Five Tips to Hiring a Generalizing Specialist

We talk a lot in agile about generalizing specialists. Scott Ambler has a terrific essay on what a generalizing specialist is:

  • Has one or more technical specialties…
  • Has at least a general knowledge of software development.
  • Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work.
  • Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas

(From Scott Ambler’s essay, http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/generalizingSpecialists.htm)

How do you hire one of these mythical people?

First, they are not mythical. They are real. Second, you do a job analysis, just as you would for any job. Third, you would look at how they have acquired skills throughout their careers.

What does this mean for the hiring manager and/or recruiter?

  1. If you search on keywords only, you will miss these people. They may not have all the keywords you want on a resume. That’s because they are generalizing specialists. You have to write a job description to entice these people to an opportunity.
  2. If you say things such as, “You will have worked at a place like <insert name of your favorite company here>” you may well miss great people. You are assuming a particular class of people. You have to change your assumptions about work history, school history, any kind of history. Again, the job description or ad has to be about an opportunity where people can learn and grow.
  3. You have to look at how they have learned in their resume.
  4. You have to look at their technical leadership roles. Yes, they will show you technical leadership in their list of accomplishments. They will have made things better in any number of dimensions.
  5. You need to look at the non-technical skills, such as facilitation, collaboration, coaching, initiative, taking small steps to make progress, all the things I mentioned in Hiring for an Agile Team: Making Tradeoffs.

Remember, you want generalizing specialists. True specialists introduce a cost of delay into your projects. They end up with a queue of work and they introduce a delay, or they multitask.

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