Skip to main content

Agile Recruiting Defined

Should the modern recruiting team be looking into agile recruiting?

Ever since the agile manifesto came out in 2001 for the benefit of software developers, we’ve been seeing attempts to duplicate the agile principles in other fields, with varying degrees of success. We now have agile marketing, agile sales, agile retail, agile finance, agile supply chain management... even agile law.

It is not just a matter of slapping a word before the name of a discipline, of course. Business leaders across industries have seen how agile methodology helped developers be more productive without sacrificing the user’s interests, and so they wanted to figure out how to replicate that effort in their respective fields.

Agile recruiting came out of the same desire to find ways to make recruiting more responsive to business needs, less risky, and more efficient.

What do we mean by agile?

The best way to understand what agile brings to recruiting is to start at the beginning, with software development. Every company or development team can choose to implement the agile principles in their own way, but usually it ends up looking a little bit like this:


The development team implements processes to facilitate quick development of distinct blocks, or features, or modules, instead of tackling everything the user needs in one giant project. This could mean:

  • The project is split into tickets, which are then all prioritized. A decision is made around what tickets will be tackled during the next “sprint”, usually a period of two weeks.
  • Once a “sprint” is set, it isn’t changed, and developers can focus only on the tickets included in it. These tickets are organized on a Kanban board and progressed from “backlog” to “doing” to “done”, or a similar funnel process to keep visibility on the project’s progress.
  • Other parts of the process involve retrospective meetings, daily stand-ups, and demos of the finished tickets or features. The goal is to provide as much opportunity as possible for feedback, learning, iteration and correction. 

The user’s needs are met, and the developers’ work is efficient and fulfilling.


The team structure also changes with agile development. The team now has people who prioritize what features or tickets will be worked on first, who help with the iteration and feedback loop, and who shield engineers from disruption by user demands, or from what is sometimes known as “scope creep”:

  • Product owner/manager: Represents the user’s needs, decides what features are a priority.
  • Scrum master: Designs a work process for the team. Pushes back and maintains balance between developers and the Product Owner.
  • Developers, designers, Quality Assurance engineers: Build and test the product.


So, how can agile apply to recruiting?

Mostly by offering flexibility and opportunity for iteration, a logical way to prioritize, and instant visibility in the team’s progress against hiring objectives. If we wanted a simplified definition of agile recruiting, we could use the following one:

Agile recruiting definition: A recruiting project management methodology using sprints, prioritization of tickets, and periodic feedback checkpoints to bring flexibility and efficiency to the recruiting team, and visibility to hiring managers.

What agile recruiting looks like

By looking at how the Agile Manifesto principles are applied to software development, we can immediately see where recruiting could benefit from similar applications:

1. Flexible project management and pivots

By separating hiring projects into smaller pieces, it is possible to receive feedback from the hiring manager much more often, but also to give them input based on what the recruiting team learns. This is especially valuable when trying to fill a particularly complex role, where the requirements are not yet well understood.

Instead of spending a few weeks on sourcing promising leads then screening them before even lining up any interviews with hiring managers, recruiter can start much smaller.

They can focus on lining up two or three interviews with hiring managers as soon as possible, with the goal of validating the job requirement, before sinking more time and resources into finding the best possible candidates.

By having regular checkpoints after every sprint, for example, the recruiting team gives hiring managers the opportunity to give feedback. They can say things like “yes, we’re headed in the right track, please keep sourcing similar profiles” or “no, candidates from this background are actually not as good a fit as we thought they would be. Let’s change tack.”

2. Visibility for the team and the “client”

Modern recruiting teams who use pipelines already know some of the benefits of working with a Kanban board, event if they aren’t aware of it: they have visibility into their progress for each role or type of role at any given time.

Each role or role category (e.g. Junior Print designer, or Designers in the Tri-cities area) is essentially a board, and each candidate is a ticket.

The recruiting manager can then have a master board for different jobs or job roles to summarize progress against hiring goals.

3. Prioritization

Having a Kanban board, or any kind of way to order tickets for every role being currently worked on is another crucial element of agile recruiting.

For example, it enables teams to prioritize roles based on something more logical than timeline. Instead of going through roles first-in-first-out, they assign scores based on strategic value to the organization, size of the target market, or complexity of the requirements to each job, and can allocate resources accordingly.

The GE Digital talent acquisition team, who runs on agile recruiting, uses the following model to score open tickets.


This prioritization is also applicable to other aspects of the Talent Acquisition function, like employer branding campaigns or operations projects.

The Agile methodology isn’t perfect, and doesn’t always apply to every recruiting situation. Recruiters need to be aware that some parts of the job are actually fine being run in a more traditional way.

It’s also important to keep in mind that being agile is not about taking shortcuts. Agile recruiting is not an excuse to skip building quality relationships with candidates; on the contrary, it’s a way to approach the mission differently, by splitting it into approachable tickets and tackling them efficiently, with plenty of space for setbacks, iterations, collaboration and improvements along the way.

Read: How 5 Companies Built A More Agile Workforce