Engineering Management Fundamentals 101

Interviewing for a Manager Role

Jem Young

Jem Young

Engineering Management Fundamentals 101

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The "Interviewing for a Manager Role" Lesson is part of the full, Engineering Management Fundamentals 101 course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Jem describes the process of finding a role as an engineering manager. He explains the two options: looking internally within the current company or externally at different companies while discussing the pros and cons of each option, including familiarity with culture and technology for internal roles, and the need to sell oneself and tailor the resume for external roles. Jem also mentions the challenge of finding available roles, especially in high-performing companies, and the potential need to move to a smaller company for an external role.


Transcript from the "Interviewing for a Manager Role" Lesson

>> Hopefully now you have a better perspective on things you're good at and things maybe you're not so good at and ways you can build those up. Let's talk about the actual interview. If you've made it this far, and you're like, Jim, despite your best efforts, you have not convinced me to not be an engineering manager.

It's all a waste, all right, fine. If you're committed to the path, let's talk about what that interview looks like. And I like this section because as a software engineer, it's very unlikely you'll sit on an interview for an engineering manager. Maybe you will, and if you can, try to do that.

And always try to do that whenever you can, sit on interviews. But it's unlikely you'll ever know what they talk about. They're not talking about code most of the time, sometimes they do. But, yeah, what does an interview look like? So let's talk a bit more about that.

First, how do you find a role? This is a real problem I had when I was like, I'm committed, I wanna become an engineering manager. Where I look and you two options pretty binary. You can look internally within the company you're at, or you can look externally at a different companies.

And there's pros and cons to both. If you're looking for an internal role, the pro is the culture is familiar. You at least know how people communicate, generally. And you know the domain, generally. And there's asterisks by these because you can be different parts of the company depending on the size of the company.

We'll have different cultures entirely. That's true, where I work it's true. Almost every company I've ever been of size of the cultures are different from area to area. So it may be a familiar culture and it may not be, you're not guaranteed that. But there's gonna be some familiarities with technology and process hopefully, that will make being internal a little bit easier for transition.

Domain might be entirely different too. You can't guarantee that when you're looking for roles. For instance, I'm pretty good at JavaScript, but if I moved to be a Java, manage a Java team, I'd have to learn that pretty quickly. And you can argue that's a different domain of technology.

So something to think about, internal does not mean it's gonna be easier, but there are a lot of familiarities that should make the transition a little bit easier. With an internal role, you can work towards it over time, hopefully. Hopefully, there's a learning path for you at your company on how to make that transition.

But the downside of internal roles, the availability is going to be low. That's just a numbers thing. There's always gonna be more roles outside of your small company, or even if it's a large company, than within. And that's a problem, especially if you have a company of high performers, where lots of people want to become a manager.

What do you do in that situation? Sometimes you have to leave. So I'd say internal is a little bit easier of a path if you can. But it's probably one of the more difficult ones for a few reasons. For the external role, coming from software engineer to manager, here's something you probably don't think about.

You don't know anything. [LAUGH] As a software engineer, you don't know what management looks like. Yeah, maybe if you're taking this course, you have some idea, but until you do it, you just don't really know and the companies don't know you either, so you have to sell yourself a lot harder.

Of like, I can become an engineer manager because I've been a team lead for three years or I've been a staff engineer. I've led these number of impactful projects. I give feedback. I receive feedback well. I'm a good communicator, you have to sell the skills that hopefully add up and they see you have potential to be a good leader.

But the fact is they don't know you, and they're taking a bet on you. When I first was looking for roles, there wasn't a lot internally at Netflix, a lot of ambitious people, and Netflix a really high performing culture. The roles are very few and far between when they open up, that are good for a junior manager.

So I remember talking to companies, and I talked to the big ones like Meta, AWS, and they were all like, Jim, your resume is good on paper. You have a lot of the strong leadership potential. However, nobody's gonna take a risk on you. Cuz if they're wrong about you being a poor leader, the blast radius is really high.

And I remember a recruiter said that to me directly, they're like, you have the qualifications, but nobody's gonna hire you without the experience because .we don't know you, and we're not gonna take that risk. We don't need to, we're big enough company. And that's not, but that's the reality of it, and they're not wrong.

They don't know how I'm gonna perform, and if it takes time to figure out if someone's a good manager or bad manager, and if I'm bad, I'm gonna pull everybody down, not just the team, but the entire organization. So, it's something to consider with an external role that's gonna be a little bit more challenging, or you ought to put in a little bit more work.

And you also have to tailor your resume for the role, and I've seen a number of software engineers that comes to me like Jim, tell me about your transition. Tell me about how you became your paths enhancement. And I share that with them. And I'm like, I'm happy to look at your resume.

Take me five minutes to look it over. And they didn't change it at all. It was all software engineer oriented. I'm like what role are you applying for? They're like, manager. It's like, but this doesn't look like a manager. You're talking about your technology that you use and things like that.

So you do have to rethink your resume and tailor it towards leadership, things you've done, metrics you've moved, the ways you've mentored and coached people, the ways you've shown up on their soft skills side. Something consider on external roles. And another one for external roles, you may have to move to a smaller company.

Like I said, I was talking to the other big companies going like I work at a big company. I wanna go work in another big company, I'm familiar with enterprise, but they wouldn't take a chance on me. Whereas a smaller company probably would like a startup can take more of that risk cuz startups are risky inherent in their nature.

So something to think about an external role is you may have to step down from whatever size company to an even smaller company, but that's an option too. Those of you who've made the transition or have looked for roles, does this resonate or any questions thinking internally versus externally?

>> Not a question but I can share experience, I had a weird situation where I had consulted where I work today for four years as a full stack engineer. And had other opportunities elsewhere for a year or so. And so it was an external role but also I knew everyone there and yeah I think looking into those kind of situations can be hard and I agree with the thought that you do have to kind of change your resume to be more about leadership and accomplishments.

And working through others rather than what technology you used or what familiarity you have with certain codes.
>> I like what you said there about lucky interval. I have a course on interviewing for front-end engineers, but that advice applies to anything you interview for. Half its luck, so if you don't get the role, maybe it's not on you.

Sometimes it's just you're not saying the right things, you don't have the right background. Sometimes the person just woke up on the wrong side of the bed and they don't like you. It happens. I'm just being real, it happens. So don't get yourself down if you can't find the role.

The transition is one of the more difficult ones. If you haven't accidentally lucked into a role, or been pushed into a role, doing it deliberately is probably one of the more difficult things you will do. There just aren't that many roles out there.

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