Leadership

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.

19 comments
hksupply
hksupply

What if someone applies for your entry-level job, that is not enrolled in college? Are you going to turn them down because the university won't be paying part of their salary? I'm curious how much you're going to pay the part time employee. I've always started at "entry-level" jobs and worked my way up. I really hate it when managers expect a degree for a low paying "entry level" job. If I were you, I would look for either students that have tried to build their own computer (if the job involves hardware stuff) or if the job is more software-related - look for those who know how to format a hard drive, install/reload windows - get rid of viruses, uninstall programs. etc etc. Perhaps you can require applicants to fill out a 1page "test" - attached with their application for employment or resume. List questions like: List some of the software programs you've used at home or work. Or "What kind of software/hardware problem solving issues have you had in the past. Give us an example: What was the problem and how did you solve it. Things like that.... That way you can give the potential employee the same chance you had when you landed your first tech job.

Gopal Saini
Gopal Saini

Mr. Rosberg.. you are on the right way.... Becoz customer satisfaction is at the first place.. but tell me one thing how can he convince the user if he doesn't have the right knowledge... u can hire a person at the entry level but he must have knowledge abt the basics and abt the computer peripherals... this is what i think... and we can have conversation through "gopal_saini1985@hotmail.com" And believe me you are on the right way perfectly.. all things are genuine what is in ur mind..

Joe_R
Joe_R

My maxim: Hire for attitude, train for skills. (Do it the other way around and see what you get.)

billbohlen@hallmarkchannl
billbohlen@hallmarkchannl

The position you describe demands Customer Service skills as a very high priority. Technical aptitude is a distant third...that can be taught, and learned. 90% of all computer problems have been solved by someone else before and can easily be Googled if you use the right terms. But I think the top skill that all IT Support Professionals need and so many lack are "Detective Skills". They need to be able to properly and scientifically isolate and identify the true problem.

warren
warren

To our experience, everything follows a service attitude. Not only are service centered techs more willing to learn new technologies, they make better team players in the IT department over the long run.

Fregeus
Fregeus

As far as your entry level support position, I agree that customer service is just as important as technical incling. I think that customer service was overlooked vs technical knowledge and expertise for too long. Which was ok in a way because most technical incling individuals usually lacked in social skill, which we can translate into good customer service. That was then, this is now. Today, it's just as important. For your position on your web development project, that can be another story all together. How much exposure will this person get to the customer? Will this person be working more on technical issues than support issue (and ultimately social issues)? TCB

tokunbo007
tokunbo007

for me, I think it would be a mixture of both. As much as a service attitude is needed, the tech-apptitude is necessary as well, unless the rendered service will be in mode - poor

axent
axent

I believe the question was not what he should do in his situation, but which would you rather have in a potential applicant. Personally, I tend to agree that having a background in customer service is an asset. Let's face it, as much as we may hate to admit it, we work in a service-driven field where the end users are our "customers". I would rather hire someone as a junior who has advanced customer service skills and basic technical skills. My reasoning? I've worked with a Network Administrator who doesn't know how to relate to people. He tried to explain things to end users using our advanced technical jargon, but couldn't dumb down what he wanted to say. Add this to the fact that he was explaining something that they didn't care about. I've found recently that most end users just want their computer fixed; they don't care how you fixed it or what was wrong. Technically, it's the job of the Network Admins (whether senior or junior) to fix computers and deal with computer-related issues. But I digress. Without the customer service skills developed over long periods of working in a service-related field (read: retail), it's difficult to help someone develop that skill set. You can always teach someone how to fix a computer (provided they *want* to learn), but you can't teach someone how to interact with others.

carolynjmcmillan
carolynjmcmillan

Put them in a room with internet access, quiz on your top support calls and find out if they are resourceful

beetechnet
beetechnet

For me, its depend on the team the new entry level support will work with. If your university requires an entry level support staff begin producing immediately he or she resume duty then i'll recommend an entry-level support person with technical aptitude if not then you can go consider second option. Bolaji

williamjones
williamjones

Lots of techs got their start working in user support, even if they moved on to other specializations later in their careers. In my original post, I discuss what I think the stand out skills are for an entry-level support position: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=212 My philosophy about hiring is that at the entry-level, experience applying skills in the "real-world" is something that's yet to come. A professional understanding of technology concepts just hasn't yet had time to mature. What got you you first tech job? Was it an expertise based on your curriculum in school, or on your personal pursuits? What advice do you have for IT job hunters at the entry-level?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

given that employers aren't total idiots, is the very narrow definition of skills. The confusion between say a good understanding of the entity user, and knowing which icon to click on the desktop to manipulate one is widespread. Or in my trade, the idea that because I know c#.net I couldn't figure out VB.net in short order, given , of course, I can program in the first place. Development and admin are skills, windows, linux, C# and VB are tools.

SDNetService
SDNetService

This approach has certainly worked for me, in non-IT fields as well. I've also had to clean up after managers who have done it the other way around. I've seen first-hand that it's usually a mistake to hope to coax a service-oriented attitude from someone who has a strong but narrow technical focus. Attitude & skills are two halves that make the whole, but it's much, much harder to train attitude.

cm151005
cm151005

If you ask a manager, they want "warm and fuzzy". If you ask a technical person, they want knowledgable coworkers. This is a rare combination. The most knowledgable people in any technical field are usually the least personable. But that does not mean rude or condescending. Technicians should be polite and most of all, professional. However, "customer service" has now come to mean giving them whatever they want, and kissing their a$$. There are times when you have to say no. Politely. When your car is towed into the repair shop or body shop, do you want to share special moments with the technician, or is it more important to get your car fixed? Correctly, quickly, and reasonably inexpensively. Do you commisurate with your plumber or electrician? How about the lawn care guy? Is it more important that your doctor is a nice guy, or that he can cure you? And, how does that importance change with the severity of the illness or injury? Technicians are not "interchangable" (ie all have essentially the same technical skills) as some managers believe.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you've got a poor service attitude, I can teach you to at least fake giving a rip in front of the customers. I can't teach you to fake technical competence.

Magic Alex
Magic Alex

You could be the smartest computer genius in the world but it wouldn't hold a grain of salt if you can't talk to the people that need your help in a way that they can understand. Communication and Support go hand in hand, one of my best assets was gained from working in retail for 5 years (grocery store) before starting my IT position. Without that exposure i'd still probably be extremely shy and too reserved to express my technical mojo.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Committment to doing the best you are allowed to. Desire to engineer an environment where you can do better. A need to learn more, to be more, to get more. All else is a BS excuse for failure. My first tech job I got, from signing up on an IT correspondance degree off my own bat, a good amount of self learning as a hobbyist, and volunteering to be a superuser in the roll out of a brand new and inhouse computer system. Originally the firm used to rent time on the previous owner's system. A long time ago in a faraway place, but back then 'trained' IT people were rare and expensive. I don't really care why someone wants to be good, just that they do, timeservers need not apply. You can't give a good service in tech support without technical ability, and having technical ability alone doesn't mean you will provide a good service. It's all about pride and self respect. Thats what you should look for first no matter what level the job. Advice to new starters, get lots of bits of paper otherwise you won't get past the HR muppets to display your attitude. Sad but true.

hksupply
hksupply

I agree with you 100% - I've dealt with many managers or even Small Business owners that think Technicians are a dime a dozen.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is not DBA for programmer or even win admin, for linux admin. The one they want is this one for cheaper.... Viewed by that criteria alone , they are a dime a dozen. Sad, but true.

Editor's Picks