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CXO

What's more important at the entry-level, a service attitude or technical aptitude?

Lots of IT pros get their start behind the help desk. What's the most valuable quality to look for when hiring a support newbie?

I'm looking at hiring people for a couple of new IT positions in my office. One of these jobs is for a full-time professional that we hope can help us on some upcoming Web development projects. The other position is for a part-time support assistant, and since we're based here at a university, I'm going to open the position up to students. For one, hiring a student that's eligible for work-study would mean that our department wouldn't have to bear the full cost of the position; the University would pick up more than half of their wages. For another, I'm not sure that a part-time position would be that attractive to techs with extensive professional experience. Not at the pay grade we're considering for the job, anyway.

So I've been working to develop a list of qualifications for an entry-level support position, and asking myself what I want to look for in prospective candidates.

Obviously, some conversance with technology is a must-have. I won't expect that anyone already have his or her A+ certification or anything, but I don't want to have to explain what a USB port is to my new hire, either. I'm pretty flexible about what a candidate can use to demonstrate their comfort with technology. Experience building systems would be great, but I'm open to other qualifications.

I certainly didn't have any formal experience when I got my first support job. I won my student position by describing how I treated a virus infection on my personal computer. I was able to demonstrate to my future boss that I could analyze a problem and follow steps to solve it. That's called critical thinking, and it's valuable to have in an entry-level candidate, regardless of whether they've had the chance to apply that skill to technology problems yet. So while I'll be making sure that my interviewees aren't intimidated by computing concepts, I'm not setting hard and fast technology qualifications for the new entry-level position. It's important to me to hire an intelligent person who's curious about technology, quick on her feet and who can learn new skills. Isn't an entry-level support position really about on-the-job training, anyway?

So what is a required qualification for my new entry-level position? Customer service experience tops the list. I think this is vital for new support hires, especially those just getting started in the field. I'm not picky about the type of experience; I'll entertain candidates who've worked the retail floor, who've babysat or waited tables in a restaurant. User support is customer service, and I want someone who can make that relationship work. At the outset, an understanding of customer service is more valuable to me than technology aptitude because knowledge of technology can be developed, if one works at it. Customer service is a mindset as much as it is a skill; there are some people who just aren't suited to working service positions. In this case, serving customers is baked into the job, and if someone doesn't understand that, he's going to have a long row to hoe.

As I'm looking at hiring a new entry-level person to provide support in my office, I'll be keeping an eye out for technical aptitude. It'll probably decide whom we hire. Without a positive attitude toward customer service, though, a candidate will have a hard time getting through the door for an interview.

What do you look for when hiring for entry-level support positions? Let me know in the comments.

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