Getting ahead in Interviews

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Interviews are tough! Nobody is born to be a good interviewee; it is rather an acquired skill. Showing your true potential to unfamiliar people in a very limited time takes experience and practice. We want to help you practice through others’ actual interview experiences so that you can be your best self at the moment of truth.

We received various interview stories from our students. Our program directors have decades of interview experience on both sides of the table. We combined student stories with our interview experience, and created a new series that will prepare you to land your dream job!

In this series, Amy goes through a number of interviews. And you get the unique opportunity to be a fly-on-the-wall. Note that Amy is an imaginary name as we do not disclose actual names to protect privacy of our students as well as the companies they interviewed with.

Do you have an interesting story? Share it with us at stories@scrumassembly.org and win $100 if it is published!

Let's get started.

CASE STUDY 1

INTERVIEWER

(After introductions and small talk)

Let’s say you are in charge of one of our product lines. Committed delivery date was 6 weeks ago, and according to the latest report, team needs another 4 weeks to finish the job. How would you approach to this situation?

AMY

Given that I’m in charge of the product line, I assume I’m the Product Owner. Is that correct?

INTERVIEWER

Yes.

AMY

First, I would like to listen to the previous Product Owner. Is he or she available for transition?

INTERVIEWER

No. Assume that the previous Product Owner is not with the company anymore.

AMY

Okay. I would follow a threefold approach. First, I would reach out to customer as well as other stakeholders (internal and external) and listen to their comments/concerns on the project. I expect they are having a bad experience with our company given that the product is already delayed. I would listen to their feedback and earn their trust. Second, I would reach out to my Scrum Masters and team members to listen to their story and understand their challenges/concerns, and earn their trust. Third, I would dig into the product backlog as well as sprint reviews to get myself familiarized with the product itself as well   the journey that the team has been going through.

EMILY'S COMMENTS

Rather than rushing into finding a solution, Amy did a great job by stepping back and having a structured approach so that she can first assess the situation/problem correctly before attempting to solve it. Also, she put emphasis on earning trust of customers, stakeholders and team members, which is the right thing to do. It takes great deal of trust and partnership to turn around a failing project. Furthermore, she is referring to the company as “our company” which shows a strong sense of ownership and is a nice touch.

INTERVIEWER

That’s a good start. Let’s say customer is extremely frustrated. Internal stakeholders are pissed and nervous because they got surprised by the 6 weeks delay and they have no confidence that the team can deliver it in the next 4 weeks. On the flip side, the team is a high performance team and they are not aware of the frustration that the customer is going through.

AMY

One of the things I’ve learned is that the transparency is key in recovering from a failing project. I assume that the customer is frustrated not only because the project is delayed but also they were not communicated in advance about the upcoming delay. Is that a fair assumption?

INTERVIEWER

That’s exactly right. 

AMY

Alright. I would reach out to customer and take responsibility (also apologize) for the delay as well as for the communication breakdown. In the meantime, I would work with my Scrum Masters to understand where we have failed. Have we not noticed that during the sprint review meetings? Have we not aware of the customer expectations? When was the last time we delivered an iteration of our product? Etc. I would share my findings with the customer, too, for the sake of transparency.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think it is a good idea to air our dirty laundry?

AMY

I absolutely do. I would build trust with my customer by exposing the gaps I have identified in the process so that they understand why we failed in the first place as well as what we are doing differently going forward to not fail again.

EMILY'S COMMENTS

Amy made a very bold assertion here by saying “I absolutely do”. She is right about the importance of transparency when it comes to building trust with customers while recovering from a failing project. However, the company may have its own reasons (e.g. contractual obligations, compliance requirements, possible legal actions, etc.) to not share those details with the customer. A wiser approach for Amy would be to still make a bold assertion while giving her interviewer a caveat.

INTERVIEWER

Okay. Now let’s assume that the last time development teams delivered an iteration of the product was 3 months ago. Now what?

AMY

How long are our sprints?

INTERVIEWER

About 8 weeks.

AMY

That is too long by any measure. I would organize my sprints around 1 week, worst case, 2 weeks. That also points out the fact that we didn’t do a good job breaking down the product into small iterations so that we deliver a shippable product every week or every other week. Had we organized our sprints correctly, we should have realized that the final delivery is at risk and we could take actions to mitigate that.

INTERVIEWER

So you think the main problem is long sprints?

AMY

That’s definitely a problem. But I don’t think that is the main problem. If the team (including the previous Product Owner, Scrum Master, Scrum Executive and other stakeholders) think that it is acceptable to have 8 weeks long sprints; that tells me that we have a more fundamental problem here that is lack of clear understanding of how teams should operate using an agile model. Our business cannot survive if we do not truly adopt the agile mentality.

INTERVIEWER

How do I know that you have the agile mentality? Do you have what it takes to make it?

AMY

I’m a certified Professional Scrum Product Owner. And I think I just pointed out one of the biggest gaps in the way your team operates.

(they both laugh)

(AMY continues)

You told me that the development team itself is a high performance team. Everything that we talked about points to the fact that this is a misapplication of the Scrum Framework. I know how to fix this.

(at this point, interviewer is smiling and jokingly makes the following comment)

EMILY'S COMMENTS

Even though I personally like the confidence that Amy has shown here especially when she said “I pointed out one of the biggest gaps in the way your team operates”, some interviewers may find it a bit too aggressive, and some may even get into a defensive mode. Amy could have found other (more polished) ways of showing confidence in order to mitigate this risk.

INTERVIEWER

Who says this is a real problem? Maybe we are just talking hypothetical.

AMY

It sounded real. Besides, even if this were a hypothetical, it is not too far from reality. I’ve seen projects fail exactly the same way you described for the same reasons that we root caused.

(they both smile and interviewer moves to the next question)