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Episode 11:

How do I get hired as a ScrumMaster if I’ve never been one before?

Susan wants to get a new job as a Scrum Master. The problem? She’s never been a Scrum Master before and it seems that employers are only hiring people with experience. She has become a Certified Scrum Master, but that alone isn’t doing the trick.

In this episode, we’ll explore how she can improve her Scrum skills and look more interesting to prospective employers.

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Adam: Welcome to Agile Answers. I’m Adam Weisbart, your Certified Scrum Trainer and agile coach. Each week, I get your questions about Scrum and agility, and I answer them, here on Agile Answers.

Well, here in the States, we are coming back from Thanksgiving break. Last week was Thanksgiving, where we sit down with our friends and family, get a big turkey, or if we’re vegetarian, I guess, we have a faux turkey, and we talk about the things that we are thankful for from the last year. Well, I always love this little bit of reflection, because heck, it’s like a little retrospective that you do with your Scrum team, but instead, you’re doing it with friends and family, talking about things that you are thankful and grateful for. So I love this time of year, and I’m thankful for all of you listening to this podcast, and all of you agilists out there trying to change the world of work and succeeding with stuff like Scrum and agility. So it’s great to have you here on the podcast.

Today’s question comes from Susan. And Susan’s question is how to break into this whole Scrum game. If in the past, you weren’t doing Scrum and you want to get started. You went to, maybe, a Certified Scrum Master course, how do you get your start? You don’t have your previous experience. Well, let’s listen to her question and see if we can help her out a bit.

Susan: Hi, Adam. Susan here. I got certified as a Scrum Master back in April. The challenge I keep running into in getting employed is the job listings all ask for a minimum of one to two years of Scrum experience. It’s the old “How do I get experience if no one will give me the opportunity” question. I’m open to any thoughts or insights you have. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Adam: Susan, your dilemma is a common one. Heck, I was in this position way back when, when I took on my first Scrum team as a Scrum Master. And I have a lot of people in my course that were in this position, and this question comes up really quite often. I think the most important thing that you can do here to help become a Scrum Master for a new team or a team that you are joining without any previous Scrum experience is to be really, really passionate about the Scrum thing.

It’s pretty easy to become a certified Scrum Master. You go to a two-day course, and at the end of it, you get some letters to put at the end of your name, which is useful for your LinkedIn profile, and it’s useful because you get a bit of knowledge about the Scrum framework and about facilitation and that sort of thing. But it’s really just the start of this whole agile journey. And without becoming more passionate about these things, the letters don’t mean much.

They’re a great start. It’s where I got my start. But the reason I got so into it is I was so excited to see that there was a framework that was put together by people who are smarter than me, that took all this common sense that I had discovered through my years of being a software developer and running my own web development shop for 10 or 11 years, and then as an engineering manager at a social networking company in Silicon Valley. When I came across the Scrum framework, I was just super excited that all these things that I’ve learned by accident or through trial and error had been codified into this great thing called Scrum.

So I started learning everything I could about it. One of the first things I did was take the Certified Scrum Master course. So it’s great that you’ve done that. But as I said, if you stop there, it’s probably going to be hard to break into being a Scrum Master if you are looking for that position. So what I would start doing is reading all the things that really interest me. I would attend conferences. I would go to meetups. I would do all of that stuff that is not just along the lines of certification. If I was really into coaching, for example, I’d read Lyssa Adkins’ book, Coaching for Agile Teams. If I was really passionate about retrospectives, I’d pick up Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. I would get some of the things that I just felt drawn to and I’d learn more about them. And I’d get really involved in the agile community. You can do that through the Agile Alliance, or you can do it through the Scrum Alliance, if Scrum is more your thing, which from your question, it sounds like it is. So that’s the first thing I would do.

The second thing I would do is when I’m re-writing my resume, I would certainly highlight the fact that I’m a Certified Scrum Master, but I would talk about my previous experience at whatever I did before, in a way that framed it along the lines of how a Scrum Master, if that’s the job you would like, of course, would use that knowledge. So let me give you some examples.

I think it’s fantastic if an organization decides that they’re going to have a full time Scrum Master per team. After all, I think a good Scrum Master can Scrum master up to three teams, and a great Scrum Master Scrum masters one. The reason for this is if you’re Scrum mastering up to three teams, you’re really just doing the secretarial work – the scheduling meetings, the enforcing time boxes, and maybe a little bit of coaching around the Scrum framework. But to really help your team become high-performing, I think it’s essential that you have enough time, and for me, that means being a Scrum Master for a single team.

Now, most organizations don’t actually put the budget aside for this, and so what they’re looking for, generally, in most cases, not all, of course, but in most cases, is somebody who can be the Scrum Master for the team and do something else as well. From a Scrum perspective, I don’t think this is ideal. But from your perspective of breaking into being a Scrum Master, I think it’s pretty fantastic. So I would focus on the things I did at my previous jobs.

So let’s say before, I was a tester. You could talk about all the things you can do as a tester on your Scrum development team that a tester would do, how you could help teach the rest of the team how to become good testers, because testing is a whole-team process, as I’ve mentioned in a previous podcast. And you can also talk about all the stuff you’re very passionate about in the Scrum framework. For example, agile coaching, facilitation, retrospectives. All the stuff you’re learning about outside of your Certified Scrum Master course.

So the person looking at your resume gets to figure out two things. Number one, they’re getting an awesome tester. Number two, that tester is super passionate about being a Scrum Master. They get a two for one deal. Again, from a Scrum perspective, I don’t think it’s totally ideal, because I would love for you to be a full time Scrum Master. But from the perspective of breaking into Scrum, I think it’s amazingly useful, because not only do they get a Scrum Master, they also get a tester.

So I would frame the work that I do in my resume along those lines. Then, when I went in for an interview, I wouldn’t just talk about my previous experience as a tester, for example. What I’d focus on is all the important stuff of being a facilitator, of being a Scrum Master, of removing impediments, those sorts of things, all the knowledge you’ve learned from outside your Certified Scrum Master course. Now the course stuff that you learned in the Certified Scrum Master course will be amazingly useful as well.

But if I was looking at two people who were applying for a job, and one of them was super passionate about Scrum, about the framework, about facilitation, about all these ancillary practices that helps support Scrum in an amazing way, I would pick that person over someone who just went to a two-day workshop. To me, the two-day workshop is a great place to start. Again, it’s where I got my start. I think it’s a very useful thing to have the CSM at the end of your name, especially when applying for jobs. But what I’d really look for is somebody who is really, really passionate about Scrum and agility and helping their teams improve, and helping their organizations improve. In fact, I would pick that person, someone I could tell who is really passionate about this over somebody that was less passionate, but had been a Scrum Master for a long time.

Susan, I hope that helps you. To review, so we’re on the same page here, the first thing I’d do is get more experience than just your Certified Scrum Master course, and that experience can be going to conferences, going to meetups, reading books, contributing online in message boards on LinkedIn or otherwise, getting really immersed in the agile culture. That’s the first thing I’d do.

The next thing I would do is rework my resume to point out my awesome facilitation techniques, maybe new stuff I’d picked up from my experience in agile, and the stuff that I’d done previously, whatever my job was before. If I was a tester, I would talk about how I can help with agile testing on a Scrum team. If my job previously was being a project manager, I could talk about how my experience with that could be nicely transitioned to Scrum. I would play out my previous experience with my newfound passion for Scrum or agility and point that out in the resume.

And if you’re not quite sure what behaviors and actions you were doing previously in your last job, a non-agile job, that would help you in your new job as a Scrum Master, you can Google Pete Deemer, that’s Pete Deemer, and The Role of an Agile Manager. Pete Deemer has a great paper, it’s maybe 15 pages or so, that is an exercise you can do with managers, of heck, just with yourself, to help highlight what activities you do and which of those would be useful to an agile initiative and which ones might be damaging. Now if you weren’t in a management position before, not all of these will apply to you, but they will help you narrow down the important stuff that you can contribute to your Scrum team, going from your traditional role to a role of a Scrum Master plus whatever your other speciality was before, like tester or project manager, or developer.

Thanks for tuning in. And if you would like to submit a question to the podcast, go to GetAgileAnswers.com, that’s GetAgileAnswers.com. And right there on the home page, you can submit a question using the little audio widget. If you get your question selected for the show, you’ll also get a pack of my Agile Antipattern Cards. Last but not least, you can get the show notes for this episode with links to Pete Deemer’s paper that I mentioned, and a couple of books I mentioned as well there on the home page, at GetAgileAnswers.com.

Until next time, stay agile. Never change.

Past Episodes

Episode 22:

How do we make sure we have cross-functional teams and why does it matter?

Episode 21:

What agile practices can you recommend to our game development studio?

Episode 20:

How do we remove silos when doing government contract work using Scrum?

Episode 19:

How should we form new Scrum teams?