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Molly Struve (she/her)
Molly Struve (she/her)

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Interview Prep Questions

Followup post for Setting Yourself Up for Interview Success

Below is a list of questions that I found extremely helpful when preparing for my interviews. Most of them came directly from the interviews I had and some were general ones I found online.

When I used these to prep I put them on flash cards. I wrote the question on one side and my answer (or answers) on the other. Then I would go through them at the beginning of each week I was interviewing to prepare for my interviews.

For reference, I was interviewing for Senior, Staff, and Engineering Manager positions with a focus on SRE (Site Reliability Engineering) and Reliability roles. I broke up the questions into categories to make them easier to sort through. They are in no particular order. I only numbered them to make them easy to reference. Using my answers to these questions I was able to answer every question that was thrown at me during my interviews.

General Questions

  1. What do you want out of your next role?
  2. Tell me about a time you disagreed with someone. How did you handle it? What was the outcome?
    • The follow up questions might not get asked but get in the habit of answering those even when giving the initial answer.
  3. What are your greatest strengths?
  4. What are your greatest weaknesses?
    • You likely will not directly get asked the above questions, but if you are aware of what your strengths are then you can work them into your answers for other questions. If you know what your weaknesses are you can also mention those and how you are working to improve them. The key is to not have any blindspots.
  5. What is a time when something took a lot out of you and what did you learn?
  6. List the major achievements you are most proud of at your current job.
  7. Tell me about someone you look up to and why?
  8. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  9. What was a piece of feedback that was hard to hear but helped you improve?

Sr./Staff Level IC Questions

  1. Tell me about a complex system you designed.
  2. Tell me about a large project you had to get buy in for. What was it and how did you get the buy in you needed?
  3. Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from it.
    • Even if they don't ask for what you learned you always include that. It shows that you are humble and have the ability to grow.
  4. What do you value highly when working with software? (technical values)
    • Example answer: "I highly value simplicity bc I have found it leads to more reliable software. I also value automation bc humans doing things manually usually increases the chances of error." Expand more on your answer, but that gives you an idea of the kinds of answers you would give.
  5. Tell me about a time you had to make a decision that involved short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.
  6. Tell me about a time when you solved a complex problem and how you went about it.
    • Note this is different than #1 which asks about designing a complex system. I choose a story about a gnarly bug I had to fix.
  7. What is the most challenging part of being in an engineering leader for you?

SRE/Reliability IC Questions

  1. Tell me about an incident that you ran?
  2. How do you define observability? How have you improved observability on past systems you have worked with?
  3. What tools have you built that were able to aid developers and/or fellow SREs?
  4. Give me an example of a time you made something more efficient.
  5. Give me an example of a time you improved a process. (could be team process or technical process)
    • I talked about improving an on-call rotation for these types of questions.
  6. What does reliability mean to you?
  7. What is your preferred testing strategy?
    • Here you want to talk high level like unit vs end-to-end, smoke tests, canary deployments, etc. Give examples of what has worked well or not for you in the past.
  8. Give me an example of a calculated risk that you took where speed was critical.
  9. What is your definition of SRE?

Manager Questions

  1. What is your management style?
  2. Tell me about the person you are most proud of empowering and growing.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to give someone hard feedback.
  4. How do you deal with competing priorities?
    • When you get "how do you..." questions, answering with your strategy is good, but having a quick story to follow it up as an example is even better.
  5. How do you gain trust from your team?
  6. What do you look for when you are hiring?
  7. How do you determine if someone is technically competent for a job?
  8. How do you keep the jerks out?
  9. Have you ever had a large project killed?
  10. How do you broach the topic of technical debt when having to explain it to leadership and other stakeholders?
  11. What does the diversity of your current team look like?
  12. Tell me about a time you missed a deadline and how you handled it.
  13. When was a time you failed as a manager and how did you handle it and make it right?

Depending on your experience, you may not have an answer for all of the "Tell me about a time..." questions. That is OK! Be truthful about it and then explain how you would handle the situation if you found yourself faced with it. For example, I never have had a large project killed but I talked about how I would be objective and make sure my team fully understood why it had happened.

If you have any other questions you would like to add to this list, feel free to drop them in the comments below πŸ‘‡

Discussion (1)

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Mangabo Kolawole

Very helpful article!