Applying the Point System of AGILE to Recruiting

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities. Stephen Covey

Prior to implementing Sprint Recruiting, I found it hard to balance what should be done with what needed to be done.  Part of me was driven by my over-achiever mindset and wanted to prove I could do all things like a superman. The other part of me was driven by the value I placed on the relationships I had developed with my hiring managers.  Both drove me to succeed but I did not have a clear way to chart my ultimate destination.

What I needed to learn was how to set priorities work in my recruiting process. 

Why Priorities Work

Have you ever gone to the grocery store without a shopping list?  Maybe it was just a quick run to the store for only four items and you thought, surely you could remember four items right?

How many times have you walked out of the store, gotten hom, only to relized the main reason you went to the store was to get the one item you forgot?

This is what happens when we don’t have priorities.  Our brains are wired to rank lists in terms of priorities.  Stop and think about it:

  • 1st, 2nd & 3rd place
  • Gold, Silver Bronze
  • High, Medium, Low

Ranking allows the brain to quickly assess which tasks should be completed first. It provides structure to large sets of information and creates a virtual roadmap for items to be completed. Absent of a ranking system, our brains attempt to classify information into subsets for quicker processing. This process of prioritization taxes the brain and quickly causes fatigue and anxiety.

Imagine a job board with 25 positions, each with a different manager and each with a different required skillset. Each job is essentially its own unique search which will require a certain investment of time and administrative work.

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Which job do you start on first?

The tendency is to go after the low hanging fruit.  In the recruiting world, this is the job with the most applicants. It’ll be easier to sit and comb through a ton of resumes (most which will not qualify) than it would be to tackle the harder jobs requiring sourcing. Sound familiar?

Don’t beat yourself up, I’m guilty of doing the same. Sometimes we just need a quick win to get us going and prove to ourself we can get through the monumentous task of making all of our managers happy with the perfect candidates. Unfortunately, this is a lie and one too many recruiters keep believing.

As a recruiting manager, I had weekly conversations with executives who compalined how we were not filling their critical roles. I would go into theses meetings with with hire and sourcing reports showing how many jobs we filled to prove the managers’ accusations were wrong. 

No matter how many meetings I went to with this information, the outcome was the same. We were not meeting the needs of our clients, despite how many jobs we had filled.  If only we knew what they wanted filled and when….

Discovering the value of leveraging a points system was a journey for us. We used a number of variations of priority ranking before getting to what we use now. I think it’s important to share the journey with you to help you avoid some of the pain we experienced trying to find what method worked best.

First Iteration

Our first stab at this problem was to have our clients assign a High, Medium, or Low status to each job assigned. We would meet with the business executives and ask them to assign this priority so we could attempt to meet their needs in that sprint.

This helped us in the beginning of the iteration really focus on prioritizing our efforts.  We took the high, medium, low assignments to break down how we would spend our time sourcing during the week.  My approach was to dedicate the first 40 percent of my week to sourcing for those high priority positions to start getting candidates in the funnel early in the sprint. Once I felt ok with the number and quality of candidates in process, I’d move on to my medium priorities to do the same.

Honestly, I felt like I had a process that was working. I had a cadence and system to my week. I knew every sprint would be front loaded with sourcing time for those critical roles as defined by my client. I felt good knowing the clients’ priorities were my priorities. Everything starting to align perfectly for me.

Or so I thought.

The major issue I didn’t plan for was just how many jobs would be marked as high priority. One client marked ten of their twenty jobs in a sprint as high and the remaining as medium. I had no system put in place to limit the number of high priority designations so essentially, I had just added an H, M or L next to our job board. 

While it was not a slam dunk win, we made some slight advancement  in this iteration.  We realized we were on to something. We did see an increase in focus and productivity in our first iteration. The ranking helped us prioritize our tasks and we began talking more as a team about our high priotity positions during our standups.

What did we learn? We were one step closer to aligning our efforts to our clients’ priotities.  The problem? The client still had too many priorities.

Second Iteration

We decided in our second iteration we would limit the number of High, Medium and Low priority assignments.  Twenty-five percent of the open jobs could be High, another 25% could be Medium and the remaining would be Low priority. 

The first sprint we introduced this was a little bumpy.  The clients really struggled while trying to determine a more narrow definition of high and medium priority.  Some asked for a little wiggle room on the percentages but we held firm. Internally, we struggled as a team because we had all been programmed to fill every position as fast as we could.  There were some instances when I almost caved on my own rules but reminded myself I had limited capacity.  I also reminded myself we were not superheroes so we needed to stick with the plan.

The second iteration helped us focus even more on time blocking for sourcing, interviewing and the administrative functions of our job.  We even agreed that by day three of the sprint, we would send an update email to our managers with high priority positions informing them of our progress. After all, with fewer high and medium priorities, we were able to use our sourcing time even more efficiently.

A couple of sprints into this iteration we noticed how hard it was to report our progress.  Did we report how many high, medium, low positions we filled or did we report a percentage of goal? Many of our business partners who assigned the priorities would forget which positions were designated as what by the end of the sprint.

How could we prove to our clients and ourselves how well we were doing? The progress we made in limiting the priority positions created some capacity and efficiencies but it did not allow us to truly measure our progress effectively.

The Point System

I struggled with this for weeks. I knew there had to be an answer but I just could not figure out how to structure the prioritization correctly. I felt like the recruiting team, our clients and our HR partners were all attempting to speak the same language but it just quite wasn’t there yet.

This was about the time I read the book SCRUM by Jeff Sutherland. The AGILE Framework breaks projects into stories. The focus is on the end user so the user story is developed to capture a description of a software or product feature. The process helps to create a simplified description of a requirement and can fit into Agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban. The purpose of a user story is to write down how a project will deliver value back to the user. It is then the project team’s job to develop the feature to satisfy the requirements of the user story. Points are applied to each story or epic to indicate priority and to measure progress in each sprint.

There it was.

I am not exaggerating when I say I actually yelled “Holy shit!” when I got to this part of the book. Finally, I saw what was right in front of me the whole time. No more high, medium or low assignments.  We were going to a point system!

I was so excited to get to the office and share my vision for our third iteration. I typically do not really put a tremendous amount of thought into execution when I’m in an iterative mode on a project.  The very first sprint call we had with a client, I introduced the concept of a budget of 100 points.

We worked through the first call with one of our clients who enjoys trying new things. They were as invested in making this new recruiting methodology work as much as we were. As we went through this groups 20 positions, we noticed something happen: we were all speaking the same language.

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The Outcome

Rather than seven to ten high priority jobs out of a batch of 25 jobs, we had a clearer ranking of what was critical to the business. Our business partner gave one job 25 points, another two 15 points and then spread the remaining points equally over the remaining roles.  When we hung up the phone, the recruiter and I immediately began planning how we were going to get those two jobs filled to show the clients we were rock stars. 

We almost became obsessed with the points.  Our standups became centered around progress we had made on those high point roles. My one on ones were focused on the progress made during the week on the “high pointers” which gave us a standard agenda for this biweekly time together.  We build dashboards to track how many points we gained by day during the sprint to chart our progress both individually and as a team. Finally, we found what worked.

Our clients liked it too.  It was clearer for them to assign points against a budget. If you have 100 points and have 25 jobs, it might be easy for the client to simply assign four points to each job in the beginning. We had fortunately been through two iterations over roughly three months by the time we discovered the point system so it was an easier transition for our clients.

We did make a minor tweek to point allocation in the middle of our third iteration, instituting a rule that 60% of the points could be spread over no more than five roles. This was a tough sale at first but over time, the clients began to see how the prioritization and focus produced results.

The consistent progress we made in each sprint filling the jobs bought us more credibility and trust with our clients. It also allowed us to position ourselves less as order takers and more as consultants. During the biweekly allocation meetings, we would update the clients on progress made during the previous sprint while also identifying and addressing any obstacles experienced. 

The points allowed us to have a common language. Our clients were business people, they’re used to numbers. We are recruiters and competitive by nature. Numbers worked. Metrics also helped us fine tune our recruiting processes and lingo.

We have our process now and I don’t think we’ll be going back to the old way of recruiting anytime soon! Sprint Recruiting works for us and could work for you too!

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