Getting Hired As a Scrum Master

Getting Hired As A Scrum Master

I’m the Senior Scrum Master at a small 100-person startup in Silicon Valley.  The work and my teams rock, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  I’m also responsible for helping us hire new Scrum Masters.  After reviewing hundreds of resumes, talking to a multitude of candidates on the phone, and conducting a number of on-site interviews, I wanted to give you my top ten tips for getting hired as a Scrum Master.

One caveat though. These tips and insights are my own and not that of my company.  I provide them in the spirit of sharing and to help you in your job search.

  1. Know a good job posting. Not all Scrum Master positions are created equally.  Many companies might say they’re looking for a Scrum Master, but if you read the job posting closely, they’re really looking for something else, often a project manager.  For example, is the posting asking you to author requirements?  Do they want you to create detailed project plans?  I cannot provide an exhaustive list here, but I would encourage you to read job postings thoroughly and pass over those that aren’t for you.
  2. Reach out. Do you see a job posting that piques your interest?  Can you find one of their Scrum Masters on LinkedIn?  If so, ask them about the company and the position.  If you can foster a connection, they may put in a word for you with the hiring manager.  I look more closely at candidates who take charge of their job search.
  3. Scrum certifications are only a start. Scrum courses make you informed, but they don’t make you useful.  When I look at resumes, I’m not looking at certifications.  I look for experience, and I pass on those with no experience, regardless of certifications.  Gain that experience by applying Scrum where you work by standing up its first scrum team, for example.  You’ll quickly see something I often tell teams:

Scrum is easy.  People are hard.

  1. Dual roles are confusing. I’ve seen many resumes that describe their position as “Project Manager/Scrum Master” or something similar.  Those two jobs are very different jobs so which are you?  Make it clear on the resume.  Don’t make me work for it.
  2. Know your audience. My 20+ years of experience is summed up on a single page.  That’s the entirety of my resume, and much of it is white space to make it comfortable to read.  I want to give hiring managers enough detail to be informed but also curious for more.  As a Scrum Master, you should know your audience, and your resume is your first opportunity to convey that. Use brevity as a tool to capture attention.
  3. Make it a conversation, not an interview. The best interviews are those that feel like I’m catching up with old friend, and I need your help to create that environment.  Let’s organically change topics.  Ask questions if the opportunity arises. Tell me stories about your experiences, about what worked and what didn’t.  Quoting the Scrum Guide isn’t very interesting to me.  Anyone can learn the Scrum framework; it’s simple.  Affecting positive change and creating a learning environment though?  That’s hard.  That’s what I want to hear about.
  4. Ask your interviewers for tips. I remember one candidate who asked me for tips before we began a segment of his interview.  What a great way to get help!  I try to set all our candidates up for success so probe me for advice, and I’ll give it freely.
  5. Be hungry for knowledge. A Scrum Master who isn’t learning and evolving should find a new line of work.  If I ask who inspires you, I hope several names come to mind.  I’m sure I’ll have something to learn from you so come prepared to teach me something new.
  6. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Wise words from Albert Einstein, and they apply when answering questions.  Pay attention to what was asked and then answer it with depth, with simplicity, and succinctly.  If my question is unclear though, ask me for more detail or context.
  7. Be courageous. Some things can’t be taught, and one of those things is courage.  It’s an attribute that I believe every Scrum Master should possess.  If you come on site, and we show you around, talk to us about the things you see that you’d do differently.  We might have a good reason for what we do, but then again, we might not, and if you can see something we hadn’t considered, you’re hired.

That’s all for now, folks.  Thanks for stopping by.  If you have your own tips for getting hired as a Scrum Master, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

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26 thoughts on “Getting Hired As A Scrum Master”

  1. Rachelle R Rowland

    Tanner – I love your blog and look forward to your insights. I would love to add this piece: “Scrum is easy… People are hard” When interviewing a potential Scrum Master, I know immediately that they understand when they lead their story with the people. Everyone can tackle complex projects, but tell me about the people. Tell me about how Scrum has changed your life, not your project. Tell me about the creativity, inspiration, and transformation that comes from a great team. If the energy, enthusiasm and authenticity comes from the heart and not just the head — you want to see that they approach the job from putting relationships before results.

    1. Great advice. The first word in the Agile Manifesto is “individuals,” and I don’t think that was an accident. Talk to me about people, not tools and not products. People are what matter most.

  2. Great thoughts….Keep writing….

    The only thing got me surprised is when you said you are a Sr. Scrum Master?

    What is that ? I think you know what I am asking …….

    1. lol 20 cool points for pointing that out, Prashant! I was on the fence about how to refer to myself since I had Jeff’s Sutherland’s advice in mind:

      “Throw away your business cards. Titles are specialized status markers. Be known for what you do, not how you’re referred to.”

  3. Great article Tanner. I think this is useful for anyone looking for a job, not just Scrumasters. Taking the initiative and reaching out to potential employees via LinkedIn shows initiative, which is a quality desired in any potential employee. Anyone can get a certification but not everyone can be courageous and take the initiative. These are qualities that all employers want.

    1. I realized as I was writing that some of these tips could apply to more than just scrum masters. Thanks for the kind words and thanks for stopping by, Ed.

  4. Hey Tanner,

    Glad I came across this write up and must compliment you for putting it in simple yet strong words on what it means to be a Scrum Master. I am currently in the process of taking up a new assignment for a start up as a full time Scrum Master and you have validated everything I experienced during the hiring process.

    Great blog and keep sharing more of your knowledge (Advice is not a great word in my dictionary), would love to learn from your experience. If possible could you put up a blog that talks about some of the difficult situations you faced with respect to handling people.

  5. I agree with your thoughts on “Scrum Master / Project Manager” but that’s exactly what I am right now. I work as a Scrum Master, but, from a corporate/HR perspective, my title is IT Project Manager (since a very small part of my company is Agile).

    Is it disingenuous for me to state my position as Scrum Master on my resume? If someone called my company to verify job history, they would get a different title from HR… Interested to hear your thoughts on that.

    1. Excellent question. Over the years, my family has asked me what I do for a living. Many times, it wouldn’t help the conversation to explain what Scrum or what Agile was. In those cases, instead of telling them I was a Scrum Master, I’d tell them I was a Project Manager. Did that make me disingenuous? I don’t think so. I was simply talking to them in terms that I thought best helped the conversation. I think the same applies here.

      It goes without saying though that we all should be honest on our resumes, but I see no harm and I take no offense when someone uses something other than their officially sanctioned title on a resume.

  6. Hi Tanner

    I enjoyed this article. I am in the process of searching for a Scrum Master position with a different company after 10 years of service. I feel that the job market has changed drastically in the last ten years since I did this. I do have one question about a specific portion of your article, “Can you give me some advice?”. I hear what you said but as I play it over and over in my head I fell completely the opposite of your opinion. I feel and interviewee that asks for advice does not have a plan nor the self-confidence, which are key in my list of great Scrum Master attributes. Can you maybe elaborate as to your view in this matter?

    Thanks for a great article,


    1. It took me some time to realize something as a Scrum Master … many team members aren’t very good at asking for help. Sometimes they might not realize they’re in over their head. Other times they might not know the answer already exists within the team. I’ve found that the most productive team members are those that know when to ask for help and when to find the answer on their own.

      Much the same applies here, and I think by asking for advice, you’re willing to admit you don’t have all the answers, which is a trait every good Scrum Master should possess. You could argue that philosophy might be at odds with self-confidence, but I disagree. Take “servant leadership.” The philosophy is oxymoronic, but it rings true. Here’s another from “Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marine Corps” by David Freedman:

      “Cultivate opposing traits. Success often requires combining seemingly contradictory approaches.”

      Also, it’s worth noting there’s a good approach and a bad one. Good:

      “Do you have any insider tips you’re willing to provide?”


      “I’m about to do what? What can you tell me so I do well?”

  7. This is a fantastic post. A Scrum Master is as much a teacher/coach as he is a student. Let’s keep learning and sharing.

  8. I am searching job these days .. and what I find most of the companies are looking for a scrum master who can play Technical Project manager along with scrum master .. So still they are looking for project manager cum scrum master role. Its really difficult to find companies with pure scrum master role .. So In real world it looks like one need to be technically sound for getting this role.

    1. True. Tthe role of Scrum Master is often misunderstood. I can remember how frustrated I was as I looked from job description to job description despondent that so few organizations understood what agility was, but they thought otherwise. I also can’t name how often I hear “in the real world” as justification for the status quo or as a means to dismiss things like continuous delivery, for example.

      In *my* real world, I’m a full-time Scrum Master for an organization that deploys to production on average five times a day across five agile teams. My conversations aren’t around the typical “Does agile thing actually work?” but revolve around “This stuff works. Where do we grow next?” It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there, but it was worth it.

      Don’t lose hope, Vijaya. The companies are out there, but they can be hard to find.

  9. Well defined suggestions for aspiring Scrum Masters.

    Here are my two cenrs in addition:

    Part of Scrum Master skill profile is playing the facilitator and coach role. While the technical aspects can be learnt through books, trainings, and videos, the above aspect will require some hands on.

    My advice is to strongly understand the Scrum technical foundation by opting for the excellent certificate PSM 1. Use the popular book for PSM ‘Scrum Narrative and PSM Exam Guide.’

    On the softer aspect, apply Scrum in whatever you do today (Scrum is not just for software dev alone. It is a framework to solve complex problems). This will provide some basic experience.
    With that you are reasonably set for next opportunity.

  10. Great article and I love all of the advice. I’m currently finishing up a 6-month course in Agile Methodology from Villanova and will be following up with a Scrum Master certification. Most, if not all, of the job postings I run across seemingly require a minimum of 2 years experience and I am finding it extremely difficult to get my foot in the door. Any advice?

    1. Thanks, Pattie. I appreciate the kind words. A word of caution though, and I’ll quote Albert Einstein to help me:

      “Experience is knowledge. All the rest is information.”

      It’s awesome that you’re learning about agility, but how are you applying what you learned? That experience is the part that should matter most, and if someone hires you based solely on certifications, that would be cause for concern. To that end, I’d imagine your answer lies somewhere in these questions:

      * Instead of earning a Scrum Master certification, is there somewhere you can apply the theory of what you’ve already learned?
      * If you haven’t done the work of Scrum Master, how do you know this is the right role for you?
      * Apply the law of two feet. Are you working somewhere now that you can apply your learnings in a way that later allows you to tell a potential employer stories about your thought process and capabilities?
      * What networking have you done to date? Are there meetup groups that you can join or contribute to in order to gain some connections or maybe a mentor?

  11. Hey Tanner, solid post, appreciate your first hand insight. Have to say though, number 3 and your reply to Pattie in the comments seem a bit thin. Many people work for mid to larger sized corporations where they can’t just decide to turn their jobs or departments process and methodologies into something Agile related

    So I’m with Pattie on this one. I see most of the jobs requiring many years of experience as an Agile Scrum Master, and that makes perfect sense, I understand that requirement. The answer however can’t just be to morph your current work role into some sort of Agile related Scrum Master. I’d have a hard time believing that’s how every SM got their experience.

    Now I initially assumed all SMs were former devs or QAs since they would have first hand experience within an Agile Project. However, my development friends told me none of their SMs knew how to code so that just confused me as to how they got the experience to jump into an SM role.

    There has to be some other answer or route besides somehow changing your current work situation. If you have some time to ponder this one a bit more and see If you have any other solutions I would greatly appreciate it! Would literally be life changing advice for me and probably others. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Jay. So my own background was as a dev turn project manager turn agilist. I’ve run into many other PMs who did the same; some with technical background but not all. And I’ll try answering the question with a bit more depth in a few ways:

      * First, some details on my own start. I was a PM with a background as a Marine where I saw agility in practice without knowing the theory. (I’ve written about this previous so I won’t go into that here.) . My boss knew I had an interest and affinity for agility, and I had been going out of my way to read and learn more. He offered to send me to a CSM course, and I took him up on it. When I got back, we then did something that we called Scrum, but in retrospect, it wasn’t. From there, it was a slow morphing of roles from one company to another and to another. Even now, I’m not entirely away from the traditional domain. Hell! My title now is Technical Program Manager, but anyone who sees my work know it’s agile coaching.
      * You mention Pattie’s response so have a read again. It’s not just about morphing from one day being one thing and some days/months later being something else. I mention networking, meetup groups, conferences as a means of strengthening a network and growing a skill set. It’s a lot of work and sometimes money, but isn’t that true for anything worth having?
      * Creativity is a hallmark of a solid coach. I like Lyssa Adkins circles and soup for this example. Check it out. In my current role, I don’t like quarterly OKRs. Why? Because it’s funny how quarterly OKRs always take a quarter. 😉 And why not check back more frequently? Why not account for the changing landscape and accepting the unknown between where you are and where you want to be in 5 steps? However, I can’t change the whole culture to use something different. What I can do is model something different myself because I control that decision and could use my success to later change minds. Specifically, I’m experimenting with Toyota Kata as a replacement for OKRs for my own initiatives. So what do you control? What do you influence? How can you creatively–and incrementally–work your way toward agile coaching or Scrum Mastery? I bet the answer is nearby, and I bet it’s also somewhere not obvious.
      * Experience is only as valuable as the stories it creates. As a hiring manager, I’m listening for potential. Experience creates stories. Stories explain potential. But one does not need to be in an agile shop to behave in an agile way or to create such stories.
      * Assumed knowledge is a dangerous thing. Remember the pain involved with launching your career and finding that first job? It was no easy task. Everyone wanted experience, and you had to start on the bottom. Pay sucked. You made more mistakes as you learned than you would like. Of course, we’ve forgotten much of this because it’s miles behind us. This is no different because isn’t this a change in career and in many ways in a new beginning? There are ways to ease into it, but even those take work, time, struggles, hardship, and some occasional luck. Why should this be any different?

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