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Use Agile to Hire Agile - Part 2

Posted By Michael Birkhead, Wednesday, November 2, 2016


In my last post, I discussed the hiring problems I experienced as part of an Agile team at a Fortune 500 company. While trying to hire ScrumMasters, we almost always met with failure, until we experimented with a hiring process that was itself based on Agile.


The process is based on interviews and surveys with 150 recruiters.  It depends largely on traditional research on interviewing, behavioral testing, and body language/facial expressions.


The process also relies on three basic steps that will be familiar to agilists everywhere: Treat candidates as people instead of as parts of a process, make sure the process you use is standardized and iterative, and focus on the candidates' Agile behaviors.


Here's a step-by-step description of how we conducted the hiring process.


Agile Recruit Process

  1. Recruiter finds a resume based on an “Agile profile” provided in advance by the hiring manager. This profile includes basic “wants,” levels of coaching, hands-on experience, expertise in large-scale operations, etc.  
    • Introductions (candidate and interviewer): 5 minutes
    • Resume high-level review: 10 minutes
    • Review survey responses: 10 minutes
    • Candidate questions for interviewer: 10 minutes
    • Retrospective exercise on the hiring process: 10 minutes
    • Wrap-up: 5–10 minutes


    The Agile Recruit® Process combines Agile practices with proven research on job interview and communication techniques. The process is based on the following assertions:


    • We focus on Agile success behaviors because . . . Agile through education is only one data point; how one behaves in an Agile forum, with other people, is another.
    • We use structured interviews because “. . . basic psychological research indicates that unstructured interviews can harm judgment. The research also gives us reason to doubt that interviewers will be sufficiently adept at spotting special information, and not false alarms, about a candidate.”
    • We use psychometric surveys because” . . . many service companies, including retailers, call centers, and security firms, can reduce costs and make better hires by using short, web-based psychometric tests as the first screening step. Such tests efficiently weed out the least-suitable applicants, leaving a smaller, better-qualified pool to undergo the more costly personalized aspects of the process.” 
    • We use vignettes because “. . . there is a gap between what candidates say and what they do when employed. Psychologists call this discrepancy Poor Predictive Validity."

    Key Takeaways 

    At the end of the day, if you are the hiring manager or a recruiter, you’ll live or die by the process. Do you want to continue to use a non-Agile process to find Agile people? Good luck with that. Or, you can change your process, reduce hiring cycle time, and improve the quality in your new-hires.  Here are a few takeaways to get you started:

    • Don’t let management stop you from improving your internal recruiting process. The pain you and your teams feel when you lack truly Agile people should drive your change decisions to help protect the people you are trying to help: the team. If all else fails, ask to “experiment” with the process and come back with data-driven results..
    • Start with psychometric tests to automate the hiring process and save time spent sifting through resumes. Focus on Agile success behaviors, not certifications or a candidate’s own recollection of their past roles. Tip: When using psychometric or behavioral tests, have the senior person or hiring manager take the test first to establish a baseline reference, then compare candidate scores to the reference.
    • Phone screens are not worth the time. The majority of our communication happens visually, not verbally. Take advantage of video interviews early in the process. Pay attention to body language, how the camera set up, and whether they tested connections in advance. Also, take note of the candidate’s surroundings – messy room, posters of dictators on wall, etc. 
    • Use structured interviews to prevent interviewer bias and to evenly compare candidates for the same role. Unstructured interviews are proven to be unreliable, sometimes hiding candidate weaknesses.



    When applied correctly, Agile practices transmute value to other areas of our professional and personal lives. The hiring process is no exception. If we study our needs through an Agile lens — people over process — we will understand how we can improve a stale and slow recruiting process. Ultimately, we will be able to use behavioral and cultural consistency to successfully match new people with our existing Agile teams.


    Michael Birkhead is an agile professional with ten years experience working with software and infrastructure teams for startups and Fortune 100 companies. He has spent the last three years conducting research on agile behavioral hiring practices with distributed teams.

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    Software Development Career Path - The Agilist Perspective

    Posted By Felipe Saraiva, Monday, October 24, 2016
    Updated: Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    The Software Development business has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

    While in the past you just need to know well one programming language, now we have to know at least two (or three), be well versed in a sort of frameworks, libs, patterns, be cloud compliant, etc.

    For many developers that achieve a senior age, a dilemma rise up: Going deep into a technical path becoming a specialist or choose a management position (which for many may be a challenge or an unpleasant position). It's clear how common this situation is and address multiple other variables like company type, country, culture, etc. Using an Agile mindset how would be the best approach to handle this situation? When a developer chooses to migrate to another position? how should be the happy way? What skills should I improve in order to be prepared? As a Scrum Master that lived this kind of situation this article will be a narrative about how Scrum changed my life and career.

    Be a software developer is certainly the job type that requires from the professionals a high concern about be always up-to-date. From time to time the Software industry has presented “waves” or “Hypes” (see For example, if you have been working in the software industry by the last 5 years, you probably went through two Hypes: Big Data and Virtual/Augmented Reality.

    Welcome to the real world.

    The majority of us do not work close to the hypes. Our industry embraces too many sectors, from transportation to nanotechnology, software is everywhere nowadays.
    Now, let me put you in a very common scenario: You are a Mid-Senior Software Developer doing your job as usual, maybe you have now 4, 5 or 7 years of experience. Looking some years ahead in your career you have three options:

    1. Give up the software business: “I wanna be a Chef, Jet Pilot, Teacher, Pokemon Hunter, etc.”
    2. Going deep in software to work as a specialist, architect, guru, etc.
    3. Working as a Development Manager, PO, SM, Agile Coach, Program Manager.

    When choosing the last two options will be bound to the Software Industry. This industry is in full process of change. The Lean/Agile mindset advent has showed incredible results and is being more and more adopted from small to huge organizations once its foundations proved to be sustainable in terms of delivering excellent valuable outcomes. However once its full adoptions require a cultural transformation its occurring in small steps in places that have a strong and traditional culture that is hard to replace. What is completely acceptable. It’s a change of 180º for many of those that think in terms of command-control management.
    Going back to the proposed scenario, I would like to include some more variables like age and company culture/size.

    Wouldn't be great if could keep doing what you love without any kind of external pressure? However, is quite common to heard this kind of sentence:

    • Do not plan to write code for your entire career.
    • Learn to communicate effectively.
    • Develop people skills.
    • Move into the “people” part of the business.
    • Learn how to sell.
    • Consider consulting.

    There is nothing wrong to be a Software Developer with 40 years, although it’s not common due many different reasons. In the top of that not all companies have a solid and nice technical career path. In many places the most top tech position you may achieve is a Sr. Dev or Architect. How is easy is to change from a role to another? Do I have the requested competences to do that? How to develop such competences?
    Wait, I am now with 37 years old, I am an experienced developer but I’m not able to follow the fast-paced scenario and learn about cloud architecture, microservices, serverless architecture, frameworks, libs, java 6, 7, 8, 9, etc. Now I have kids, there is no free time to learn at home as in the past, my learning rate has decreased, what is natural. The market doesn’t care about. This is a fact.

    Each single person has his/her own goals in life, but a good balance life/work is something we really appreciate and once it has a direct impact in our health. The Scrum foster a sustainable work rhythm, by the way, individuals and interactions over processes and tools, right?

    I had a chance to work in an organization that is embracing the Agile/Scrum as a framework to software development, but more than that, the top management is contributing to make this happen. What is really awesome when you came from the traditional models is to realize the differences, I mean how Scrum operates to make the work more pleasant and funny and continuously search for improvements. The possibilities are way bigger now in terms of career. New roles, new skills and a new mindset. Of course, the company size has a significant influence in the velocity of these changes.

    When opening a channel to develop a new skill set, a company enables his employees to choose something challenging, pleasant and turns the motivation always on.

    To give a chance to employees to growth is a key factor to success once is a never ending process and it stimulates self-improvement as a result. Let’s keep in mind that you are the main agent of any change, not only in your career but also your life.


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    Why Attending an Online Career Fair is a No-Brainer for Employers

    Posted By AgileCareers , Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    In 2016, you would be hard-pressed to walk into a local coffee shop or library and not find every person within the confines of the space in possession of a smartphone, laptop, or tablet (and in some cases, all three).


    As mobile devices become increasingly commonplace, growing numbers of professionals are turning online for everything from research to record-keeping, to seeking out new career opportunities.


    One of the fastest growing segments of the online recruiting world are Virtual Career Fairs. Much like an Onsite Career Fair, these events attract exhibiting employers and jobseekers in an environment where they can connect and engage in conversations, although in an online event this all occurs without the need for travel.


    The absence of travel costs is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the many reasons why Online Career Fairs have gained such immense popularity in the past several years. Along with the ease of use of online platforms, there is an incredible efficiency in recruiting at a Virtual Fair that just can’t be duplicated elsewhere. 


    As a recruiter, you’ll have the ability to interview highly qualified candidates in your niche without having to leave your desk. You can pre-qualify candidates in your virtual line, view resumes while chatting with jobseekers, hold multiple one-on-one chats simultaneously, conduct follow-ups both during and after the event, and rate and take personal notes of each candidate you speak with. You’ll have access to a history page where all of their conversations, ratings, and notes are saved, and in the course of three hours you can have several dozen first touch interviews!


    Come join us for the AgileCareers Virtual Career Fair on November 3, 2016 and connect with job seekers. The Virtual Career Fair adds value for hiring companies.

    • Employers may purchase booths and develop company profiles prior to the fair
    • Conduct up to dozens of first-round interviews with qualified candidates during the fair
    • Up to four recruiters may showcase open positions in the customized virtual booth
    • A rating system is in place for employers to score interactions and record notes

    All conversations will take place from the comfort of attendees’ home or office – no suit or travel necessary! The event will take place on November 3, 2016 from 1 – 4 p.m. EST. To register, please visit the AgileCareers website at and click on the banner at the top of the page.  We look forward to seeing you there!

    Tags:  agilepractices  hiring  HR  recruiting 

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    How to Write a Great Personal Statement

    Posted By Jaye Cherie, Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    A personal statement, sometimes called a professional profile or career summary, is sort of like your elevator pitch. It should describe your best attributes and accomplishments in a few lines, and basically give the hiring manager a quick look at why your resume is worth their time.

    “I tell people that it’s like painting a picture of how you fit into a company instead of leaving them to figure it out.”

    However, she also notes that the best interview preparation doesn’t begin the day before the interview; it happens at every step of your job hunting process.

    “Job seekers should focus on their achievements and show that they have the qualities required for a specific job, such as "increased annual profit by 20%" or "managed a $1.5 million budget,” she explains.

     Cherie also notes that this section should be adjusted for different positions and applications, because highlighting skills that aren’t relevant to the job in question may mean having the resume discarded.

    Keep it brief

    Your personal statement should be somewhere between 50 and 150 words, but the shorter the better. Don’t go into detailed descriptions about your experience or accomplishments; this section should be more like an appetizer than a main course.

    Be specific

    As always, it’s best to be as specific as possible and use concrete examples whenever you can. Don’t use vague expressions like “my skills,” tell them exactly which skills you are talking about.

    Using bullet points can also be a good way to highlight specific talents and competencies, without going into lengthy descriptions about each one.

    Include the three essentials:

    1. Who you are

    2. What you can offer

    3. What your career goals are.

    Start out by introducing yourself and giving a brief overview of your experience. For example, “As an experienced manager within the hotel industry, I have a proven track record of…”

    Next, sell yourself and provide specific examples of what your accomplishments are. For example “During my time as hotel manager with Hilton, I supervised a team of 25, and…”

    Finally, you can finish it off with a brief sentence about what your career goal is.

    Be consistent

    There is still some disagreement amongst career experts and hiring managers about whether job seekers should use first or third person when writing a resume.

    Generally, both are acceptable, although first person tends to look more natural and personable. Whatever you choose to use, however, make sure you stick with it to the end, because shifting between tenses is confusing for the reader of your resume.

    Use a few keywords

    You should always try to include a few specific keywords that relate to the job you are applying for.

    The job advertisement itself often contains some good examples of keywords you could include, but if you’re not sure, do some research on keywords that relate to that particular field or position.

    Don’t try to stuff in too many keywords, though, or it will look awkward. Try reading your summary out loud a few times to get a feel for how it would sound to someone else.

    This article was originally posted on Open Colleges by Jaye Cherie. 

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    Use Agile to Hire Agile - Part 1

    Posted By Michael Birkhead , Friday, October 7, 2016
    Updated: Thursday, October 13, 2016

    It’s easy to apply Agile practices to areas outside of software development to achieve a higher level of success. Observe the problem (process) you want to improve, overlay a basic Agile framework, and run with it.

    Experiment. Fail. Experiment. Succeed!

    Of course, it's more difficult to transmute Agile to some processes than to others. Like a manufacturing plant, some work needs to be completed in a serial process, one piece can only be installed after the prior has been installed. One not-so-easy “Agile transmutation,” we’ll call it, was the recruiting process at a global retail company. It was comical, if not tragic. From experience, recruiting, if not taken seriously, can negatively impact Agile teams’ performance and corporate cohesion on a single strategy.  

    Let’s look at recruiting. The textbook example is “. . . the process of finding candidates, reviewing applicant credentials, screening potential employees, and selecting employees for an organization . . . [which, if done well,] results in an organization hiring employees who are skilled, experienced, and good fits with your corporate culture.” For me? This definition doesn’t hold water. The real-world definition of recruiting is more like, “Find someone — fast — who knows Agile, is mild-mannered in the face of ambiguity but confident in adversity, and is a persuasive communicator who won’t blow things up.”

    Last year, I had to hire 10 ScrumMasters for a multiyear “Agile transformation” project. We had everything we needed: training, equipment, and executive support. But we had two major problems. We couldn’t hire qualified ScrumMasters (very tight employment market with a lot of new entrants, or “posers”, if you will.). And our talent management process was comically broken (queue Dilbert cartoon).

    Funny? Not really. We were a Fortune 500 company with $16B in revenue and over 130K employees, but our process was too [bleep]ing long (often 60 to 180 days) and yielded painful results. To make matters worse, the quality of our hires was low. Recruiters were sending us anyone with an “agile” keyword in their resume, and some were slipping onto our teams. When we did manage to hire someone, the axe usually dropped within three months because they didn’t “fit.” (By some cruel twist of fate, I had the unenviable job of hatchet man. Sigh.)

    After two months of research and design, we spent 14 days experimenting with a new approach we now call “Agile Recruit®” — a fully reworked process that used Agile practices to recruit ScrumMasters who had a focus on people and transparency. We tried it with live candidates and ultimately hired 10 top-notch ScrumMasters. We hired them 84% faster with a longer employment retention rate (12 months vs. 3). The following points form the basis for the process:

    1. People over process.

    Treat each candidate as a person. Each person has emotional needs, concerns, and ideas. Listen to them. Establish a feedback loop to funnel ideas into the process. One of the goals of the process is to reduce “stress” on the candidate by making the process fast and comfortable; 90% of the process is conducted from the candidate’s home.

    2. Iterative and standard.

    Each candidate follows the same process:= interview, questions, and evaluation criteria. At the end of each interview cycle, each candidate conducts a retrospective exercise on the entire process. Improvements from each retrospective are usually applied to the process before the next candidate’s interview cycle.

    3. Behaviors.

    Focus on agile behaviors and consistency with existing teams. Seek people with behaviors, thoughts, and actions considered important to that particular teams’ definition of Agile success.


    While the process might sound amorphous and complex, it isn't. It’s agile.

    Can you imagine describing your first Agile project to a waterfall-driven boss? Exactly! We worked closely with the team, management, and recruiters. We followed a standard process through the agile assessment and structured interviews. We targeted specific behaviors to watch for when speaking with candidates during each iterative stage of the process, and most of all, we learned which interview strategies were a waste of our time and which were useful.

    In the next post, we’ll look at the research behind the Agile Recruit® process, how we carried it out, and why it worked.



    Michael Birkhead is an agile professional with ten years experience working with software and infrastructure teams for startups and Fortune 100 companies. He has spent the last three years conducting research on agile behavioral hiring practices with distributed teams.

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