How to Internally Transfer to a Scrum Master Role From a Non-Technical Role

In my role as an Agile Coach, I’ve been asked to work to help upskill candidates who become eligible to transfer internally into a Scrum Master role. I’ve helped 2 candidates do so to date, and want to provide tips for others.

This article is focused on internal transferring, though much of this guide is applicable to candidates applying to external positions as well.

  1. Make a plan. Your plan can/will change over time, but have a rough idea of how you’re going to get from point A (current role) to point B (Scrum Master). You’ll want to actually write down your plan and track your progress. Be able to show anyone your progress. You’re going to have an uphill journey convincing hiring managers to take a risk on you, so you’re going to need to be able to tell your story of how you’ve upskilled to be ready to be a Scrum Master. If you have a good plan, you will have a convincing story. Your company may have a program to do this, and if not, you can use the suggestions below. Are you going to try to transfer internally or apply outside your company? You’ll need different approaches depending on which route you are applying. The rest of this is assuming you’re trying to transfer internally.
  2. Understand HR Red Tape. You want to get ahead of any HR policies that might prevent you from transferring internally. The two HR policies you need to consider are Geography and Leveling. For Geography – understand if your company is hiring Scrum Masters only for certain physical locations or if they are hiring from anywhere. If it’s certain locations, are you already located in one of the hiring zones? If not, are you willing to relocate? For Leveling – some companies have rules about internal transfers around leveling. Our company had a rule that you could only apply for jobs that are lateral moves from your current level. If your company has a rule like this, make sure to understand the level that Scrum Masters are hired and what your current level is.
  3. Learn Agile and Scrum Basics. There are lots of great resources for this. Start with the Scrum Guide.
  4. Learn tech basics if possible. Our company had a program for Technology topics for non-engineers. This gave non-technical people a basic understanding of technology concepts. This is a less important step, but can give a leg up in understanding what your team is working on.
  5. Find a mentor. Someone you can bounce questions off of.
  6. Find someone willing to let you shadow. This might be the same person as your mentor, but find a current scrum master who will let you shadow them on the job. Over time, try to see if you can facilitate their events for them, with them watching you instead.
  7. Get certified.  Look for opportunities to get certified. My experience is the SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) is the best certification if your organization is using the SAFe framework, which many Fortune 500 companies are. If you’re unable to obtain a SSM, see if you can work towards a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) or Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I).
  8. Nail your behavioral interview questions. At this point, you’re probably ready to start applying. Be ready to tell the story of why you’re ready to be a Scrum Master (Did you write down your plan in Step 1 and track progress toward it? If so, this is the pay off!) Look for other common behavioral interview questions for Scrum Masters and be ready with convincing answers.
  9. Apply, apply, apply! You’ve got an uphill battle to convince hiring managers to take a chance on you. Figure out the formal and informal ways that hiring managers post jobs at your company. Many hiring managers only want experienced Scrum Masters, so look for those who are willing to take a chance on an entry-level Scrum Master
  10. Continue building your network. While you’re applying, keep building your network of Agile professionals. The more people who can vouch for you, the more likely it is that you’ll find someone who is willing to take a chance on you.

This is a non-trivial process. For the candidate that I’ve been able to place, it took them 6-12 months to complete this process and start their first Scrum Master role.

But it’s worth it! Being a Scrum Master is a very rewarding career, which is why I’m passionate about helping others upskill such that they can enter the field.

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