I’d like to share a complete guide to how to hire and interview engineering managers. I’ll cover every step of the process, and even include a sample interview plan you can use. I think you’ll find a lot of surprises, and some genuinely useful templates and questions to use.
This approach can be used for other roles as well.
Figure out what the role is you’re interviewing for.
First of all, you need to be really clear on what you’re looking for.
Hiring an “engineering manager” isn’t actually possible. There are many different ways that role is defined. So you need to figure out the role you’re actually hiring for.
I have a post on the many forms of Engineering Manager. Read it, and figure out the areas of responsibility for your engineering managers.
Determine which assertions you’re making
After you’ve figured out what archetype of manager you’re hiring, you next need to write down the specific qualities and skills you’re looking for. I call this “assertion-based interviewing”, because you’re making a list of things you would like to assert are true about the person you’ll hire.
A few example assertions are:
- Has product engineering experience in a startup environment.
- Understands our product area well.
- Shows an ability to break down projects into smaller pieces that can be incrementally delivered.
Each of these are areas you’d like to assess with the candidate. But you can’t do everything, so you’ll need a list of prioritized assertions you care about.
You can read about how to create a list of assertions, and this general approach, in my post on Coordinating your interviews with assertion-based interview plans.
Create the interview format
Your next step is to design the interview flow. If you’re working with an internal or external recruiter, they’ll probably be the first person the candidates talk with. What steps happen after that?
You should have as few steps as possible. So I like to define interviews with these steps:
Others will often insist on adding steps. For example, a founder or VP might want to interview finalists. Ideally you will have three steps, but four can be okay. If you’re getting above that, your process is too onerous.
Note that sometimes you’ll schedule the final interviews over multiple days. To save time for your interviewers, you can add a “circuit breaker”. Do a quick evaluation of the candidate after the first day. If it’s trending really poorly, to stop the interview from proceeding to the second day.
Create an interview plan
Based on the type of Engineering Manager, and list of assertions you’ve come up with, you can then define an interview plan.
You can start with my template for an Engineering Manager interview. This is based on an Engineering Manager interview for someone that is responsible for People, Projects, and Process.
You will want to modify this based on the role, and your individual needs.
Start from my template. This is for Engineering Managers that are responsible for People, Projects, and Process. You can modify it as you see fit.
Determine who will do the interviews
After you’ve put together a draft of the interview plan, you’ll need to put people against each of the interviews.
I recommend pairing people on interviews. Although it’s expensive to do so, I find that people often get into a rut with how they interview. Then their practices won’t improve, and you’ll get weird results from your interviews. Pairing also increases the amount of people that are trained to interview. And you can ensure that good notes are being taken.
You’ll also learn a lot from interviews where the two people present give different feedback on the candidate. I had an interview recently where two people interviewing a candidate at the same time ended up giving completely opposite feedback: a strong yes, and a strong no! You can learn a lot from that.
Become best friends with your recruiter
Set up some time with the recruiter you’re working with. And talk through the interview process. Make sure you’re really clear on who will be doing what. I’ve found a wide variety in the expectations of recruiters. Some do a lot more than others. The best recruiters I’ve worked with can own parts of the process for you, and have a good mind for improving that process continually. Other great recruiters have been able to take on an increasing amount of the screening interview. But there are also a lot of different places a recruiter can focus, and you should be clear on how much they’re doing sourcing, candidate screening, scheduling for candidates, and so on.
I usually set up weekly half hour sessions to talk through how things are going and make improvements.
One thing I like to do is to request a few things from the recruiters that can speed up the whole process. This ultimately can make them more successful, because it can reduce the amount of time it takes for them to fill a role. And that’s often something they’re evaluated on. But it can also demand a lot of their time, which can reduce their ability to focus on the role. But I have a list of things I’ve seen improve hiring speed that I like to float by them whenever I can.
Set up communication channels per role
At a recent role, a recruiter suggested that we set up a Slack channel for each of the roles we were interviewing for. We were having a lot of communication that was happening in side channels. This streamlined our communication significantly, and is now something I recommend.
It’s important to set up expectations for what can be communicated in the channel. For example, you don’t want people biasing other candidates. But typically that’s not a major challenge.
Then do a kickoff, where you go through what you’re looking for.
Whenever I introduce a new role we’re interviewing for, I like to do a kickoff meeting. It’s typically an hour-long meeting, where I talk through the position. I talk about what we’re looking for, and go through the interview plan.
I do sometimes schedule this after we’ve kicked off interviewing, because it can be difficult to schedule so many people. But it’s important to get this in place within a week or so of the role being opened.
Schedule time to meet with each of the interview sections, and go over the interview and customize it together.
After I kick off the interview, I aim to meet with all the interviewers and go through their part of the interview. And ask them to refine their part of the interview.
Honestly, I sometimes skip this step, or schedule it a few weeks later. But I think it’s important. Why? You want to make it clear to the interviewer that they own their portion of the interview, and that they can alter the format of the interview.
And this extra step will result in improvements to the interview that will pay off in the quality of the assessment.
After each screen, calibrate with the recruiter
I’m usually the person doing the hiring manager screen. Sometimes the screening interview doesn’t go well. At those times, I look for any signals that I can share with the recruiter. I like to share my feedback after every screen with the recruiter. So I’ll post my notes, then say whether or not the candidate will proceed to the next steps. And most importantly, if they didn’t proceed to the next step, I try to mention anything that would be helpful to the recruiter as they’re talking to future candidates.
For example, I might say:
- “Interview with Lisa went quite well. Proceeding to interview”
- “I’m passing on Ari. Nothing I can think of that we can calibrate on in future recruiter screens – they seemed like a reasonable candidate”.
- “I’m passing on Jeff. He didn’t seem like he had enough experience in unstructured environments. That might be worth screening for in the future. Let’s talk on Wednesday about that.”
After each final interview, do a debrief session
Most debrief sessions on candidates are dull affairs. Instead of just reiterating the feedback everyone wrote down, use this candidate debrief session format.
My goal is to get a good signal on whether a candidate should go to a larger, more expensive interview. So I view the hiring manager screen as a shallow version of the whole interview. So after each debrief session, I consider whether I need to tweak my screening interview. I’ll often learn about things I could be screening for. For example, if I see that I’m not doing a good enough job screening the technical skills of candidates, I might talk with the person doing that interview and figure out what I can ask during the hiring manager screen.
The idea of a communication channel per role is something Mailani Burton came up with when we worked together.
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