Hiring for an Agile Team: Look for the Growth Mindset

I said in Hiring for an Agile Team: Making Tradeoffs, that we have a shortage of qualified people for the open agile positions. That’s based on anecdotal evidence, i.e. every hiring manager I talk to who says, “Johanna, I can’t find any agile people.” Most of the time, their ads are broken. But, once we fix their ads, they still can’t find people.

Oh, but I can hire certified people, you say. You can. And you will get what you pay for.

Anyone can buy a certification. Sorry to be cynical, but the certifications from the varied  organizations are based on attending a class, and have no basis in successful agile project experience. That means if you go and attend a class, pass the exam, you have a certification. You’ve bought the certification.

There’s no certification for agile developers and testers. For goodness sake, since when did certification take over common sense? When the Applicant Tracking Systems took over the internal recruiting positions in HR. It’s all so stupid, I can barely see straight. (I know, tell us what you really think, JR.)

Hiring managers, take back the recruiting.

How do you hire people, for agile positions if they have no agile experience? You hire for the growth mindset.

Carol Dweck wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In it, she discusses the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. If you have the fixed mindset, you believe you can only do what you were born with. If you have the growth mindset, you believe you can acquire new skills and learn. Many of us in the agile community, starting with Linda Rising, like to refer to this as the agile mindset.

If you have a candidate who appears to have relevant domain experience, and appears to fit your culture, you can ask questions such as these, to see if the candidate has the growth mindset.

Of course, you want to ask behavior-description questions.

  • On your most recent project, tell me what happened when you got stuck.
  • On your most recent project, did you work with anyone else? (That’s a closed question to establish it occurred.) You want to learn about collaboration.
    • If so, ask this: “What were the conditions?” or “Tell me more.”
    • If not, ask this, “Why not?” There may have been reasons.
  • Give me an example of a recent time you’ve coached someone.
  • When has someone coached you?
  • How do you finish something? Give me an example from your most recent project.
  • Have you ever had to work outside your expertise to move the project along? (Wait for a yes. If you hear a yes, then ask this.) Tell me about it.

For project managers, managers, you want to ask about servant leadership

  • Tell me how you work with a team. (Yes, this is vague. If this is too vague, use these questions)
    • Please tell me how you chartered the most recent project. How well did that work?
    • Please tell me how you managed the tradeoffs in your most recent project. What happened? How well did that work?
    • How did you decide on the milestones in your most recent project? What happened? How well did that work?
    • How did you decide on the estimates in your most recent project? What happened? How well did that work?
    • Did you do project retrospectives/lessons learned in your most recent project? When? What did you do with the output?

Do you see that these questions are the start of a conversation? They help you see if a person has the growth mindset or a fixed mindset. If a person has the growth mindset and fits your culture and has the technical skills, you can hire that person and train him or her to the specifics you need in your organization.

These aren’t the only questions you can ask. These are a good start. Do you see how you can learn a lot about a person and their ability to transition to an agile team by asking these questions?

These questions will provide you much more information than any certification will tell you.

Next part: Create the Agile Interview.

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