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How Do You Recruit Team Members with Agile Mindsets?

By Leanne Howard | Agile Practices Consultant

INSIGHTS // Media Coverage

17 Jun 2015

#Agile|#Careers|#ProjectManagement

INSIGHTS // Media Coverage

#Agile|#Careers|#ProjectManagement

By Leanne Howard

17 Jun 2015

There are two obvious ways in which you can engender an Agile Mindset in your team: either buy it in through recruiting, or provide training to existing team members. This article focuses on the first method, recruiting.

The traditional ways of finding employees are changing. If you want to get a role that will make you happy to contribute to the team, you need to rethink the way you apply for roles. If you are the resource manager, change how you recruit.

Even before you find a position you want, there may be people out there already looking for you. The age of networking is here, and lots of information about you is freely available on professional sites. Hiring managers are checking these sites and proactively looking for the next members of their teams.

When I am looking for talented individuals, I assess how professionally they have updated their LinkedIn profiles. This is often the first impression I have of them. If they cannot ensure there is a level of quality and thought gone into their profiles, then why would I think they would apply quality and thought to a job role?

For each role you have had, I want to see the skills and competencies you gave to the organisation highlighted. No two releases are the same, even if you have the same title or work in the same industry or domain. Put yourself in the shoes of the person reading this information. What would you want to know if you were considering employing you? Not only is this a great way to demonstrate what you have to offer, but it is also a fantastic way to build up your network of associates and share ideas and knowledge. If you write papers and articles, do not forget to add links to these in your profile. I want to read about what you are thinking and, more importantly, what you are passionate about.

That leads nicely into networking in general. There are heaps of ways to do this face to face with your peers. There are plenty of professional organisations where you can attend forums or special interest groups. I encourage you to attend some of the meet-up groups that congregate in many areas. Not only do you meet some interesting people from whom you can learn, but your future boss may also be there.

When I participate in these events, I always keep an eye out for talented individuals who stand out from the crowd and have skills that are going to fit with our business model. Make sure you talk to as many people as possible, targeting those who may be able to offer you a job, either now or in the future. Be professional at all times, and do some research about the event topic so you are armed with some good questions. If there is an opportunity for questions, you can demonstrate your knowledge, plus cover aspects that may not yet have been discussed. I am more likely to offer you a job if I have seen you at these types of functions, as it demonstrates your commitment to continuous learning.

Make sure you have a well-thought-out resume or CV, and be able to talk in depth about anything you put on it. (I would have thought it should be obvious that you tailor your CV for the position you are applying for, but apparently not; in my last round of hiring I did a word search for “Agile” and was able to eliminate more than 30 percent of applicants without even reading their CVs.) If applicants cannot be bothered to put some time into their CVs and at least have the word “Agile” when the role is for an Agile Practitioner, then they are not for my team.

Of course, I would expect to see not only “Agile,” but also other key words demonstrating that they have experience in Agile. I also look for CVs to reflect words that were in the job advertisement. Call me old-fashioned, but I also like to see a cover letter with the CV distinguishing why you are the best candidate for the role. This is a good opportunity to show some of these attributes of an Agile mindset, rather than just skills and competencies that would be in your CV.

My time is very valuable, as it is for anyone involved in recruitment. The whole process can be very involved, so I have created an examination that tests some basic knowledge I would expect practitioners in the Agile discipline to know. This is understanding of common terms, processes, and ceremonies, as well as some scenario-based questions. For the scenarios there is not one right answer, but they do help me start to find that mindset I am looking for. The questions may be role-related, but they also could just be about finding out who you are as a person, such as whether you can think outside the box to find a unique solution to a problem or puzzle.

Finally, we get to the interview. By this stage, I am almost more interested in what questions they are going to ask me, rather than the other way around. I am looking to have a conversation and discussion rather than a question-and-answer session. The interview could even just be a formality if I have already met them at meet-up groups or other industry events or have been following articles they have written. In fact, the interview may be more of an exploration of issues they have discussed in their papers or at events.

The interview should be focused on understanding the candidates’ mindsets and soft skills competencies, such as how they communicate with you. This would mean you are asking lots of open questions and the conversation should be flowing naturally.

Here are some of the types of questions I ask:

  • How did you feel when...?
  • What new thing have you learned in the last week?
  • What excites you?
  • What makes you want to come to work in the morning

When you are trying to define the Agile mindset of a person, it is important to structure your questions around the attributes you have defined as the chosen mindset you are looking to gain for the team.

For example, let’s look at a positive attitude. I may say, “Tell me about some instances where your positive attitude has turned around a potentially negative situation.” Here, I am looking for a number of potential responses:

  • That they have recognised where a potentially negative situation may have occurred
  • Understand that it did not work in this situation but it may in others, so you have a new technique to add to your toolkit
  • What they have done to turn the situation around
  • Whether they did something someone else did not do or would not have done

Once they give me the example, I tell them a situation that occurred on one of the projects I worked on in the past. (I have plenty of those—some are my own, and some that I can say I have “borrowed” from colleagues.) Asking what they would do in the situation shows me a couple of things: if they have encountered this type of issue previously, and either how they dealt with it or if they would be able to quickly adapt to handle the situation. We all know that something can go from a position of stability to a potentially negative situation in the blink of an eye.

I am also looking from the human point of view. We all have to work well together in the team. There are potential solutions that are more favorable to keeping the harmony and well-being of the team than others. If there is more than one outcome, then I would prefer to make the happiness of the team the most important factor.

It is also always a good idea to give the interviewee an opportunity to share some of their experiences with you. You want to see how they have reacted in some real-life scenarios.

It is all very well that you have a positive attitude as an individual, but I want my whole team to be enthused with this. So, finally, I want to know how the person I am interviewing is going to influence the rest of the team. This may be on an individual-by-individual basis, or it may be by a wider effect on the group. Either of these approaches is fine with me. I may also tease this out by giving an example where a member of the team is approaching a task in a negative way.

Hopefully these tips have given you food for thought when preparing to apply for a position within an Agile team, and for recruitment managers, these are some of the things I look for when the Agile mindset of a potential new team member is important.

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