Hiring help desk staff: Technical vs. interpersonal skills

Experts weigh in on the importance of interpersonal skills for help desk staff.

In a previous article, we provided experts' opinions about the most important guidelines to follow when hiring help desk staff. Now, in response to a member's question, we'd like to drill down a bit further. We asked industry experts Mike Overby, Michele Triponey, and Gary Manske to weigh in on the subject of help desk candidates' technical vs. interpersonal skills. The following are their responses to the question: What's more important to look for in a candidate—good technical skills or good interpersonal skills?

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Mike Overby

Mike Overby is the owner of Express Personnel Services in Irving, TX. His response:

"I think it is important to have an appropriate mix that can be tested for. What we do is select skills and personality tests that are appropriate and benchmark-test the clients' good existing employees. These same tests are administered to new applicants so objective comparisons can be made before hiring and training. This approach has proven to reduce turnover significantly."

Michele Triponey

Michele Triponey is vice president of Help Desk, Desktop & Server Support Practice, at Ajilon Consulting. Her response:

"Good interpersonal skills are more important on our desks than technical skills primarily due to our use of heavily populated knowledge database systems and our training programs. On any given day, we will hire a person with exceptional customer service skills over technical skills."

Gary Manske

Gary Manske is senior manager of business development at SEI Information Technology. His response:

"In many support environments, my opinion is that you staff first-level support with strong customer service (interpersonal skilled) resources. The help desk needs to have a friendly face. If it doesn't, people won't call and you're not capturing important data. It also needs to solve problems. This is the rub. One approach is to solve a difficult, 'unscriptable' technical problem through an escalation if the resolution is not at the first level. You should be searching for the right 'middle ground' for your organization."

Jay Arthur

Software company owner Jay Arthur is the author of The Small Business Guerrilla Guide to Six Sigma and Six Sigma Simplified. His response:

"Most tech support callers want:

  1. People who can help them solve a problem right now (technical skills).
  2. People who treat them like the company wants their business (interpersonal skills).

"As for how best to advertise for these people: The phone is a purely auditory visual or physical interaction. So your ads have to be heavy with auditory words: talk, listen, click, and ring. The ad should only have a phone number, no address. Why? Because you want them to pick up the phone and call you. If they won't pick up the phone, you don't want them.

"If your initial interview over the phone doesn't have the kind of voice tone, tempo, and so on that you are looking for, you don't want them. If you don't get the impression that they like to help people solve problems, you don't want them."

More about help desk staffing…

This is the second in a series of articles about help desk staffing. To learn more about the topic, read our first article. Our experts will be visiting the site to answer your questions in the discussion below. Or, if you'd prefer, send us your question by e-mail for a chance to have it answered in an article format.

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