If you’re applying for a job that has anything to do with agile, especially in the Information Technology (IT) field, you’ll see this requirement on almost every posting: “the candidate must have previous agile experience.”
When a job posting says that candidates “must have previous agile experience,” what does this really mean? Someone asked this on an online forum I follow, and I think it’s a good question.
To have previous agile experience, you need to have worked for an agile company or a firm going through an agile transformation at the time of your employment. Ideally, your experience is as a sponsor, leader, or member of an agile team. You don’t need to have agile certifications per se. However, relevant certificates from Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, or other agile organizations do make you stand out from other candidates.
For some roles, it’s easier to determine if you have agile experience than for others.
If you’re applying to become an Agile Coach, Product Owner, Scrum Master, or member of a Dev Team (Developer, Tester, UX Designer), you either have previous agile experience or not. For agile leadership roles like Chief Product Officer (CPO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Director of Engineering, or Head of Product, it can and often is harder to draw that line.
Whatever your situation is, my best advice is, be honest on your resume and in interviews.
How to Describe Your Previous Agile Experience
If you have previous agile experience, find a quiet place that’s good for introspection and think about the following two things:
- The reason why your company and your team chose agile
- The things you did as an employee of an agile company and as a member of an agile team
Prepare to talk to your interviewer about the former and include the latter in your resume.
Why Your Company and Team Chose Agile
Start by explaining the problem that agile is solving. Think about why your company chose to go on an agile journey in the first place. Is the industry getting shaken up by competition from startups and tech firms? Are customer demands changing faster than most organizations are able to respond? How fast and how often do disruption and change happen?
You don’t need to sound as inspirational as a CEO or be as articulate as a consultant from McKinsey & Company on the topic. But it’s good to know the context of your previous or current employer’s agile transformation and be able to talk about it with others.
How did this external environment and agile journey relate to your function, your team, and your role? I know this can be abstract and difficult to define. But knowing the “why” behind agile and being able to clearly explain can help you win the interview and get hired for an agile role.
Consider the same for your team. If you were part of an agile product, service, or project team, what were the reasons why the team chose agile ways of working? What was your team’s experience with agile — and what lessons did you learn along the way? What were the benefits? The drawbacks?
The Things You Did As An Agile Team Member
List down your agile certifications (or relevant technical certifications from organizations like the DevOps Institute) on your resume, but don’t just end there. Get specific about the team that you were part of, as well as the practices and processes that you followed.
If you were part of an agile team, what was your role? Were you in the role of Sponsor, Agile Leader, Agile Coach, Product Owner, Scrum Master, Programmer, QA Engineer, UX Designer, DevOps Engineer, or other?
What methodology did your team use? Was it Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), other? Did the team work with an Agile Coach?
What events did you participate in (standups, plannings, retrospectives, demos)? What artifacts were you responsible for (epics, stories, features, tasks, impediments)?
What technical principles and practices did you follow? Think about DevOps, Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), Test-Driven Development (TDD), and others.
9 Things Your Interviewer Will Be Looking For
When someone screens resumes or interviews candidates, they look for specific clues that this person has the right attitude, knowledge, and experience for the job.
A career in agile can mean many things and there’s no rule of thumb for how to get hired. However, hiring managers are looking for specific clues to intuit who might be the best fit.
Here are the nine clues that your interviewer will be looking for in a person applying for an agile role:
- You know what agile is. You can talk about the role of agile for your previous or current employer’s organization.
- You have experience working as a member of or, for more senior roles like Directors and C-suites, being a stakeholder of an agile team.
- You can converse about the product, service, and/or project that you were part of on a high-level. You can talk about its purpose, customer(s), and ways of work.
- You know the best/good practices and industry trends for your role as an agile team member or stakeholder, whether they’re product, process, or technology related.
- You can explain the key concepts of the agile framework (Scrum, Kanban, LeSS, SAFe, other) that your team worked in, especially the roles, events, and artifacts within them.
- If you are agile certified, you can share what you learned from the training you attended and from putting the theory into practice in your day-to-day work.
- You have experience (normally told through stories) solving business problems and technical challenges with your team in an agile way.
- You are a team player. Agile is a team sport, which is why you can communicate clearly and collaborate well with others, even in challenging situations.
- You have pride in ownership/craftsmanship. You like what you do and are proficient at (or curious about) it. You talk about your previous experience and your team well.
What to Do If You Don’t Have Previous Agile Experience
Almost everyone who works in agile has been there. I’ve been working in IT for a decade and I’ve hired many people for various roles. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect that someone who’s looking to change careers or just coming out of high school has years of agile experience.
If you don’t have any previous agile experience, don’t pretend that you do. You can probably fool someone who’s screening candidates or selecting who goes to the second interview. But, as you progress in the next steps of the interview process, it will eventually become clear that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.
Not only will you not get the job, but you’ll also destroy your chances of ever getting hired by that company. Don’t forget that the world is surprisingly small. You don’t know where (and in what role) the person who’s interviewing you today will work in one, three, or five years. Pretending to have the experience that you don’t can seriously harm your reputation within an entire sector.
Sometimes (especially for entry-level and occasionally on mid-level roles), hiring managers write job descriptions that ask for previous agile experience, but what they really want to see is someone who’s interested in and passionate about agile — even if they don’t have the stories to tell or badges to show.
At the end of the day, agile can be taught and learned. And most companies who take their agile culture seriously will offer training and certification to their employees in partnership with the top agile training organizations. It’s good attitude and professional curiosity that are harder to find on the market. As bestselling author Simon Sinek puts it in Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.”
Make the fact that you’re interested in and passionate about agile visible. Tell the person who’s interviewing you how you got into agile. Share the names of the email newsletters, blogs, and books you’re reading. Mention the name of an agile course you’re taking on Coursera or edX out of personal interest. Share a link to your Github repository if you’re a developer who’s learning how to write unit tests on your own.
If you’re not doing any of these things, now is the time to start reading. Read the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Spend a couple of hours reading and digesting the Scrum Guide. Check out what agilists of all roles and seniority are talking about on Quora and on the Scrum Forum.
The best part about agile and agile methodologies is that 90% of the information is available to you online for free. You get the remaining 10% in the form of tips, tricks, and stories that coaches or trainers share with you as you work with them or attend agile training sessions.
If you really want to work in agile, start reading about it today and learn, learn, learn by reading, listening, and watching others. Then, get hired in a company you like, by people who you connect with, and start learning by doing the things yourself. Like all other things agile, a career in agile is a journey, not an end goal.
The Bottom Line
When writing your resume and talking to your interviewer, be honest and stay factual.
First and foremost, you either have previous agile experience or you don’t. And either option is completely fine.
If you have previous agile experience, that means you worked as a sponsor, leader, or member of an agile team. You followed a specific methodology, participated in specific events, and were responsible for specific artifacts. Be ready to talk about them in a concise and understandable way.
If you don’t have agile experience, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not right for the job. Hiring managers look for attitude as much as they look for knowledge and experience. This is especially true for entry-level or mid-level roles. Demonstrate your curiosity and passion for agile. Talk about the people you follow, the information you read in blogs and books, and the courses you’re taking on your own initiative in online learning platforms.
Be humble, honest, and talk about your achievements with facts and numbers, and remember that the right job for you is as much about the role as it is about the company and the people. If the opportunity is right and there is a connection between you and your future manager, you will have all the time to learn and practice the skill of agile, no matter what your level of seniority and current position.