Getting ready to hire the right leader, who acts as an intermediary between the team and the product you’re trying to build and don’t know where to start? We will guide you on how to screen the right candidate based on practical experience. In this article, we’ll cover an engineering manager’s skills and key questions to ask when interviewing engineering manager candidates. These questions were crafted by our recruitment Director, Ihor Shcherbinin.
Skills To Look for When Hiring an Engineering Manager
What is the role of an engineering manager?
An engineering manager is responsible for organizing and supervising an entire team of engineers. They ensure that all the key projects, goals, and engineering duties are up to date. And whenever problems arise, they help the team find the best solutions to overcome the roadblocks.
Here are the main hard skills to look for in engineering managers before interviewing them:
- Experience with Python codebases and Bash
- Robust and practical experience with Microsoft Azure, Google’s GCP, or Amazon AWS with their cloud services and other product offerings.
- Experience designing, writing, and maintaining cloud-based applications leveraging its service offering (e.g, EC2+S3+DynamoDB)
- Experience setting up CI/CD pipelines, such as Jenkins, CircleCL, Github, AzureDevOps, or similar.
- Knowledge of Ubuntu/Debian system administration or Linux.
- Experience interacting with one of the major cloud platforms via their SDKs for automation.
Note: Depending on the role you need and the tech stack your company use, you might require different skills for an engineering manager.
It often happens that candidates are confident that they are an excellent fit for the role but forget about this important aspect: can they manage teams? You not only want someone who is an extraordinary software engineer and has an impressive professional trajectory. You also want someone who knows how to deal with teams and assumes all the responsibilities of this role.
The so-called soft skills help you determine if a candidate has leadership skills, is empathic, has great communication skills, etc. But how to know if a candidate has them? By asking the right questions during the interview for the engineering manager role.
Resumes are like our best versions of ourselves. No one puts in their resume ‘’I never deliver things on time’’ right? However, despite CVs being useful to filtrate candidates, you still need to test the skills that candidates say they have, both soft and hard skills.
We chose the 8 important engineering manager interview questions that will help you get a hint of those soft skills crucial for leaders to have when managing IT teams.
8 Key Software Engineering Manager Interview Questions
1. Imagine you need to build a new web app interface, what will be your process to achieve it?
This case scenario question is basically (secretly) asking a candidate: How do you prioritize work?
Of course, you can change the example to any other one, but what you want to understand is the candidate’s process toward achieving the final goal.
Engineering managers should have the ability to prioritize and schedule the tasks in a way that allows them to build the final product, which in this case, is the web app interface. But for this, they can’t just start delivering random tasks to the team, hoping everything turns out well.
They need a system. And they also need to know in a team who’s good at what. After making a plan on how to achieve this, they can delegate tasks and get to work.
2. If you had to manage a team of 10 developers how would you control how the project is going and the tasks among the developers?
This relates to the previous question but requires more details. A successful engineering manager knows the strengths and weaknesses of the team. They also know what each person is good at and what they are bad at, so instead of making everyone handle 10 tasks, they rather have each developer take one task but do it perfectly.
Also, in this question, you might learn if candidates work under a specific methodology. For example, some engineering managers love working with Agile. Others prefer Kanban or any other SDLC model.
3. Tell me about the biggest disagreement you had in a previous project and how did you manage to solve it?
When you get into a fight with someone, you get to know their true colors. They are people who look like angels, but when getting angry, you can start to see how their face turns into a bright red and their words into poison.
And in the office, it’s quite common for disagreements to happen. It’s even healthy to have disagreements because they can lead to debate and the creation of new ideas.
This question will help you understand how a candidate thinks about disagreements, if they act rationally, if they encourage constructive conflict or if they try to avoid it at all costs.
This question’s primary goal is to understand more about how they have used their communication skills and their problem-solving skills to deal with conflict in their previous experience.
4. If your team gets a new project and suddenly things start to get complicated how would you communicate this to your client or superior?
This question aims to understand how a candidate would communicate project delays to clients or the executive team. As well as how they would communicate and manage the risks of delay with their team.
Communication skills are the soul of every team. It doesn’t matter if your team is on-site, or if your team is fully remote; you need to have the proper communication channels and strategies.
Engineering managers need to have excellent communication skills because otherwise, they won’t be able to lead their teams successfully.
Imagine having a boss who only speaks Chinese while all your team speaks English; it’s useless, right? He might be talking and talking, but no one understands, and no one does anything. The sad thing is that this is the reality of many teams with bosses who, despite speaking perfect English, can’t delegate and never provide clear guidelines for their teams.
5. How do you manage multiple high-priority projects?
Are they going to try to do all the projects simultaneously? Do they have a process to decide which projects go first?
It often happens that engineering teams, mostly those with many team members, need to work on different projects at once. Without a project management system and a leader who is aware of everything that is happening, it’s impossible to achieve them all successfully.
With this question, you’ll understand how a candidate prioritizes projects and what methodologies they use to either work on them simultaneously or work on them by specific tasks and goals.
6. Did you have any communication problems in the past with a software engineer? How did you solve them?
Hiring IT talent is not a walk in the park; it can get frustrating when you interview thousands of candidates, and no one seems to fulfill your expectations.
Imagine for a moment that you finally found the developer you were looking for after months of intense search. This person has outstanding talent, and the best part is they are not asking for a Silicon Valley salary. So you hire them without a doubt — only to find out later they lack communication skills.
With this question, you want to see how an engineering manager solved a similar issue in the past. If they quickly decided to fire the developer and continue the intense search, or if they provided the team member with tools to develop their communication skills.
7. What is your approach when hiring software engineers?
This question is the equivalent of asking: what do you value the most in your employees?
When hiring employees, besides the soft and hard skills, most managers want to make sure that a candidate is a good culture fit as well. This is important for employee engagement, and overall, to create a culture with employees who understand their role and the company’s goals.
It’s essential to make sure that your new engineering manager has the same priorities as you do when hiring employees. This means that if you value, for instance, culture, that they value it as well.
8. What do you consider to be the most important skills for this role?
Many lead developer interview questions will help you understand how a candidate thinks and how they will act on the role. Despite looking simple, this question will help you perceive how an engineering manager understands their role and responsibilities.
Many skills make up this job, but the ones that they answer you are the ones they likely consider crucial for their role. It might be a mixture of soft skills with hard skills, or maybe just hard skills. But the aspect to highlight with this question is that you will understand if a candidate is in sync with the skills you value the most for the job.
Hiring an engineering manager is about making sure they have the necessary hard skills they need for the job as well as leadership and management skills. If all these questions and processes make you feel as if you were floating in a galaxy far-far away, adrift in space, don’t worry. At DistantJob, as remote tech recruiters, we can help you hire a talented engineering manager in no time! Contact us and let us scale your team with the best talent from all over the world.