Recruitment for an Agile organization — An Interview is a Dialogue
During my career, I have got experience from both sides — job applicant and the recruiter. I have a couple of thoughts about the interview and recruitment of a new colleague, as entire recruitment requires radical reinvention for an agile world.
I guess you all came through it as I did some 20 years ago, and many have bad memories of it as I do. You sit in a room with an interviewer much younger than you are. And that is investigating your history over your CV. Searching for keywords that opens up the secret door. Applying his mysterious methods, or criteria, that remain hidden to you forever. If you ask for positions’ details, the answer is foggy. You feel the purpose is unclear, too. And you have to prepare for a series of dumb questions, which for some reason appeal a lot to recruiters. When you get home, regardless of your feeling about how you did — good or bad — all you get is silence. If you are lucky, an automated message appears in your mailbox saying another applicant has given preference. It is because the search is for a cogwheel into a machine that might be already broken. Or they need a slave. Fast forward 20 years. Sadly, very little, if anything, has changed.
An Agile organization is a living organism instead, in the green or tail evolutionary paradigm, which certainly needs a different approach. It is the people, adult people, and their expertise that matter the most. “We hire smart people, so they will tell us what to do” is a famous citation from Steve Jobs. “Since people make things, the work must start with developing the people”, adds Eiji Toyoda.
My approach, which I advocate, counts on both — people are coming to tell us what to do (and be accountable for it). At the same time, we as an organization take responsibility to develop people further. In the light of this, the two parties need to get to know each other prior they start living together. I do not care about CV, which is today mostly elaborated fake. People, especially mature ones, typically possess a broad set of skills, experience, and interests. It would be a book to write them all down. Therefore, any format of the message is just fine. Once I invite a candidate for an interview, which always has multiple rounds, I want to get to know him as a person, and my team wants to know it too.
An interview is to understand the journey, ambitions, motivations, and goals. And what he does for achieving these goals. How does he build his knowledge and expertise? In what type of environment does he perform best?
Then we present ourselves, our mission and values, objectives, goals. And also the problems we try to resolve and our purpose. We discuss it with a candidate and draw on the flipchart or board. We evaluate suggestions. We are looking for answers, and we learn from each other. We are crafting the way how we could work and live together for a defined period. It is not an investigation at a police station. It is about finding the optimal fit in collaboration.
This part is so critical that it is a sin to skip it. Every interview requires preparation and must be structured if we want to learn something. It also demands focus because, in the end, we have to provide honest feedback. If a candidate does not fit, we say it right away near the end of the meeting, and we always explain why. It saves time for both and provides an opportunity to learn. Every manager must be able to give honest and nonbiased feedback.
Crafting position together means defining a problem the role will cope with. It must include purpose, skills and ambition, timeframe, and ideally, the next assignment or options. It must consider candidate limitations, living style, personality, and needs. Same on the organization side. Plus alignment with the future colleagues and possibly stakeholders. Filling a position is not about filling in a predefined box — it is about creating a place where the candidate will shine.
During the process, we may find that we cannot fulfill some requirements. If they are critical for the mission’s success, there is no fit for one another. It can be temporary, just wrong timing. It can be something more serious that prevents us from living together.
It is quite common we discover that candidate has qualities and ambitions for another role than the one he originally wanted. The hiring person must have an overall understanding of the needs of the organization. Don’t confuse it with knowledge of existing open vacancies. It is common to create a position even if such a vacancy did not exist if the quality candidate appears.
More often than not, we will discover that candidate has good qualities, but somehow it does not match. Still, we give and advice. I frequently advise books a candidate might read to progress to his destination. Occasionally, I have given him the book. We can agree he should apply a year later when he gets better at something. Or we worked out a list of steps he should do to move his career forward and suggested the list of the companies he should contact and where we believe he might be a better fit.
At the interview will also meet people who have not that good qualities, and by coincidences of life, they appeared in positions that are way above their expertise. You can help them to realize it gently. However, for many, it might be too difficult to change. In this case, the minimum you can do is give honest feedback so they can think about it, and eventually one day, you will meet them again.
Be aware that many jobs are consisting of a spectrum of skills. Many jobs are complementary. They require a subset of skills needed for another one. One can master one skill and be worse at another. Probably any high-level manager could also be a project manager. That is why asking for such things as 3–5–7–10 years of “experience” in a given profession, previous background from a particular type of the industry, complaining about overqualifications, or similar, are clear signs of poor work from the recruiter. We can train a person for hard skills. For soft skills sometimes help honest feedback. Every position needs some retraining or learning. It can be due to legislation changes, internal standardization, and in Agile organizations, also managing the freedom. The biggest enemy in hiring is prejudice and thinking on behalf of the candidate.
The quantity of the interviews does not bring better talent to the organization, so it makes sense to work systematically and implement some innovative approaches with courage and an open mind.
These are a couple of thoughts on conducting an interview. I have seen many ill approaches in the recruitment. I am looking for ways, how to make it better, more effective, and impactful. I believe hiring and interviewing are too important to be outsourced to the HR department. Or even worst to an external agency. I am curious, what is your experience with recruitment, and how do you approach this task. Share your opinions in the discussion below.
About the author: Michal Vallo builds agile organizations and helps managers to understand agile techniques, benefit from its adoption and consequently radically improve organizational performance. He is agile trainer, coach, and manager at Aguarra, a founding member of Agilia community and organizer of Agilia Conference / Agile Management Congress. Feel free to contact him if you need help with your agile adoption.