Getting Hired in Agile

WRITTEN BY Rachel Howard

It’s no secret that Agile is becoming more and more mainstream. Some might even say that it’s crossed the chasm and is considered to be the preferred method of software development. As a viable option for organizing work outside of the IT world, the industry is seeing new applications for Agile every day in a multitude of industries such as supply chain management, retail, and even fast food.

So, as Agile has become more prevalent, people from traditional project management backgrounds have  jumped ship en masse to make the journey to become Agile. Some are seeking to make a complete 180—so they can be a part of this ever-growing industry—and are stepping into the Agile arena for the first time.

The problem that a lot of Agile job seekers face is that they either don’t know where to start or they don’t know what to focus on to get the job they want.

 As the Chief Cultural Officer for LeadingAgile, one of my responsibilities is running point on talent acquisition and recruiting strategy. Together, with my colleagues, I have painstakingly developed and customized the science behind our own screening process and have gained a great deal of insight into the types of things that make up a superior Agile job seeker.

I’ve had the opportunity to see a multitude of eager candidates from all walks of life, in various stages in their journey to become Agile. I see these budding Agilists in my office, looking to get hired. I see them at conferences and I see them at local meetups, user groups, and even on social media. They’re all asking the same types of questions and I have some of the answers.

Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions and my take on each.

How Do I Get Over the Hurdle of Being New to Scrum?

I get this question all the time. The short answer is that you must find ways to internalize the principles of Agile and Scrum. How do you go about doing that? You start by getting involved in the Agile community and applying Lean principles in your day to day life.

There are many opportunities to go see and be seen within the Agile space. There are user groups, meetups, conferences, and online communities where you can go and get face time with some of the leaders in our industry. You could even try to reach out to the writer of your favorite blog and get to know them personally. No matter what you choose, find a place where other Agilists are and start a conversation.

Maybe you can find a mentor. You’d be surprised at how many people in our community that are willing to help mold young, Agile minds.

Pro Tip: Find ways to use Agile outside of the workplace. Use it to organize your to-do list, teach your kids to use Lean principles to accomplish their chores, or show your church group how to break into cross-functional teams.

Another way to internalize Agile would be to build a coalition of like-minded people within your organization by starting a book club, hosting a user group, or organizing a meetup.

These actions will help you learn, expose you to new ways of looking at Agile, and you just might plant the seeds for a relationship that will one day bloom into your next career path.

The only way to not be new to Agile is to get familiar with it. Drink it. Breathe it. Live it. Soon you’ll be a salty veteran.

Should I Get Certified?

This is a topic of much debate in the Agile industry. There’s a large swath of the community that feels that the alphabet soup after your name doesn’t carry the same weight as it once did but our data shows us something a little different.

In my experience, certifications are effective when getting your foot in the door. So, if you’re new to Agile and need credibility, get your certs. However, as you mature and gain more Agile life experience, the necessity to be certified dwindles and your passion and abilities will do the talking for you.

Pro Tip: Use certifications to get your foot in the door. Once you have real world experience, you can let them lapse.

Some companies will value certifications a little differently than others. Smaller companies will tend to focus less on certifications and more on the what you are doing in the Agile community, your experience, and your ability to apply Agile principles to real life scenarios.

On the other hand, a large company may not have the bandwidth to dig into your resume so they may reject your application because you aren’t certified.

A company’s Agile maturity can also play a role in how they view certifications. One that’s farther down the Agile path will likely be looking for a seasoned applicant who has real world experience, so the certs won’t matter. A less mature company may not understand exactly what it is they need, so they look for someone who has certification because they view it as a sign of credibility.

Pro Tip: When looking to getting certified, take into consideration what you are trying to accomplish, what role you are looking to play, and what type of company you want to work for.

In the end, the answer is—it depends. And the debate rages on. I will say that over 90% of the people I interview have some sort of certification and the newer you are to Agile, the more they matter. So, if you’re looking to stand out in a crowd, not having a certification isn’t necessarily the differentiator you’re looking for.

How Do I Switch from Team Member to Consultant?

When we hire consultants, we’re looking for multiple years of experience—across multiple companies—and we test for proficiency in multiple roles within an Agile team.

Having someone on our team with these kinds of qualifications lets us know a couple of things. It tells us that they are a seasoned Agilist who has been exposed to various problems that organizations are trying to solve, and can view those problems—with empathy—from varying viewpoints.

These qualities are important because they encapsulate exactly what any consulting company is faced with on a day-to-day basis: We are trying to solve a wide variety of problems—in industries of all shapes and sizes, at every level of the organization.

Pro Tip: Longevity isn’t as valuable as it once was. Don’t be afraid to switch companies because the more problems you see, the more problems you can solve.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are certifications and boot camps out there that will teach you to become a coach, such as the courses offered at the Agile Coaching Institute.

These courses certainly won’t hurt your career and the more tools in your toolbox, the better. They may even get you a lower level coaching gig somewhere but they aren’t the type of thing we’re looking for when we hire a new consultant.

It’s the real-world application of Agile that’s the secret sauce when it comes to getting a tier one consulting job—experience trumps all.

What Should I Spend Time on Before an Interview?

This goes for any company: Do your homework. Also, know yourself and what getting that job you want will mean to you.

We’ve all spent years developing a passion for our craft and we all have certain goals, missions, values, and things that we’d like to achieve. I suggest before you go to that next interview, that you do your research on the company you’re interviewing for.

Get to know their purpose, their mission, their “why” and see if that aligns with your personal goals, mission, values. Ask yourself if you’ll be able to achieve the things that matter most to you while you’re there.

Pro Tip: Being able to connect your passion to the company’s vision goes a long way in an interview.

If you can show them that you’re a truly passionate Agilist, who understands what they‘re trying to achieve, the problems they’re trying to solve, and that you will be personally invested in their success because it will make you successful—you’ve already won.

Parting Thoughts

If you’re new to the Agile space, all this may seem like an insurmountable task but we’re here to help.

We host, sponsor, and speak at events all over the nation and we also offer CSM and CSPO classes in cities on both coasts. If you’re looking to get plugged into the Agile community or just want some expert-level advice from the thought leaders here at LeadingAgile, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re looking for something a little more personal and want to learn more about how to develop your personal career path in Agile, feel free to reach out to me directly. My email is Rachel.Howard@leadingagile.com. My door is always open.

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