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How to crack a Scrum Master interview?

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

How to crack a Scrum Master interview?

I’m asking for a friend…

I’ve been asked the following by a friend:

I am writing to you to ask for a few feedback on Scrum Master roles and responsibility and a few interview hacks.

I am a Scrum Master for several years now and I fancy changing company. During interviews I faced, I wasn’t selected because they thought my practical experience on Scrum was not enough. They sought for more theoretical knowledge.

Please help me crack Scrum Master interviews!

Dear friend… I’ll do my best!

What I look for in a candidate during a Scrum Master interview

Here’s what I am looking for when I interview a Scrum Master:

  • Mindset, especially for junior profiles
  • Agile culture, especially for less junior profiles
  • Real experience of tough situations, leading to challenge soft skills, character and attitude

Mindset

Obviously the mindset of the candidate is essential. If she has the good mindset, she’ll be able to learn everything else.

When you think about it, Agile is quite similar to common sense. Like “just do the stuff that matter and reduce useless work” or “provide estimates of effort by the one who will do it and thus who knows how to do it”. Out of their contexts, these sentences are just plain obvious.

If you’re interviewing a junior Scrum Master, mindset is definitely the number one thing to seek. Agile practices are important but as a junior Scrum Master she may not have learned a lot of them yet, so it makes difficult to challenge her on the practices.

Do: Focus on why you suggested something in your previous experiences. Explain why it didn’t worked at first, and explain why the final solution improved the situation. Also explain what did you learn in the process.

Do: Genuinely admit when you don’t know before trying to do your best to answer, and show that you’re eager to learn. Live by the pillars of Scrum: transparency, inspection, adaptation. Don’t try to fool your recruiter with your knowledge.

Do: If you can spare the time, do a weblog, take part to local Agile groups, or share thoughts on social networks. It is an awesome way for recruiters to gauge your mindset. In addition what they’ll see there is what you decide for them to see.

Agile culture

Agile culture is expected from a seasoned Scrum Master.

She should be constantly looking for new ideas, concepts, practices and tools from the Agile community.

Her toolbox grows over time, but as she uses these tools she becomes more and more proficient with them.

Gauging the number of tools that a Scrum Master has in her toolbox is a good indirect indicator of experience: facilitating more workshops lead to learning more tools.

Do: Master the classics. For instance you should know what is Planning Poker and be able to explain it: what are the rules, how to facilitate it, why does it work.

Don’t: Don’t run always the same workshops. Try switching to another Retrospective format from time to time, if not at each Retrospective. Grow your toolbox but also learn why different workshops lead to different results. It is not just about knowing a lot of tools; it is also about knowing which tool will do the job best given the situation at hand.

Do: Spend a lot of time on learning new things and keeping up to date. This doesn’t have to be done on your personal time; it can and should be part of your regular job.

Experience

Finally, unsurprisingly, we’ll be looking for actual experience as a Scrum Master. In particular we’ll be looking for tough situations which show how the Scrum Master reacts in the heat of the battle.

Some companies or recruiters role-play tricky situations during the interview. It can be incredibly stressful for the candidate. For the recruiter it is one of the best ways to gauge a candidate.

Do: Be proud of what you’ve done. Make sure that you turn-around each and every one of the jobs and missions on your resume so that the outcome is positive. Even during the worst job, you’ve learned something. After all, you might not be there today if things went differently. It is about channeling your own positive thinking.

Do: Talk during the interview about the toughest challenge you encountered as a Scrum Master. Even if it was a failure, tell them how much you’ve learned and what you would do differently now.

Do: Be ready to role-play seemingly unsolvable situations. Manage your stress.

Dogmatism

Please note that I’m not really expecting from a good Scrum Master to restrict himself to Scrum. At some point it makes sense to recognize that Scrum is not the best framework for a given team, or that the team matured enough to grow beyond the Scrum framework. For instance, I believe that every non-junior Scrum Master should master the basics of Kanban given how it is such a powerful and versatile tool.

Don’t: Don’t be dogmatic. Scrum is not the best solution for every situation. Focus on why Scrum works and see how this can be implemented in the team’s and company’s contexts. So it’s really nice if you know perfectly well the Scrum framework, but rest assured that it won’t be enough to be hired.

Certifications

I must also note that I don’t really care about certifications. It’s great if the candidate is certified and that we plan to sell her services to a company that cares about certifications, but that’s about it. It’s not a guarantee that she is a worthy Scrum Master, and there is also so many awesome Scrum Masters out there who are not certified.

Don’t: Don’t brag about your certifications. State them once if necessary, and that’s all. Anyway, they are clearly indicated in your resume and LinkedIn profile, right? So if that come handy, we’ll have it somewhere in the back of the brain. But if you bring forward your certifications too much, it might be seen as a sign that you’re empty as a Scrum Master. It’s about you and your experience, not much about your certifications.

The company’s expectations… And yours

What kind of Scrum Master is the company expecting? There are many ways to embody the role, and some of them are actually plain wrong like Scrum Master/Project Manager or Scrum Master/Tech Lead.

Learn to read between the lines and detect when the company is not looking for a real Scrum Master. Then maybe just avoid the company. If you’ve passed interviews for such companies, then you’re not really failing the interview, you are just too good for them!

Certifications (again)

If the company requires certifications before accepting to interview you, then maybe their mindset is not worthy of your stay. I know that such filters make it much easier for hiring managers to do their screening job, but then what does it says about the company?

What advices would you give to my friend?

Hit the comments and let’s share!

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