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Interviewing for Scrum Masters

Interviewing for Scrum Masters

I have always believed that the hiring process is crucial and have looked for innovative ways of ensuring that I get the right people for the job and for the team. This stems from a mixture of dubious recruitment decisions made early on in my career which detrimentally affected the team I was a member of and many years on the other side of the fence going through the same 2 styles of interview approaches over and over again.

When I'm interviewing someone for a position I am acutely aware that the interview is as much for them to evaluate my client as it is for my client to be able to evaluate them. In order to promote the client at this key phase I think it's important to bear some key factors in mind...

  • Make it fun
  • Make it different - It will make you memorable and also put them off guard
  • Keep it succinct (at least to start with)

As long as the guidelines above are followed you will have the basis for an interesting interview technique. If you need to involve various people or test various competencies splitting the interview in two can be a more effective use of time.

Designing a Scrum Master Interview

Many years back I had designed a technical interview for .net developers that has, in one form or another, stayed with me over the years and been adapted for different technology stacks. It was a mixture of technical, problem solving and trick questions with some fun examples thrown in. It also gave me an interesting way to score potential candidates so that I could get an idea of their thought processes and technical understanding. When I was tasked with recruiting Scrum masters for a client of mine, for which I was doing an agile transformation of the delivery organisation, I wanted something that would give me the same benefits but with a different type of role.

I asked myself 'How do you interview for a Scrum master?'. Other positions that I have interviewed for had specific technical skills you could test in the interview process and I felt simply having a discussion with someone wouldn't give us what we needed. I looked at it again and turned the question on it's head so it became 'What do we need a Scrum master to be good at?' This I could answer...

  • Must be able to protect the team
  • Must be able to understand the team
  • Must be able to take criticism well
  • Must be able to inject fun
  • Must have a good understanding of Scrum
  • Ideally has experience with other agile methodologies and techniques
  • Capable of handling high pressure situations

While the understanding can be tested by having a talk and running through some questions (some straightforward and some a bit more tricky) a lot of these are hands on skills. I quickly realised that an unconventional approach was necessary and that the key decision makers must include potential team members and not just management as a Scrum master's job is to empower that team.

I came up with a 3 stage process as follows...

Stage 1

The first stage was a standard sit down interview with myself, another representative of my client, and the candidate supported by a selection of pre-prepared questions to guide the process, gauging the candidate's responses to potential difficult situations. This resulted in both a score and a gut feel. If the client did well or we weren't initially too sure we would put the candidate through to the second stage immediately.

Stage 2

Prior to the interview the client would have been asked to prepare for potentially having a second stage where they would be expected to facilitate the stage with a small group of 3 team members (and me), the format of which was as follows...

  1. Hold an introductory conversation, in the best way you see fit, between yourself and the team so you can get to know each other.
  2. Host a game with the team to highlight an agile principle or technique of some kind.
  3. Facilitate a retrospective of your interview with the team.

The candidate gets their feedback (good or bad) from the team immediately and is able to take honest feedback away from the process. The candidate would then leave and I would discuss how stage 2 went with the team. At this point, if the team felt the candidate was a good fit, and stage 1 went well then they would be called back for a third stage.

Stage 3

Stage 3 was a second sit down interview with the CTO. The CTO of my client had some really clever interview techniques of his own for analysing people's troubleshooting skills.

Summary

The key factor here are ensuring that, when recruiting for a servant leader role with a lot of hands on elements you need to...

  • Empower the team to be involved in the recruitment process
  • Test facilitation skills
  • Investigate personality traits
  • Require demonstrable creativity