout is among the chief evils to blame for churning out talent. That’s why business owners aim for tech hiring engineering managers with an eye for spotting workplace exhaustion and stress red flags.
If the candidate you are interviewing is experienced and perceptive, he will describe the following red flags of software developer burnout:
- Unstable work patterns. In one week, a coder might track over 40 hours of office time while the other week he’ll struggle to hit the baseline.
- Lack of project progress – having too many tasks under review and in progress is both a cause and an effect of burnout.
- Showing up late to work and team meetings.
- Lack of workplace socialization, self-isolation.
8. How do you track project success?
Monitoring metrics is one of the chief responsibilities of a software engineering manager. Considering that, company owners should aim at hiring professionals with a clear framework for project success assessment. Here are the practices of setting benchmarks and capturing metrics a candidate should discuss at a job interview:
- Selecting metrics that are easy to capture, objective, and technology-independent.
- Connecting metrics and benchmarks to technical and business goals.
- Paying attention to trends, not individual values.
- Reviewing the impact of tracking selected metrics, adding new ones, or removing the redundant ones whenever needed.
9. How would you prioritize the following tasks?
This type of software engineering manager interview questions helps shift the focus from abstract discussions to practical, hands-on decisions.
Give a candidate a list of tasks and ask the professional to rank them by urgency – this way, you’ll see how realistic a manager’s estimates are and how skilled your prospective hire.
Here’s a to-do list you can present a candidate with:
- Build a WPA interface
- Fix a concurrency code error.
- Update a database
- Fix a JS front-end error
- Fix a CSS front-end bug
10. How would you improve the skills of a team you are managing?
By listening to a candidate’s answers to previous questions, a business manager will have a basic idea of how seriously a software engineering manager treats continuous education and training.
Now it’s time to see what hands-on suggestions a professional has to improve the skillsets of developers on the team. Here are some examples of approaching tech training proactively:
- Give constant feedback.
- Encourage peer-to-peer training.
- Create room for cross-team visibility to give developers insight into how the company’s other departments operate.
- Encouraging teammates to work on side projects.
- Celebrate education achievements (e.g. incentivize certifications with cash bonuses).
10 Behavioral Software Engineer Manager Interview Questions
Talent managers all over the world use the STAR framework to evaluate the candidate’s skill in coping with stressful situations that’s impossible to assess by looking at a software engineering manager resume alone. Let’s take a quick look at what each letter in the acronym stands for:
- Situation – asking a job interview candidate to describe a common challenge in the workplace (e.g. a disagreement within the team, being behind schedule, etc).
- Task – offering a task and let the professional come up with a hypothetical solution (e.g. boost the motivation of the company’s most skilled developer who is about to quit).
- Action – ask a candidate to describe specific actions to accomplish the task.
- Result – based on personal experience, a candidate should describe the outcome his actions helped reach.
Here are 10 behavioral questions that use the STAR framework and help test how quick of a thinker a person you are hiring for software engineering manager jobs is, as well as how logical the decisions a professional makes are.
- Describe a time when you had to explain a complicated concept to a colleague and a client. Did your approach to handling the task change depending on who you were talking to? If so, what changes were these?
- Describe a concept or project presentation you were happy with? What made your performance stand out compared to other presentations you had before?
- Describe a time an employer gave negative feedback on your job? How did you behave during the session? What conclusions did you reach after hearing the evaluation?
- If you see a colleague struggling with a work-related task, how will you act to make sure the project is delivered on time?
- Did you work on long-term projects before? If so, what are the way to stay motivated all the way throughout?
- Imagine that a business owner gave you a task that doesn’t match your job description. How would you handle the responsibility?
- Share an experience when your team had to deliver a project on a tight schedule? What were the trade-offs you introduced to make sure the work is completed on time? Did the team succeed in meeting the deadline?
- How do you feel about working independently? Describe a time when you worked under loose supervision and share the mechanisms you used to hold yourself accountable.
- Describe the times you were happy and dissatisfied with the outcome of a project. What determines the way you feel about the result of the team’s work? How do you deal with negative emotions regarding teammates’ efficiency?
- Imagine or remember a commitment you were not able to deliver. How did you go about notifying supervisors and the client about that? How did you deal with their reaction?
A software engineering manager is a person who can reinvent and transform your tech team’s approach to development. That’s why it’s important to hire a manager responsibly. Use the leadership and behavioral questions listed above to determine how well a candidate is fit for a managerial position at your company.
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