IT Employment

10 traits to look for when hiring a field engineer

Field techs encounter a wide array of challenges, making it tricky to determine who will be a good fit for the job. But if you can find candidates who exhibit the qualities listed here, you'll be on the right track.

If you own, manage, run, or work within a consultancy firm, or you're a large company that makes use of field engineers, you know how hard it is to find good help. But with a little bit of forethought and a solid understanding of just what qualities make for a good field engineer, hiring a new employee can always be a win. Let's look at 10 traits that make for the best combination of field engineers and employees.

1: Ability to handle stress

Let's face it: The job of IT support/field tech challenges the engineer at every corner and at all levels. Not only do the software/hardware issues task engineers to the edge of their knowledge, issues such as irate customers, traffic, and timeframes can really push them to their limits. That's why it's crucial to hire engineers who can handle the stress of everything coming at them at once. How can you tell whether someone can handle such stress? Make the interview process a challenge. Don't just grill candidates with the usual onslaught of questions. Make them display their tech mettle by fixing a server in a given timeframe. Don't judge them according to whether they fully solve the problem, judge them by how well they comport themselves during the test. This will be a good indicator of how they handle stress in the field.

2: Inventiveness

As much as people want to argue about this, it is not black and white out in the field. Too many times, I have seen technically brilliant engineers come across a non-documented problem only to fail miserably. Engineers do need to have a bit of inventiveness in their toolkit to be able to solve the problems that arise in the real world.

3: Attention to detail

An efficient engineer pays close attention to detail. Because they tend to work under tight deadlines, it is crucial that they be able to see the very detailed picture as well as the grand scheme. A close adherence to the minutia of a job will not only help the engineer work efficiently, it will result in a job done to completion. When an engineer can't see the details, issues and deadlines are missed.

4: Sense of humor

I'm not talking standup comedy, but engineers need to know how to laugh at themselves and/or at a situation. Engineers are going to make mistakes. If they beat themselves up for those mistakes, they're likely to drag those feelings of failure into their next appointment. Being able to take a situation a little more lightly means a person is capable of moving on and not dwelling on negatives. The last thing a consultancy needs is to have to pander to the insecurities of engineers who can't seem to get over making a mistake.

5: Ability to work alone or with others equally

Do you work well with others? Do you work well alone? Typical questions asked during interviews. We all know the interviewee is going to try to answer the question in a way that best fits the job description. We also know that the best field engineers are the ones that can work well alone and with others. There are going to be tasks that must be completed alone and tasks that must be completed as a team. Engineers worth their weight in payroll will be able to handle either situation without issue.

6: Desire to learn

This industry races by faster than the speed of light. The second you have a full grasp on a technology, something newer, better, and totally different comes along. This is a constant, and it means an engineer's education and knowledge must be ever-fluid and expanding. Without the want or willingness to learn new technologies or skills, an engineer isn't going to be much use to a consulting firm.

The worst-case scenario is that every time a new version of an operating system is released, an engineer is going to have to readjust his or her way of thinking. On a daily basis, we receive phone calls from new companies or companies releasing new versions of their software hoping to get us on board. On occasion, we try the new products, hoping to either find a replacement for a piece of software that doesn't meet our demands or to find something to fit a particular client's needs. When this happens, someone has to learn the ins and outs of the software. Hopefully every engineer on the staff is willing and able to do this.

7: Thrilled (but not obsessed) with tech

You want your engineers to enjoy technology... otherwise, you might have to question why they bothered becoming engineers in the first place. But you do not want them to be obsessed with technology. Anyone who has ever done any hiring knows a well-rounded person is almost always a better fit within a company than a single-minded, one-trick pony. If job candidates come in looking lost without a keyboard under their fingers, think twice about hiring them. Yes, it is good to have a healthy relationship with technology. But the minute that relationship becomes an obsession, things are going to get a bit strange. Such candidates may have trouble relating to clients or fitting in with other employees, and they could easily suffer from a severe lack of social skills, which could be a disaster in the field.

8: Strong communication skills

One of the things we do on a moment-to-moment basis is communicate. This is especially true for engineers who have to do any remote support. Without the ability to communicate, an engineer is going to have a tough time helping clients understand what is going on. And when that engineer is called in for remote support, things will quickly go south. Handling remote support is a job for a calm, understanding, patient person who knows how to fully and easily communicate with end users. But the importance of communication skills does not end at remote support. Even out in the field, engineers must know how to talk to clients. When something goes wrong onsite, the engineer must be able to explain the problem and how it is going to be handled. On top of that, engineers must be able to effectively communicate with the home office.

9: Patience in all situations

An impatient engineer is an engineer who's destined for failure. When an engineer displays impatience with a client, that client is not going to be happy. They may even file a complaint against the engineer. Engineers must understand that not everyone has their expertise level, so they may not grasp the concepts quickly. This is especially true with remote support, when an engineer can't always grab the mouse and keyboard from the user and say, "Here, let me show you." A potential employer once used an interesting trick on me: He made me sit quite a while in a waiting room before my interview. The employer wanted to see how I would react to having to wait. Fortunately, I am a patient person, so I won that employer over with my reaction. Although that device might seem underhanded, it is a good way to judge how candidates may react when things are completely out of their control.

10: Even tempered

I have seen it -- engineers punching walls, tossing keyboards, swearing at clients. It's ugly and generally winds up bad for everyone involved. One of the best engineers I have ever worked with was the most even-keeled person I have ever known. Nothing fazed this gentleman, and clients often asked to have him either take on or take over a job. This wasn't about skills, as there were engineers with far more skills available. This was all about personality and temperament. Hire engineers who aren't frustrated easily and do not display signs of temper to the public. Those engineers will prove to be your best workers.

The best fit

There are many facets to an engineer. Determining who will be a perfect fit requires more than just asking questions and administering tests. You must evaluate how candidates act, interact, and react to their surroundings, situations, and others. If you look for the qualities in the above list, you will have a head start on hiring the right people for the job.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

11 comments
enhydraboy
enhydraboy

I agree the last statement -hiring the right people for the job. It is crucial that we can find the right people for the JD but not the well-rounded people on all traits. Meanwhile, the company should think about the engineer's career path to engage them developing their skills.

blarman
blarman

The COMPANY has to be willing to provide resources so that person CAN learn. Techs have enough stuff to do, they shouldn't be expected to spend their personal time and money to keep their skills up to date. That's been the biggest bone to pick I've had with employers regarding training: they expect you to just _know_ it or to pick it up on your own time. HELLO!!! I'M ALREADY ON CALL 24/7!! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT!?!?!?

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

BTDTGTTS.. It's like the old saw that ends with PICK TWO.... The person that fits your overactive imagination is one that says NO a lot.... THEN says " I'll see what I can do ". He explains in detail much like the reporters FIVE Ws and an H. One thing he has learned to do is DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.... BECAUSE PEOPLE, ( ESPECIALLY SALE PUKES ) HAVE SHORT MEMORIES. A good field engineer has a complete set of tools AND ALL OF THEM GET BROUGHT TO THE JOB SITE. That was why I always brought the station wagon instead of the Jag. Yes some of the tools were my own and not company provided. When you own a project the only stress you get is when you have to rely on other people, ESPECIALLY THE SALE PUKES. You listen to the customer tell you what the sales things promised, then you talk at their level ( it varies from customer to customer *. Getting out the manual fixes most promised, but not delivered problems. I could go on, but my time is short...

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I used to chase the Salespeople. Because they are [b]Sneaky Bastards[/b] would lie directly to my face and then demand that I fix up the mess that they created with a costumer. This particular customer always appeared as a new customer because I sold what was needed to existing Customers and let the Sales Team fight over the Commission. Of course the down side to this was I only sold the good stuff which was required by the customer so they had all of this rubbish left over that they felt the need to move. ;) Col

Animal13
Animal13

One of the toughest things to teach new field engineers is that it's ok to say "I Don't Know". Customers hate when field techs act like know-it-alls but are clueless. Vulnerability makes you human and customers can relate. The other half of IDK is getting the right answer to the customer as soon as possible. Followup is a crucial part of customer service.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Before I got so jaded that it's not funny. Well OK I still Laugh at myself and the situations that i find myself in all of the time. I've given up chasing Apprentices with the aim of inflicting [b]Pain & Suffering[/b] when they do not do as I tell them. Not because I'm more mellow it's just that they run too fast now. ;) But Stress was never a problem because I could always say no matter how badly I messed up no one was going to die and then I started working Medical. Where when you messed up it wasn't a matter of nobody dieing but how many you killed this time. :-& Don't know about the bit about tight deadlines as even to this day I can not get anywhere On Time ever not even meals. The standing joke around me is that I'll be late for my own Funeral and expect the people to wait till I get there eventually. :D But if this helps I did like the jobs that no other could sort and I lived for them once upon a time though to be fair I still like that type of work. I think I've covered 4 & 5 above with the humor and ability to work with others rather than alone with the crack about apprentices. :^0 As for always wanting to learn that unfortunately is something I'll never grow out of as I firmly believe that the day you stop learning anything new is the day that you've died. But if this helps I used to love the tech and would always pull things to component parts when I first got my grubby hands on them. Not good when they where the only prototype in the country and the Sales people wanted to show it to some sort of reseller but did I learn about the tech. :0 Never could communicate very well though as my then and now favorite expression was to tell interlopers who interrupted me to [b]F### Off[/b] in no uncertain terms. Great way to get rid of Accountants wanting to know How Long will this Take when you hit a big problem and they want it fixed 3 days before they put in the call. Still to this day if some people are not greeted by that comment they know to go away as there is something seriously wrong. However Training tech was always good as I used to use a Stock Whip and Handcuffs with the express statement that if they messed up they got attached to that Hook in the Wall over there and then I would whip the life out of them and then whip them some more for making a mess on the floor. The Techs loved it but unfortunately no one else did. Though ti did stop Sales People from attending Training Courses. :^0 OH Hell the last two are still covered by the F Off comment above. ?:| This is probably why I was never a good Field Tech and was relegated to State Service Manager very early in the piece. Though in my defense I have to insist that I never sent any of my staff to places where I wasn't happy to go to and the people who worked in those places always asked for me by name. Probably too scared of hurting my feelings if you ask me but none the less it was not a great way to do business. The Prisons where probably the safest places to send my Techs but there where some really dangerous places that I had to send them. I got them all returned undamaged though. :D See while I used to work as a Field Tech I was defiantly not best suited to it. :^0 :D :^0 :D [/Maniacal Laughter] But you missed an Important one here Jack all good Field tech need to be able to drive a car very well and much more importantly fill in Insurance Claim Forms when they bend the company vehicles. ;) Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Great list, Jack. I felt like I was reading about myself. Well, except for that even-tempered part...and the attention to detail...and the patience...and the desire to learn...and the sense of humor. Okay, may it's not me after all. :D

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

Someone I know well works for a state entity. His job requires Mac certifications, but the entity contributes neither on-duty time nor money to retain the certs.

Animal13
Animal13

Field Techs have to be great drivers because they often have to follow chase a distracted salesperson who is driving like a madman to get to the customer on time. ;^)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If the tech is any good at all, he knows his territory upside down, inside out, and backwards. Let the salesperson race down the boulevard and risk a ticket or get caught in traffic. I'll take a couple of back roads and an alley or two and meet him when he gets there.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Why I was driving Racing Vehicles so often. I needed the practice to catch the Salespeople who where out of control attempting to sell what was overstocked instead of what the customer needed. :^0 Col