An agile hiring procedure

You are hired!
Submitted by Yuliya Mijuk on 07/14/2015

In my experience the traditional recruitment process looks something like this:

  • The company publishes a vacancy in the media and/or career websites. 
  • A few candidates for the advertised position are chosen by the HR department and possibly by the future supervisors . These candidates will be invited for a personal interview. 
  • There will be one or two interviews with the employees of the HR    department, the future supervisor and/or the area expert. 
  • After that the candidates will either receive a rejection or a contract with a trial period of 3 month.

What is wrong with this way of hiring?

  • Too much filtering on the basis of the submitted documents – papers and good photos make people. One tries to reduce the amount of candidates before the first interview. Thereby many candidates, who would fit the team, are filtered out. 
  • It calls for lies and gets it. Your application and the interview should show that you are the best - ready for anything and highly motivated one. This does not necessarily get the best or most appropriate candidate for the job but the candidates which can sell themselves best. 
  • Too much emphasis is placed on what you already can and not on how adaptive you are or how good you are as a team player. An expert who is a bad team player won’t lead the team to better results. 
  • Often the team sees the new colleagues  only when the contract is signed. The team does not meet the new colleagues with the thought: „Great, we get help, we will be  more productive“ but  „Now we have to teach a new employee, let’s see what will happen.“ 
  • Only as a new employee you really learn how the organization works.  You will get to know the colleagues only during the trial period. The motivation you have at the beginning can evaporate very quickly.

In the agile development the emphasis is set on self organization and successful cooperation so it is essential to consider alternative recruitment procedures.  What could you do to increase the likelihood of successful cooperation of a new employee and the already existing team? In any case we should involve the pre-existing team in the hiring process more.

Richard Sheridan and his staff at Menlo (an Agile Software company which practices pair working in all the areas of responsibility) developed a special hiring process which they use in their company. It is described in the book "Joy, Inc." together with some other best practices at Menlo.

Richard Sheridan: „The days of individual heroes creating something great in the software industry are long gone. It used to be that two guys could write an operating system in a couple of months.... Individual heroes are useless to team building. Don’t want ’em. Ever. They don’t add joy.“

I’ts not so important what skills people already have as who they are and how they match the company culture.

Based on this conviction Menlo has developed a recruitment procedure, where the Menlo staff is heavily involved in the choice of their future colleagues. And the candidates are faced with the everyday life and work of the organization during the selection process already.

The procedure is as follows:

Extreme Interviewing – „Let the team build the team“.

  • All applicants (between 30 and 50) will be invited for an interview (Extreme Interviewing). Going through a stack of resumes can be omitted in this way. Before the interview all candidates get informational materials about Menlo, about the processes and the culture of the company. For 30 interview participants you need 15 volunteers from the current Menlo employees.
  • Often the interviews are moderated by one of the CEOs. At the beginning of the interview, the company’s mission, the interview process, and its importance will be explained.
  • This is followed by 3 paper-based exercises (20 minutes each), which were developed by the volunteers from Menlo employees. The aim of the exercises is to prove the ability of the applicants to collaborate and to contribute to the problem solving and not to demonstrate the technical skills. The participants work in randomly built pairs. The pairs are formed anew for each new exercise (3 times) with a new partner and a new observer each time. So each candidate will have been observed by 3 different Menlo employees at the end of the interview. To solve the tasks you only need paper, no computers and no abacus. As an example of such a pair task Richard Sheridan brings estimating of story cards for a fictional project.
  • After the pairing test, there is a feedback session where the candidates can express their impressions. Herewith the interview day ends for the candidates.
  • There will follow a discussion with the observers headed by the event moderator. You get 5 minutes per candidate. The main question is: Would the team feel good about pairing with him or her for a day? If all the 3 observers give a thumbs-up, the candidate will be invited to the 2nd interview. Three thumbs down, the candidate gets a rejection. If the vote is mixed, then there is a discussion of 5 minutes and a new voting of the entire observer group. 

Do Real Work

  • If a candidate makes it to the 2nd round, he or comes to the company for a day of real work. The person gets a paid day contract (\$ 10 an hour) to work on a real customer project. The candidate is assigned to pair working with two different Menlo employees, with the first in the morning and the second in the afternoon. The idea behind it is not to find out, whether the candidate is familiar with the technology the company works with. The idea is to see if he or she is curious to learn quickly and can be cooperative. At the end of the day the pair partners of the candidate tell the factory floor managers, whether they would work with the candidate again as a pair. If so, then the candidate has made it to the 3rd round.

There follows a trial period of 3 weeks.

  • If it works good, there is a new Menlonian in the company.

The described process is just an example. Every company has a different culture and should find its own way in many things, including the hiring procedure. The hiring steps used by Menlo are not so important as the principles behind them:

  • let the applicant feel how your company functions
  • try to find out as early as possible, whether an applicant matches your company culture and can effectively collaborate with the future colleagues
  • avoid traditional exaggeration and deceptions
  • involve existing employees in the hiring process and hiring decisions
Yuliya Mijuk

About the author

Yuliya Mijuk

Yuliya’s professional life started with Scrum. She is a Certified Scrum Professional and received her certification as ScrumMasters in 2006. She studied Computational Linguistics at the LMU in Munich. After the graduation in 2004 she came to WEB.DE where the transition to Scrum was taking place. Later on Yuliya worked as a ScrumMaster and Scrum Coach at SPRiNT iT and billiger.de (solute GmbH).