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Hiring for Agile Mindset


Hiring for Agile Mindset

When I first got promoted to technical leader and started hiring, I loved asking “tough” questions. One of my favourites was “What are your 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses”. Most of the candidates would struggle. They couldn’t give 3 answers and would perform poorly. I thought I did the smart thing and revealed the true character of the interviewees until one time I got an answer “My weakness is that I am afraid of coldness”. 

That’s the moment when I knew I screwed up. Not only had I asked a pointless question, but I also had encouraged people to give “fake” scripted answers. These questions especially filter out the more technical people and keep the people that can only do the talking and not much of the doing. This was the first question I learned to avoid.

Another question I loved to ask was “Tell me what you do in this scenario”. This question seems common enough and quite useful. It allows us to see how developers would react in a tough situation. The issue is that this is a virtual situation that does not really relate to real-life situations. It does not dig deeper into the usual role and responsibilities of the individual. People can just tell the story of someone else. Most would not give the real answer at work, such as “I would google it”. Again, this question seems great at first sight, but I learned to stop asking it.

The last ones are the famous Google IQ questions like “Estimate the number of tennis balls that can fit into a plane”. This seems really great because Google uses it. It appears to allow us to gauge the IQ and creativity of an individual, but the issue is that how high the candidate’s IQ is or how smart the interviewee has little to do with job performance. In fact, Google has conducted internal research and has since stopped using these kinds of questions. Quite often we are not looking for the smartest person, but we are looking for the person that has the skill and experience, as well as the company and culture fit.

So, if we were to hire talent for our Scrum Team, what questions should we ask?

“What have you learned in last 6 months” Good developers or engineers would continue to learn about the latest technology. With this question, we are interested in knowing whether the interviewee has a growth mindset. We are interested in knowing whether the individual takes time to learn either about work aspects or personal aspects, be it a new language or a new skill set. Individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to take on challenges and learn from them, therefore increasing their abilities and achievement.

“Tell me a time you failed and what did you learn?” This one is related to the agile mindset and learning as well. We are interested in knowing how the individual reacts to failures and learns from mistakes. Mistakes and failure are part of the life of engineers; the more interesting bit is how we deal with them. With this question, we are also probing into the integrity and courage of the engineer. 

We can ask open-ended questions like “Tell us your Ideal working style”. We want to see what the ideal working style of the individual is so we can have a better idea whether they’re a good culture fit for the team. Are they more outspoken? Do they care about clear roles and responsibilities? Do they care about work-life balance? Can they deal with uncertainties? 

With this idea in mind, we can also provide feedback so the interviewee can set realistic expectations. We can follow up and ask the individual about a conflict and how they handle it. Again, we’re probing into the real-life experienced of the individual and checking their working style. 

“Have you got the skills, expertise and experience to perform the job” This seems like a common question that every manager would ask, but here we can drill into more details. We should dig into the actual work done by the individual. We can ask developers to show us their work, tell us how they build for mobile and about web, AI, API or technical components. We can ask them to work out each step.

Most importantly, we should ask them what they do as an individual to help the team. For development, we are asking technical questions related to development, object-oriented design, design patterns, code review, DevOps, different types of testing, security, scaling, and Agile. We can ask the interviewee for real-life experience, and at the same time, we can evaluate their presentation and communication skills. 

Last but not least, we follow up with a real programming test, either at the venue or in an offline environment through online tools so that developers can be in the most comfortable environment and can think properly. It is more relevant than ever for Development Team hiring, as we need the team to be self-organizing and cross-functional to perform well. One member without the required skills can bring the whole team down.

Lorenz Cheung