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Use Agile to Hire Agile - Part 2

2 November 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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