Agile Recruiting


After years of working with great engineering teams, some of their Agile practices have rubbed off on me and I’ve applied them to how I recruit, organize my work and manage my teams. I’ve also learned a lot from Jim Benson about the sanity-keeping powers of a good Kanban board.

Below are several key Agile practices/philosophies that I’ve adapted to fit my needs as a Recruiter and Manager. While they are relatively simple concepts to understand and appreciate, they can be difficult to implement.

Follow the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

How does this apply to recruiting?

Simple, repeatable processes that result in the RIGHT hires. The process we typically follow for Engineering recruiting is as follows:

  • Recruiter Phone Screen

  • Technical Phone or Video Interview w/ Engineer (w/ some time allotted for behavioral/competency assessment)

    • A second Phone/Video Interview will happen if the candidate is non-local or if first interviewer is truly on the fence

  • Onsite Interview: 4 interviews (all in one visit) that each focus on a different topic. Typically, the breakdown is coding, algorithm (or a second coding question), design and behavioral.

    • Important note: all interviewers should have enough time scheduled so they can answer questions and sell the candidate.

  • Interview Team Hiring Decision

While my current focus is mostly on engineering, I’ve recruited for just about every role under the sun and I can tell you from experience that a process of this length and form can work for any role. For non-engineering roles, the technical phone interview should be an interview focused on assessing the skills needed to do the job. Early in the process, you shouldn’t over-index on assessing “culture fit.” Make sure the person can do the job and THEN figure out if they would excel in your particular work environment.

For this system to work well, the interviewing team must be well-trained and aligned, they must be asking the right questions and, last but not least, the recruiter must be well-calibrated (via constantly working with the hiring team to refine targets and filters.)

Final note: Depending on the role, a take home case study/test may be useful at some point in the process.

Kanban (Visualize Your Workflow)

A Kanban board is a work and workflow visualization tool that enables you to optimize the flow of your work. Typically, the workflow stages of a Kanban board are drawn on a whiteboard and work items are written on post-it notes and then moved through the stages. Trello is essentially the digital version of Kanban.

In its simplest form, a Kanban board looks something like this:



How does this apply to recruiting?

  • Candidate Tracking

  • Coordination Tracking/Prioritization

  • Work Prioritization

I’ve used both whiteboards and Trello to track candidates moving through the process and both have proven effective for keeping “live” candidate activity visible to the necessary stakeholders. Some people preferred having a giant whiteboard to check whenever they walk by and others preferred pulling up a Trello board to review. Perhaps the biggest benefit of visualizing your candidates in process is being able to spot pipeline problems before they become crises.

The coordinators I’ve worked with have found using a Trello board to visualize/track their work to be incredibly helpful. Beyond giving Recruiters an easy line of sight into where candidates are in the coordination process, Trello has proven most valuable as a way to objectively prioritize coordination work across a team. For example, if a coordinator is supporting multiple recruiters, having a system that allows each recruiter to label their requests with different priority levels allows the coordinator to manage their workload by always focusing on the most urgent tasks first instead of processing requests chronologically.

Finally, I always keep a personal Trello board(s) going to track and prioritize my work and team projects.

Limit WIP (Works In Progress)

A WIP limit can help you focus on correct decisions, completion, and quality. Limiting the amount of WIP improves throughput and reduces the amount of work "nearly done" by forcing you to focus on a smaller set of tasks. A Kanban board is the best way to visualize and prioritize WIP.

How does this apply to recruiting?

  • Applying a strong filter at the top of the funnel: focus on quality, not quantity. (This is one of the places where a well-calibrated recruiter comes in most handy.)

  • Keeping each of my team members focused on a manageable, well-defined set of roles.

IMHO, the “it’s a numbers game” mentality often attached to recruiting success is due to the fact the many recruiters and hiring managers aren’t well calibrated.  In my experience, it’s possible to meet your hiring goals without making your recruiting or interviewing teams spin their wheels on an excessive amount of unqualified candidates.

Keeping recruiters focused on a manageable, well-defined set of roles (ideally within one department/business area) means they become domain experts and strategic partners.

Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

Kaizen is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. Nothing too mind-blowing but, like the other practices listed here, it’s easier said than done.

How does this apply to recruiting?

  • The aforementioned well-calibrated recruiter who, again, must constantly work with the  hiring team to refine targets and filters.

  • Iterating on all of your processes as needed. Always look for ways to improve efficiency, effectiveness and the candidate experience.

The degree of hiring success you will have is largely dependent on how well you can adapt and improve in these two areas, and being successful in both requires a hiring team and recruiting team that are aligned.

I’ve been most successful when the hiring manager is ready and willing to partner with me on both strategy and execution. Of course, I had stay on top of trends and data in order to bring solutions, new ideas and feedback to the table. That’s the only way to maintain a strong recruiting partnership that allows for continuous improvement to occur.


written by Ben Schumer, Tech Recruiting Consultant