Finding the right engineering leader for your company can be a challenge. The role is fast moving, needs the management of many moving parts and is absolutely critical for business success. An engineering leader at one company may have specific requirements which differ to one at another company.
A candidate's resume might not tell you all that you need to know. Naturally, you get a sense of their experience and credentials, which is a positive. But, it can be hard to figure out whether or not they’re the right fit for this particular role.
The secret to hiring the right engineering leader is asking clever interview questions. You must ask things that provoke detailed and thoughtful answers. Then, you have a greater idea of the candidate's capabilities.
Bearing that in mind, I’ve got ten of the best interview questions written down in this article. Give them a read, and it will help you hire the perfect leader for your engineering resource.
1/ What makes you unique to other candidates?
This is a great question to help you dig a little deeper and find out more about a candidate. It’s a classic interview question designed to make the candidate assess their abilities. Their answer will give you a clear view on if they fit the role or not. You’re looking for someone that relates to not only technical and team management skills but also how it brings value. You are looking for someone that shows you how they can benefit your business. What you don’t want is someone to list off their personal achievements, which you can read from their resume.
2/ Tell me about yourself
If you’re looking for a good starter question, then this is your best bet. It’s a simple question that gets the ball rolling. Ideally, you don’t want someone to give a long answer and waffle on about their life story. You want someone that’s straight to the point and tells you relevant information that focuses on the job.
3/ What is best practice engineering leadership?
Of course, you need to include some technical questions here to establish their engineering background and experience. With this example, you want them to give a detailed description of some deep technical knowledge associate with the role, maybe the latest thinking on agile methodologies. And, they should provide examples and some scenarios where they’ve come across the subject in question.
4/ What is the typical role of an engineering leader?
This question is great because it helps you see if the candidate understands their role. If they can tell you what an engineering leader should do, then that’s a good sign. Plus, you must remember that roles differ depending on the organization. So, ensure they give an answer that fits your company, rather than a generic one. If they mention 'vision', that is a good sign, see if they can 'helicopter up' to give a wider view of how the role fits into the business at a strategic level.
5/ How did you evolve to become a leader in the engineering environment?
I like this question as it often puts candidates on the spot. Here, you get a chance to see how passionate they are about their job. Watch out for their facial expressions and body language when they answer this question. It’s easy to see who’s truly passionate about their work and who isn’t. You will be able to see from an appreciation of problem solving, to a transition into people management - why and how this happened. A good candidate may talk about how they have always loved engineering and technical challenges, but also managing and working in teams became more of a draw for them. They may speak about past experiences that helped them realise this was the career for them. It’s important to hire passionate people, as they’ll strive to work much harder for you. Someone that’s in it for material reasons will surely lack the motivation you need.
6/ What are the key strengths of any engineering leader?
This is another question that will show how someone understands their role. Look for answers that are more in depth than simply listing off some skills. The candidate should tell you a strength, and then give examples of how and why it’s important. For example, it’s not enough for someone to tell you that good technical and people skills are key strengths. You need to drill down for more detail, for example, ask them what are their keys for success in managing internal stakeholders, managing external agencies and how do they approach the budgetary requirements? What else is critical in this role for success? This will give them the chance to explain why and if someone provides personal examples, then it puts them ahead of the rest.
7/ How would you develop other leaders in the business?
Engineering has long been a key function within many companies. Developing talent in other parts of the business is becoming more and more important with any leadership role. It will be really useful to see the techniques and approaches used to develop other leaders. Look for the 'soft' skills of nurturing, coaching and motivating to grow others. Some areas to cover might be - how do evolve individuals who are now working remotely? How do you engage at a senior level? How have you spotted and rectified signs of individuals who are struggling? How about instilling company culture at leadership level? Ask for real life examples of how the techniques have been applied - and the results. A major part of the role is sharing and nurturing other leaders - to get the best out of them and this will provide good tell tale signs of the ability of the candidate in this area.
8/ With the world constantly changing, how will you remain competitive with other engineering leaders?
I love this question because it’s hard. Candidates find it tricky to come up with a clear answer to what you’re asking. And, that’s what you want! You want a tough question that gets people thinking on the spot. The world of engineering is constantly evolving, you need to see how they are keeping up. The candidate must show you that they have the ability to change and a hunger to learn new techniques and skills. Again, they must provide you with examples to back this up. If they can tell you stories from previous jobs, then you should consider them highly.
9/ What is the single biggest contribution to a company made by the engineering team?
A question like this will show you how capable people are of thinking at a business level. If they simply answer the team needs to deliver 'great products', 'on time', it might be time to think again! Modern engineering leaders are no longer just 'down in the engine room', but need to deliver product that contributes to real business value. A natural leader should demonstrate vision and always be challenging the brief given by the marketing, product or business team. They need to fully understand the business value engineering makes and keep monitoring the performance post delivery. For me, this is a brilliant question to ask towards the end of an interview. It shows the candidates take ownership and helps separate the best from the rest.
10/ Do you have any questions for me?
The best way to conclude an interview is to ask the candidate if they have any questions. If they say no, then it’s a bad sign. You want them to quiz you about the job and ask some intelligent questions. The best candidates will take this as an opportunity to flip things around on the interviewer. They’ll make you feel like the interviewee as they ask important questions about the role and your company. Obviously, they can’t ask you totally irrelevant questions. Some candidates will ask random questions because they know it’s bad not to ask any!
If you’re interviewing for an engineering leader, then these ten questions will make your job much easier. They’ll help you narrow down the candidates, and ensure you hire the right person for the job.