Scrum Masters – Why I Didn’t Hire You

Topic 1: The Cover Letter

As a hiring manager actively looking for Scrum Masters, I’ve read a lot of resumes and have said “No” to the majority of them. Are you guilty of committing any of the Scrum Master resume mistakes that I see all the time? In this series of blogs I’ll discuss my personal Do’s and Don’ts list, as well as address questions I’ve received from the Scrum Day MN 2017 audience that attended my talk on this subject. I’d love to hear from you and continue the conversation in the comments section below.

Let's talk Cover Letters

From my perspective, the best investment of time and energy you can make in the job application process is in writing a good cover letter.  I understand that cover letters go in and out of fashion, and you may see some conflicting generic advice on the internet.

Here’s why I think cover letters are critical for those seeking a Scrum Master position:

1.     Most applicants for my Scrum Master jobs do not already have an explicitly titled “Scrum Master” job on their resume. They may have been effectively working as a Scrum Master, but with a different title, or they might be looking for their first Scrum Master position. In either case, a cover letter provides an avenue for you to elaborate on how your previous experience translates into readiness for my open position.

2.     Effective Scrum Masters are great communicators. A cover letter gives me a taste of your communication skills. How good are you at framing your experience up for me? Are you persuasive, yet succinct?

3.     Ultimately, I’m looking for a qualified person who I also believe will be a fit for my organization. A cover letter gives me a glimpse into your personality. Are you very formal or more informal? Are you high energy? Are you creative? Do you have a sense of fun?

A great cover letter I received recently began “Hello Hiring Manager”, and ended with “Hope to hear from you soon!” The letter itself was typical in that it provided a bit of detail about previous experience and included a statement about what the author was looking for in her next role. But that simple opening and closing really caught my attention. The candidate came across as friendly and engaging, and I found I was eager to speak with her about the position (I did hire her, incidentally).

4.     There’s no need to worry about negative points for submitting a cover letter when one isn’t “required.” If the hiring manager isn’t interested in cover letters, she or he simply won’t read it.

Bottom line, a cover letter gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you understand what a Scrum Master is accountable for, and your desire to perform that role, even if your resume (given the nature of resumes) doesn’t make that explicit. Therefore, always write a cover letter!

There is, however, one very big DON’T:

DON’T use a generic “Project Management” cover letter and submit it for a Scrum Master job!

I actually see this all the time:

“To Whom It May Concern,
I am very interested in the Project Manager position at Thomson Reuters…”

The problem is, I don’t have an open Project Management position.  If your response to that is “Scrum Master/ Project Manager, what’s the difference?” then I believe we’re both better off if I do not interview you for the position.

When I delivered this talk (Scrum Masters: Why I Did Not Hire You) at Scrum Day MN 2017 the audience submitted a lot of great questions. Here are a few that I think are related to the topic of cover letters:

·       What skills would you look for in a potential Scrum Master who has agile experience, but has not acted as a Scrum Master before?

·       So many companies have a different job description for Scrum Master. What are the key things to have/show [when trying to find a real Scrum Master job/fit]?

These two scenarios demonstrate why a good cover letter is critical.

In the first case, where you do not have specific Scrum Master experience, the resume won’t tell me what I need to know about your understanding of the role. Previous agile experience as a Developer or Product Owner is a huge advantage from my perspective, so definitely elaborate on how that experience informs your approach to facilitating continuous learning and improvement. The “skills” I’m looking for in a more entry-level position include a focus on people and teamwork, passion for improvement, a desire to learn continuously, and a sincere desire to do the job (which often translates to a sense of “passion” or “energy” that is apparent when we have a conversation about why you want the job).

 In the second case, you can use the cover letter to state what you are looking for in a Scrum Master role. In fact, I strongly recommend that you do exactly that! An example might look something like this:

“I’m passionate about helping product development teams improve. I’m looking for a true Scrum Master position, with accountabilities in alignment with the Scrum Guide. If you hire me, you can expect that I’ll be making the most of my opportunities to coach the team, the stakeholders, and the greater organization in effective product-focused development using Scrum.”

·       As a new Certified Scrum Master®, how do you get your resume to rise to the top when others have more experience?

·       What are you looking for in a Scrum Master that makes it so you can’t NOT hire them?

Funny thing – as I was writing that italicized blurb just above, I thought to myself, “geez, if I ever actually read that in a cover letter, I would want to talk to that person right away!”

There’s experience, and then there’s this thing that I call “Getting It”. I think it’s possible to have “experience” and still not quite “get it”. And it’s possible to really “get it” without much Scrum Master “experience”.  So again, it boils down to the cover letter. Write something that makes me believe that you might “get it”, and I’ll want to talk to you!

About our Guest Blogger:  Maclore Christensen is an Agile Delivery Manager with Thomson Reuters in Eagan, MN. Maclore leads the implementation of agile for the Risk Technology group and manages teams of ScrumMasters and Agile coaches in the USA, Canada and the UK.