Managing Your Job Search with Johanna Rothman

Episode 63

June 07, 2012



The Agile Weekly Crew and Johanna Rothman discuss personal kanban for job search, decomposition of work, collecting feedback and holding yourself accountable.

Derek Neighbors: Welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly podcast. I’m Derek Neighbors.

Drew LeSueur: I’m Drew LeSueur.

Roy vandeWater: I’m Roy vandeWater.

Johanna Rothman: I’m Johanna Rothman. Thanks guys, for having me.

Derek: Oh, thank you. Johanna, I know that you’re working on a new book that is about how to maybe go about using some agile practices to change your outlook on getting hired. Why don’t you tell us a little about the work you’re doing?

Johanna: I have a new book in beta called “Manage Your Job Search” with a totally ridiculous subtitle, which is, right now, “Reduce your overwhelm, focus your search, and get your next job.” I’m going to change the subtitle. But I think the title is “Manage Your Job Search.”

It’s on Leanpub, which is the way I’m writing my next couple of books. It’s Leanpub/get your next job, and I have a new version of the hiring book also on Leanpub right now. As soon as I have the title for that and a cover, I’m going to hit the publish button for that, too.

The idea with “Manage Your job Search” is, if you use Personal Kanban and work in one week Editor Relations you actually can stay focused and work on your task in really small chunks and figure out “How do I’ll do a little experiment, and get my next job”?

One of the problems with a job search is you say, “I have to write a resume,” but writing a resume can take you a week, and you have to say, “No no no, I can do the first draft of the resume. I can get it reviewed by a few people,” And maybe you can say, “Well I don’t know. Should I be a Product Owner? Should I be an Agile Project Manager”?

I actually am one of the few people that says, “Yes, we do need Agile Project Managers, not everyone can be a Scrum Master.” Because, if you read my stuff on geographically distributed teams, I actually think you need Agile Project Managers. I don’t think you can just do everything with Scrum Masters. I think there is a role for people such as Agile Project Managers.

You don’t know what you might want to be, and you might want to be one thing in this company, and one thing in another organization. You might want different kinds of resumes for different kinds of organizations. You can’t just say, “Write the resume to end all resumes.” You might want to have a focused resume for this kind of company and a focused resume for that kind of company.

You have to figure out what you want to do for this week [laughs] and what you want to do next week. And maybe based on the interviewing that you do, or the phone screens that you do, or even the talking to people that you do. That you want to experiment, this is the idea behind the Lean start‑up.

You do a little something, get a little feedback, and pivot. If you’ve used Personal Kanban, you can do this. The idea behind “Manage Your Job Search,” which I do think is the [laughs] main title of the book. Although the subtitle, no, no, no, we’re not going to keep the subtitle. But I’m going to keep the main title of the book.

That’s the book I’m working on in beta. I was so hung up on trying to say, “Should I publish? Should I get feedback? How do I get feedback? It’s on LeanPub.” I don’t have a developmental editor guiding me. And I finally said, “I know how I can do this. I can do a beta book”!

I have 53 people who are reading this book and using it. Some of them have given me feedback ‑ not all of them, of course ‑‑ which is what happens with a beta book. But a couple of them have given me feedback. The ones who have given me feedback say, “When they do this, when they actually use Kanban, it really works.” What a surprise.

Derek: What kind of response are you getting from people when you tell them that they might want to use a Agile practice like Kanban to do something like a job search? Do you get kind of crazy looks that you might use what people think of as a manufacturing process or a software development process as a way to look for your next career or your next path in your career?

Johanna: The technical people who already know about this say it’s a sort of dope‑slap on their heads, “Oh yeah! That’s a good idea.” And the non‑technical people…I’m working with a couple of people whose parents I know, and their kids are just graduating from college. Their kids ‑‑ they know me as Johanna, the friend of their parents.

They say, “What is this with the stickies? Why does Johanna want me to do this”? And I say, “Just trust me. Just try this.” They say, “You know, I’ve looked at your office, Johanna, and you have stickies all over the place.” And I say, “Yes. That’s because it works and I get all the stuff done.”

They say, “Why do I have to use stickies? I don’t know about this business.” I say, “Well, it’s pretty cheap as a way to organize your to‑dos.” And they say, “Well, OK.” Then they try it and say, “Well, this is a weird thing, but I’m getting stuff done.”

They don’t know that it’s from manufacturing because a lot of these people have BAs in Philosophy. I mean, they are liberal arts majors, who don’t know anything about manufacturing, and they are taught to be critical thinkers.

Incoporating Feedback

Derek: How are you incorporating some of the concepts from feedback?

I loved how you started off with, that it’s really a hypothesis, that you’re trying to prove that hypothesis. If I go in and say, “I really want this job,” and I look at the particular employer, I think that they’re really wanting to potentially hire for this.

Maybe I’m going to change my title a little bit to be more appealing, and I’m going to do these things. I get a call back, I go through the screening process, and ultimately I end up not getting the job. How are you trying to incorporate feedback back into that process?

Roy: Especially when a lot of employers have a very hard time with giving you honest criticism about why they didn’t hire you, or aren’t very timely at all about it. If you’re trying to improve on one‑week sprints, and it takes some three weeks to get back to you, how do you deal with that?

Johanna: A lot of it is if you’re looking for a job and have enough leads, which is a piece of the job‑finding puzzle. If you only have one lead, then you’re just holding on by your fingernails to that one lead. That’s one of the reasons you have to have really small tasks, and really small to‑dos so that you are not hanging on by your fingertips to that one thing.

You have to be looking for multiple jobs, at all times. That’s one of the things that I’m really hoping that people get from this book because if you’re only looking in one place, you’re not going to find a job. You have to be looking in multiple places.

I have a whole thing on how to use LinkedIn and how to use Twitter because you have to be expanding your network. I have a session at the AYE conference about how to be a social butterfly, for people who are not social butterflies.

I met Derek at, what was it, a Better Software Conference a number of years ago?

Being A Social Butterfly

Derek: Yes. I think so. Do you sometimes say that you want to be more of a social butterfly? Johanna, are you encouraging people to potentially do some of this, well before they’re actually looking for a job?

Maybe, in a current career are there some practices that you can pull through that position you, should you decide to change careers or decide to change employers that maybe you’ve already done some of the groundwork, or is it something that really only applies when you’re in the thick of trying to find new work?

Johanna: I started writing this book, before I realized I was writing this book, when I was coaching a bunch of my management coachees…I do a lot of management and executive coaching. What I was realizing is, a lot of my manager colleagues had not been building their networks. I was coaching all these managers and some executives, who had a 150 people in their LinkedIn networks.

I said, “This is crazy. You, guys, need to expand your networks because how are you going to hire people”? I was looking at this from the hiring perspective.

When I was redoing the hiring book, I was saying to people, “Part of what you need to do ‑‑ especially if you’re hiring for an agile team ‑‑ is you need to be building your LinkedIn network so you can look at the people in your groups and look at the people that you have a relationship with so you have a shot of knowing who are the passive candidates.

If you don’t have a good personal network, how are you going to reach out to people who might be really good people for you to hire? And that’s assuming you don’t want to relocation and assuming you just want people who are good people.

I cannot tell you the number of people in my local network in the Boston area who every so often send me an email saying, “Do you know of a good project manager? Do you know of a good tester? Do you know of a good developer”? I have these serendipitous emails from someone who says, “I’m just starting to look around and if you know of anyone looking for somebody” and I happen to be able to put them together. Not because I’m trying recruiting as a second career because I don’t want to.

But got this email and then I get this other email and I can say, “I know this person, I haven’t worked with him or her and I know this manager I haven’t worked with him or her but based on my little relationship with both of you, I think you guys might have something in common.”

Power of Serendipity

Derek: Yeah I see that a lot in the work that we’re doing with Gangplank, especially is that…you said serendipity and I think people do not take nearly enough advantage of serendipity. But one thing serendipity requires is that people signal. I heard you say two things, somebody signaled that they were looking for a particular type of person to hire and somebody else signaled that they were looking for a particular type of work.

Because both of those people were signaling, you were able to basically cross those signals and then probably put them into touch and maybe good things happen. Maybe good things didn’t but there was an opportunity to potentially have there and maybe something like Personal Kanban for looking for next job.

One of the things it does, it forces you to look at things at a granular level that allows you to signal in multiple ways which just increases the opportunity for good things to happen. So it’s just a really interesting approach.

The last question I really have is, one of the things that is difficult with any kind of process is discipline. When you’re in the self‑mode, I’m not on a team, an agile team, I can have other people help enable me to accountability but in a Personal Kanban or personal agile space of some kind, how are you coaching people to be disciplined in the work they are doing?

Johanna: I have people start and end their week on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, that’s the first thing. I don’t know if you’ve read “Manage It!” Or any of my project management stuff that says, “Don’t ever start or end a week on a Monday.”

I wrote an article a long time ago called “What’s Wrong with Wednesdays?” And in “Manage It!” I actually say unless there’s a really good reason, never start your week on a Monday and iteration on a Monday either. Because that just begs for people to slide into the weekend then you don’t really know when your iterations start.

I strongly suggest that people start their week on a Wednesday. I say to them, “You have to take time off. You absolutely not work on your job search at some point during the week. You have to take time off from it. And I don’t know which days you’re not going to work on your job search but some of those days you’re not going to. Because it’s a job like any other job. You cannot work on it seven days a week, that’s craziness.”

Then I have retrospective, I tell them to count up their tasks. I tell them to make sure that their to‑dos are small chunks. I explain that they should try and make their to‑dos a couple hours in duration. I explain that this is how I work actually. None of my to‑dos in my work are longer than a couple of hours. This is literally how I work.

I do a chunk of work in the morning, I do a couple of chunks in the afternoon. This is how I keep the ball rolling in my work. This is how I get books written, this is how I write articles. I explain all of that in this book because this is how I keep the flow of work going.

I explain that in the book and then I say that count up all the tasks you got done and it doesn’t matter how many you got done. It’s just a number. That’s how you can predict which you might be able to get done. And I say it’s just a number, it doesn’t matter what the number is.

For those of you who are…I don’t actually say the word anal, but for those of you who are worried that it’s not a normalized number, it’s not a normalized number, don’t worry about it, live with it and use that number to predict what you might be able to get done next week.

If you always have really small chunks it doesn’t matter but you’ll be able to do approximately this number next week. And then I walk them through three different kinds of retrospectives. I offer them three different kinds of retrospectives and tell them to mix it up.

One Person Agile Team

Derek: You’re creating an independent one‑person agile team, that’s awesome. What…


Roy: …be beneficial in that type of case if you have somebody you can trust like a spouse or a good friend to help hold you accountable to that type of stuff. I know that, personally, I don’t have the willpower to keep myself to an iteration like that. I’d probably have to have some kind of external force holding me accountable. Is that something you’ve seen have good success or does it not really make a difference?

Johanna: I don’t know. I mean, this is what I do. Am I so weird that I’m the only one that does this? Maybe. When the book is actually out, I was going to offer some webinars based on the book and see what happens. Maybe I should offer webinars before the book is out of beta.


Derek: That sounds like the lean thing to do to me.

Johanna: Yeah. I’m having knee surgery this summer. Maybe that’s what I’ll do when I can’t travel. I actually thought for sure that people would maintain focus but you guys are giving me feedback, that maybe people are not able to maintain focus.

Maybe that’s a question I’ll ask in this version of the beta and maybe people will give me feedback that they’re having trouble maintaining their focus and see if they are or not. And maybe that’s something I’ll offer as another offering. Are you having trouble maintaining the focus of the Kanban?

Derek: Sounds great. I think we’re at the end of our time box. Is there anything that you want to promote or share with us before we head out?

Johanna: Go see if this is interesting for the book. I will have a new version of the hiring book with a lot more about cultural fit, also on Leanpub. Look for “Agile Program Management” at some point this summer. Probably also I will first release it in beta. That’s my next writing project.

Derek: You’re looking to do that on Leanpub as well?

Johanna: Also on Leanpub, yes.

Derek: All right, so it sounds like [inaudible 18:23] it on Leanpub. Lots of good stuff coming out. Thank you so much for your time and thank you for participating.

Johanna: Well thank you so much for asking. I really enjoyed it.

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