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What Does it Take to be a Scrum Master and Land that First Interview?

March 9, 2023

There is a lot of information out there about how to prepare for a Scrum Master interview. But, how do you land that interview? What are the qualities, mindset and personality traits needed to be a Scrum Master? In this episode of the Community podcast, career transition expert and former agile coach, Nada Buhendi joins host Dave West to discuss these questions to give some guidance on this stepping stone to getting a position as a Scrum Master. They dive into the importance of good storytelling, knowing what you want and more! Learn more about NadaThe Career Transition podcast and connect with her.




Lindsay Velecina: 0:03

Welcome to the Community Podcast, a podcast from the Home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature professional scrum trainers and other scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West: 0:20

Hello, and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West CEO And today I'm super excited because we're talking about a topic that many people email me about or LinkedIn me about, which is about career transitions and landing that perfect scrum master product owner job. So I'm fortunate enough to be with Nada Buhendi from the wet and rainy Toronto, Canada at the moment. But obviously, Toronto's usually sunny and lovely, and she's a career. I'm just going to talk about you for a minute, sorry. Now, a career transition expert. But the reason why we're talking is she was a an Agile coach. So this world this, this Agile world is definitely something she knows a lot about. So welcome to the podcast series Nada.

Nada Buhendi: 1:18

Thank you Dave. I'm so happy to be here.

Dave West: 1:21

It's great to have you. And so the the sort of premise that we talked about earlier is that we're going to talk about really, what does it take to be a scrum master and land that first interview. And obviously, you had some experience you acted in that role, you left that role. And now you're in helping others get into positions like that. So I guess the place we really begin is where do you start? You know, I imagine that I'm sitting, maybe I'm, I'm working in technology, maybe I'm not. And I'm thinking that scrum master, that sounds awesome. I love helping people I love enabling better processes I know of getting work done and flow of value done better. How do I Where do I start?

Nada Buhendi: 2:14

Yeah, that's a very common question that I personally get and how I can answer this is truly by bringing in my own personal journey, in terms of how I personally got my foot into the door. And it happened, you know, throughout my career, where I was introduced to agility in some shape or form, but I never really had the official title, a scrum master or Agile coach. I worked on, you know, large technology projects with many consulting companies like Deloitte and Accenture. And I was always mesmerized by what, you know, a full time scrum master or full time Agile coach does. So I went into a rabbit hole of learning about it, you know, getting my PSM going for my PSM two training, surrounding myself with those people to see how I can break in. And it felt like I had to dedicate my entire career to get to that point. And then when I did finally achieve it as an Agile transformation coach, I ended up quitting over text.

Dave West: 3:28

Okay, by the way, for our listeners, who it's not a recommended approach, just for the record, the does not support that approach is much better to do it impersonal, or write a very long letter in and send it by a carrier pigeon, but Okay, so you quit by text. I get that, which is a little unusual. But then what about what did that teach you? What did this journey teach you?

Nada Buhendi: 3:54

Yes, what it taught me is the importance of not just following the trend. And I think a lot of it for me was oh my god, you know, being an Agile coach or a scrum master is very cool. And what I quickly realized about myself, and this is something that I help a lot of clients figure out, they call it an identity crisis. Should I be a product manager? Should I be a product owner? Should I be a scrum master? And what I realized about myself is what I cared about the most sure I did care about the people I did care about the teams, but where my interests and my zone of genius were focused, were around the product as well as the customer. That was my biggest priority and because as an Agile Coach, your job is not to necessarily make decisions on behalf of people or have that position of power. You're behind the scenes behind the curtain sort of empowering people to come up with the best you know, approach. Ouch. And I would sit in these meetings and see everyone decide on what goes into the product. And the creative side of me was just bad getting frustrated. So I quickly realized that about myself that I have always had a passion for product. And that is when I started my own company building my own digital products, and still leveraging you know, my my agile knowledge. So I think the first thing I would recommend for people is to understand their career archetype. And this is something that I advocate a lot. Know who you are, first know what your tendencies are, do you enjoy the people and the process as in empowering teams and giving them the right process in order to achieve value for the organization? Or do you want to spend your time working, being customer facing and really, you know, building products that truly delight customers? Once you figure that it becomes easier, and the patterns that I see when it comes to Scrum Masters and agile coaches, they put the team first, first and foremost, it doesn't mean they don't care about creating value, but to them, the team is the priority. So that is number one. And then the number two is, which I find a lot in people who fit into the bucket of non tech roles, where they've acted as coaches and other professions and feel that what they have done completely translates, you know, to the software development world, and therefore they think they can just get the job easily is, you know, agile coaches and Scrum Masters are very different than professional coaches out there, we actually have to talk from experience, we are not pure 100% coaches, we also have to be mentors in a way. If you haven't been in the trenches with developers, if you haven't either been a developer yourself building software, or maybe a business analyst, you know, analyzing, you know, information gathering requirements, you know, from customers, being part of a team, where you're like sweating to push a release, you're just not going to relate, you're not going to be able to share stories, and mentor, you know, the teams that are struggling, ask them questions that are gonna help them figure out what they need to do next. So my, you know, the, the first thing I would say is figure out what you want. And then the second thing I would say is surround yourself with the roles within the team, and get that experience so that you can actually act as a mentor, and not just a coach who basically asked these powerful questions that miss the context in terms of tech.

Dave West: 7:52

That's, that's interesting. So credit, you know, we're asked quite a lot, can somebody non technical become a scrum master? And my natural reaction is yes, of course, they they can. However, they obviously, as you highlighted come at it from quite a different point of view, which can be incredibly valuable. And sometimes the credibility that they bring isn't necessarily there because of their lack of experience. So building that credibility can be important showing that value, demonstrating those things. So I honestly do believe that you don't have to have delivered software in the in the Scrum teams that are building software, or if you're a scrum team building genetic research, or whatever done that. But I do think that without that, you have to look to other skills to become incredibly valuable to both create that credibility, and also create that connection with the with the team. Does that make sense? Is that basically the the essence,

Nada Buhendi: 8:52

I would say that people get hung up on the word technical? And I think there's a lot of misconception around what technical means. And the first thing that people think of when they think of the word technical is I need to be a developer, and I need to know how to code. Well, let me tell you something, I was never really a developer. I couldn't code you know, to save my life. I dropped out of engineering school because I was a terrible coder. But I had a very analytical mind and a problem solving brain where I could have I could just have a conversation with a developer. And that's what you really need to do. And if you can't, if how you can test whether you're technical enough or not to be in a scrum team, is ask yourself, can I have a great conversation with a developer where we can explore options and where I can understand why you know, this approach is not feasible and be able to translate it to a for example customer or a stakeholder or help an executive understand why we can't deliver this sooner. And if the answer is no, then you're not technical enough. And I'm doing the air quotes here. So technical doesn't mean that you have to be a developer. But it just means that you need to have contextual knowledge you need to understand how software is built.

Dave West: 10:17

I think that that that's super interesting that I, but I also do think, though, and maybe we're going down a little rabbit hole, and I want to bring it back up to the topic. But before we we, we leave this, Warren, as it were to use the rabbit hole analogy, I would love just to. I do think, though, that there is a level of misunderstanding by development teams about the role around scrum master and the value that that can bring. And I think that sometimes they look to them to be those technical leaders, and I'm using technical in the broadest sense now, to have that intimate relationship with how the sausage is made, when ultimately, the the reality is that they need to be able to bring all the bits together to make the sausage, but and they need to have a holistic view of it. But they don't necessarily have to be experts in all of that. And I increasingly am seeing a transition in organizations as they realize what it means to be a leader and what it means to be a manager and what it means to be a servant leader, I see that changing quite a lot. And historically, it was always you did your job, you got promoted until you are a manager and a scrum master really is just a manager by a different name, you know, and that isn't the case. Do you just say a few words about that?

Nada Buhendi: 11:42

Yeah, it's honestly infuriating, when that happens back to you know, it's not black and wide. And there's no absolutes, right? When I say that you need to have, you know, some contextual knowledge and understand how software is built. The other thing that I want to say is, you definitely don't want to be an expert. In fact, I've seen you know, Scrum Masters who were at the top 1%. And what benefitted them is they were a little bit far off from the development that they were able to give developers the creativity in the space, I think, you know, I would invite people to really understand their zone of genius, and I love, you know, the Agile competency framework, for example, that, you know, Lisa Adkins contributed to understand where your zone of genius, maybe your zone of genius, and what differentiates you is you come from a technical mastery background good for you, that's awesome. You can go into the weeds with your developers, maybe you can even compliment the team in that way. Because they don't have that technical expertise. Wonderful. But maybe you have that business mastery. And I come from that background. Personally, I spent, you know, my, the beginnings of my year as a technology consultant, as a management consultant, you know, navigating, you know, difficult conversations, helping you know, business stakeholders who had no idea what they wanted, articulate what they want. And because I had that business mastery, and I initially played more of a business analyst role, that is the value that I brought in, that is a superpower. And then you have people who are jet eyes, when it comes to transformations, when it comes to change. They're able to reduce the fear that people have when they're trying to change their habits. And that is how they add value. So at the end of the day, I think it is also knowing what your zone of genius is, and doubling down on it. Rather than trying to force your path into a path that is not in alignment to you. For example, if you're a Jedi at Transformations, why would you go into a rabbit hole of you know, getting into development and, you know, learning about AWS, or all of that technical stuff. It's a waste in a way because you really should be capitalizing on what naturally comes to you, right? Not saying you shouldn't find gaps in your knowledge and improve it but don't overly focus on things that you know you're not gifted at.

Dave West: 14:13

Okay, so just to bring it back to talking about this sort of like landing your first interview getting your first job doing your role, or, or maybe subsequent jobs after that. The so number one is know what you really want to do. Don't just be dedicated followers of fashion, not that you were but you you went for a path which led you to a place you weren't happy and

Nada Buhendi: 14:37

I have to admit I was though, you know, I'm not gonna lie about it. I was following a fashion I didn't even know what I wanted. That was my biggest downfall.

Dave West: 14:48

So number one is find out what you really want to do your passion number two, and that will be linked to your superpowers, your strengths, your weaknesses, etc. Don't let those and I think The message I heard and maybe I got this wrong, but don't necessarily let those lack of skills or lack of experience, get in the way. But be mindful of that. And make sure that you look at your strengths. And that might mean that you have to take a little bit of a journey to that role, rather than jump straight into that role. Okay, cool. So we got that, then. Alright, so assuming that my superpowers, my aspirations are sort of aligned, I've been doing something similar. Maybe I'm a business analyst, maybe I'm a tester maybe now where do I so I feel that I've got that credibility, etc. Maybe I now want to go for that scrum master thing. How do I learn that interview?

Nada Buhendi: 15:47

Yeah. So it's funny when people study Scrum, and they, they try to apply it to the software development world, but they don't apply it to their career. And you know, because Agile Scrum is all about going about things iteratively. And I feel like people feel like they need to waterfall their career, like they have to figure it all out and then make that big jump. And so it's going from one lily pad to another. And so your first lily pad is you got that hands on experience of working with, you know, software development teams, whatever role you're in. Now, it's like, Why do you have to restrict yourself of playing the role of the scrum master? Through the title? Why don't you act like one, you know that and that is like the, the, to me the most, the best recommended step, I had a client, for example, who became an agile mentor at one of the top gaming companies never had the official title wasn't in very, like overly product oriented organizations. He did a lot of freelancing, he started his own companies, he built his own, you know, video game, even though he didn't know how to code, just assemble a bunch of people worked on a passion project, and his game ended up in the Apple Store. And how he got in, was because he studied agile. And even though he wasn't officially a scrum master, he brought in that knowledge to empower his team, his current team that he was in. And that is how he was able to bring in those examples and stories into interviews. Because here's the thing, you could fake your way into getting an interview, you could stuff a whole bunch of keywords, and you can do what a lot of people do in terms of thinking that they can, you know, fool, you know, the screeners to get in. But then you're just going to look like a fraud. When you have the conversations, how are you going to draw from your experience, I call them transformation stories or case studies that you need to share of your past. And it doesn't have to be that you had the title, it could be a passion project that you were on. Implementing, you know, Scrum values and accelerating the value, it could be in your current team, you're unofficially playing that role. That even makes it more powerful. Because you are able to influence without authority, you know. So that's, that's my recommendation.

Dave West: 18:26

So let me just lean in to the very scrum tie or agile type word lean in for as excellent, because, because, yeah, I'm definitely not a scrum master. I am definitely always a product person. But it's funny when you were talking about your Genesis to this to the role you're in now and to the life that you lead. I definitely resonate because I'm like, oh my god, I can't imagine it's so horrible as having to do Scrum Master every day. But so let's lean into it a little bit of what what you said around building those experience creating those transformation case studies or case studies of example, building your portfolio or most of experience because I think that that is something that I that I've seen in the community kind of missing. People say, I've got PSM two, and they want to be a scrum master. Now, by the way, getting PSM two is awesome, and I wouldn't dis

Nada Buhendi: 19:20

an ideal. I love it.

Dave West: 19:23

I looked at I looked at your score and you did very well. But the but it's about augmenting that with those examples. So empiricism is a key part of Scrum. This is an example of how I did it. For instance, your example that the gaming company or I did you know I run a church club or I you know, I'm responsible for the the Boston soccer leagues or whatever, you know, the providing, demonstrating that the providing evidence and demonstrating that and also, I really liked what you said about the They don't think of your career as a waterfall project. Think of it as an agile project as it were. And I think that's super interesting. Because ultimately, you've got a goal. Yeah, that's cool product goal, you've got increments of value you're trying to deliver, you've got lilypads that you're jumping on. I'm building up that experience and building up that backlog, and then demonstrating it and retrofitting it and learning and experimenting. That was all those words really do resonate with me. So I really like that. So how do you though, you know, you talked about screening briefly and getting your resume on top of the pile? Do you think that if you can demonstrate those, this is how I did this? This is how I did this. Here's some here's how does it get through the system, though, to go and work for a large bank or whatever

Nada Buhendi: 20:53

my sweet spot because I'm actually also a resume, a certified resume writer, and I understand how the application tracking system works. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of misconception around how there are bots sent, which is insane. I've actually interviewed a lot of recruiters who actually use these systems. And I have spoken to vendor vendors who sell these systems, and I've used them myself. And here is what happens, right? During the screening process. Most of the time organizations outsource the screening to offshore teams, third party teams, because they just don't, especially larger organizations, they just don't have the capacity to deal with the large volumes of applications. We're talking 200, you know, submissions that can happen in one week and can quickly snowball and accumulate to like 400 500, whatever, right? So if I'm putting on the hat of a recruiter, or a screener, who doesn't have a deep level of understanding of the role, right, doesn't have a lot of context, I'm given a checklist. And I'm told, here's a checklist. And I want you to I know, I know, I want you to select the top 10. Right? If I'm looking at the resume, and the language that is being used to describe those experiences are not in alignment with the way an Agile coach or scrum master speaks, then I'm going to throw away the resume and a recommendation that I give people. Sure you've built that knowledge, you have case studies, that's wonderful. But you got to know how to frame your experiences in the language of your new avatar. It's sort of like actors who auditioned for a role. They need to show up like that character, they need to speak that, like that character. So when I see people who describe their experiences as managed a team, I'm like, Are you kidding me? That sounds like a project manager, not like a scrum master and Agile Coach, your your your job is to guide and coach. And if you're not using that vocabulary, a you don't have an A B and a good understanding of a role. B, you're also not going to resonate with the people who are screening. And if you're not meeting that checklist, you don't show that you you're comfortable facilitating ceremonies, you don't show that you're comfortable guiding product owners and prioritization, then you're just missing all of these, you know, empirical, you know, evidence of these things. And if I don't see them, I don't care that you have certifications, I don't care that you know, about agile Kanban, whatever, right? Yeah, there's no, there's no proof of success. And on top of that, it's not even enough that you did these things. Sure you did these things like everyone else. How did you move the needle for the organization, because at the end of the day, a company wants their bottom line to be impacted. And if what you've done hasn't, you know, help the company in some shape or form improve their profitability? Even as a scrum master? Indirectly, you help the teams do that, then there's nothing special about you.

Dave West: 24:11

Yeah, so hang on. So see if I can summarize this. So yes, it is important to ensure that the words that you use are consistent with the role as you perceive it. It's also important that you demonstrate those those value nuggets are short enough so people can quickly understand them. Obviously, value is super important. Outcomes are super important describing that, and I think what I heard, or maybe I just read this into it, if an organization is hiring Scrum Masters, or agile coaches to a different checklist, the where the word manager is actually not a warning sign where the word you know, sort of like told my team how to do this. Do you know where those were? that's on there, maybe it's not a great company to work for anyway. So that's probably a good thing. So stay true to your, to your, to your beliefs around agility, because that will obviously, not only get you your resume read, but it also means you're more likely you'll be happy there when you're actually actually there.

Nada Buhendi: 25:21

Yeah, I would say stay true, stay true, but also understand that you are going in as a trusted adviser. And I get a lot of these sort of, basically questions sometimes from my clients around, oh, my God, I don't know, I had this interview, and this company is hybrid, or it seems like it's more command and control. It's not 100% agile. The thing is, and this is why I tell people try to break into scrum master at the very beginnings of your career. It's tough, because you need to have also the people skills to navigate difficult situations, it's not, it's not enough to have the theoretical knowledge. It's not, it's not enough to know how software is built, you also need to have the resiliency and you need to be okay with navigating political situations. And so you, you got to understand that when they're hiring a scrum master or an Agile coach, just because they're having difficulty figuring this out.

Dave West: 26:27

That's a good point. And you need to help

Nada Buhendi: 26:29

them figure it out. So don't go in with the expectation that this organization is going to be at the highest level of maturity. So there's there needs to be flexibility, that the company, you know, may not be 100%, agile. But you also want to figure out what level of maturity if an organization you're okay with, and that is a personal choice, right? And so yes, to your point, you got to be true to yourself, and you got to be authentic, you got to represent your experiences in authentic way. And you got to be honest about what it is that you're looking for, and what type of environment is in alignment with your intrinsic motivators, and what makes you thrive.

Dave West: 27:09

That's interesting, you sort of highlight the word honesty, I always find that interviews, particularly historically, aren't necessarily a great platform for honesty, but, but that ultimately doesn't do any favors to anybody. Right? Is that what you're saying?

Nada Buhendi: 27:27

Yeah, you know, I have helped my clients change their approach in interviews that it started becoming enjoyable. They said one thing, you know, I did a talk, you know, with Scrum Alliance at one point where I shared what I call the doctor framework. And my whole philosophy in terms of interviews, is you want to show up as a doctor, or you want to show up as a trusted adviser. And when you do that, and you share your what I call case studies, or transformation stories from the perspective of the guide, rather than the hero. It's like a game changer, because that's going to be your role anyway, you can't be showing off about your certifications, and agile knowledge and how amazing you are. You got to tell your stories from the perspective of men, I guided these teams, they were amazing. This is how I empowered them. And this is the impact that I created for the organization. And once you do that, if you have impostor syndrome, that's going to help you because it takes the spotlight off you. And you're also going to be seen as a guide, you know, which, which is going to be more receptive to the organization because they don't want someone who makes them feel like they know better than them. Right. And it creates that conversational dialogue.

Dave West: 28:50

Hmm, interesting. I think that you almost what you're saying is that, that it's almost carrying that analogy of be agile about your career to that next level. Obviously, an interview is a great opportunity to demonstrate a scrum mastery type skills or agile coaching skills. And all of that is about servant leadership. All of that is about focusing on value about people about outcomes, about you know, sort of making sure things are transparent. creating that environment at that interview is just as valuable to do it in that way as when you're actually on the job doing it. It's funny that that it's it's always amusing that we whenever it's like the cobblers children have awful shoes, you know that. We don't think about the skills that we use. In our day to day when we're actually going into a situation to get the job to do the skills we sort of they sort of disconnected and that is obviously a big mistake. Alright, so I know we're coming up to our time and we'd like to keep these I always like the no have time to walk the dog or do your commute. If you don't have a dog, you obviously can still listen to these podcasts, it isn't mandatory. The so achimota time. So if you were going to leave our listeners with one or two, no more than three nuggets of knowledge for them if they are in this transition, trying to get this scrum master job, what would be those three things you would say? Or one thing? Or, you know, what, what do you think? Now?

Nada Buhendi: 30:35

The first thing I would say is, figure out you know what you want? Not because of what people tell you, right? Truly, what is your career archetype? Do you care more about the customer and the product? Or do you care more about the process and the internal teams. So that's number one. Number two, be a better storyteller, to be a better storyteller, because stories are what help people understand what you've done. And the transformations you've created. without coming across, like one of those annoying, like pushy salespeople basically, are the ones who send you those LinkedIn in males and try to sell you things without getting to know you.

Dave West: 31:20

Yes, we have those.

Nada Buhendi: 31:23

And then the third thing I'm going to say is surround yourself by a board of directors. And what I'm what I mean by that is, you don't need to just go and learn from one place, you know, whether it's through us don't just heavily rely on one source of knowledge, whether it's a certification, whether it is one mentor, whether it's et cetera, right. Many of my clients, the reason they have succeeded, is sure we worked personally together, but they also listen to podcasts surrounded themselves by other agile trainers. So form your board of directors, and this is why I have a community with amazing, basically professionals, whether they're an agile product, you know, mid all the way to VP level, and they support each other in their journeys. And because I truly believe as someone who navigated my career, that it can be quite lonely. And it's important for you to be around people who achieve what you want to achieve. And so those are my three basically. Nuggets.

Dave West: 32:32

That's awesome. They were fabulous group of nuggets. So just to summarize, for our listeners, know who you are, I think that's super important. Tell stories, I think that's super important and form that board of directors that that that whether it be real human beings or just knowledge sources. And obviously we're all human beings can be great knowledge sources as well. But get that diversity of thought, be always learning and be always networking, I think is a great message. So thank you. For your time today. I've definitely learned a few things. Take took a moment to step back from from it all and look at it from a more of a holistic perspective of the this whole career transition. We're in a world where we're going to need a lot of agile coaches, Scrum Masters, product people, developers, as we transition to solving some of the hardest problems that the world faces, using digital technology and different ways of working to do that. So I'm excited when I see more people coming into this to this field. And hopefully these nuggets, these three nuggets will be a great a great roadmap for them in on this journey. So thank you, I really appreciate you taking the time.

Unknown: 33:50

You're very welcome. And for

Dave West: 33:53

our listeners, this is the community Podcast. I'm fortunate to be here my with Nada Buhendi from Toronto, Canada talking about career transition and And how'd you get that first scrum master role. So thanks for listening. And hopefully, there'll be other amazing podcasts that may be added to your network and to your board of directors in future shows or previous shows. Thank you everybody. Goodbye.

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