In a recent Laws of Technical Management column, Bob Artner predicted a decline in demand for entry-level tech support professionals, and he’s right. In the past, you could get some entry-level jobs with only the ability to install and troubleshoot hardware and software. But as technologies evolve, you have to bring more to the table. This week, I’d like to share some career advice given by people who do the hiring.

The most important support skills
In response to Bob Artner’s column, TechRepublic member Lynn posted a comment contending that certain skills will keep tech support professionals employed, regardless of changes in technology. In Lynn’s words, those core skills include:

  • Good communication
  • Respect for others
  • Good troubleshooting ability
  • Ability to understand business requirements
  • Desire to find solutions rather than to place blame
  • Ability to apply old concepts to new applications

Techies should pay close attention to the two soft skills at the top of the list. And remember, that A+ certification doesn’t mean as much if your resume is poorly written or you don’t demonstrate those qualities when you interview.

Resume tips from people who read them
Becky Tinley sees a lot of IT resumes in her role as senior technical recruiting manager for Ajilon Consulting. The company is a provider of information technology services, from IT consulting for systems development and integration to software quality assurance, help desk, and outsourcing, and Tinley interviews candidates for positions in nearly every IT specialty.

For Tinley, a good resume contains plenty of detail, including the systems you’ve used and supported or the languages you’ve learned. She doesn’t mind if the resume is longer than one page, but “it’s not necessary to make it ten, either.”

The most important thing about a resume, according to Tinley, is “using industry-standard job titles.”

“Some employers use ‘system engineer’ as the title for both programmers and network architects. If you were a programmer, say ‘programmer’ in the resume.”

Steve Crone, director of application development for Papa John’s, only considers applicants with acceptable resumes. “You’re using it to get in the door, to say hello,” Crone said. “The resume must be well written, without any spelling errors.”

Asked what makes a resume well written, Crone said, “It should represent you. It should list not just what you know, but what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished.

Red flags
Asked about resume red flags, Tinley and Crone both had the same answer: gaps in employment. Tinley said that frequent short-term gaps raise questions that may send a resume to the bottom instead of the top of the stack. Crone agreed, “Job hopping isn’t good. But the gaps don’t automatically disqualify a candidate, as long as there’s a valid explanation.”

Conversationalists wanted
Assuming your resume gets you in the door to say hello, how do you demonstrate good communication skills?

When Tinley is deciding whether candidates will make good help desk operators, she doesn’t use any trick questions. She just wants to see if they can tell a story. “If they have experience, I ask them to tell me about their career from the beginning. If they don’t have experience, I ask them about their school projects.”

Tinley summed it up this way: “For the phones, I need someone who can quickly assess a situation and identify what the problem is. But more importantly, I need someone who relates well to a lot of people, all kinds of people.

“So I look for people who can clearly convey their thoughts, tell me where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go.”

Come prepared with work-related stories
Crone doesn’t use trick questions, either. He said, “When I’m interviewing someone, I’m considering how they’ll fit in as an employee of the company.

“I’m also usually looking for specific experience,” Crone said. “I’ll say, ‘Tell me a story about a time when…’ I’ll ask about some negative thing they’ve faced and how they overcame it.”

According to Crone, you’d better be ready to talk about “something negative” when you interview. “If someone has zero negatives, question it.”

Know your contributions
Tinley has one other question that she asks of every candidate: “How did what you do affect the bottom line?”

“If you say you were in healthcare, I ask what kind of healthcare. Why did your job matter to the business? I find if they can make that connection, they do better.”

Practice makes perfect
If you’re trying to land that first help desk position or the next level-three network services support contract, you have two homework assignments. First, try to put yourself in the shoes of an interviewer and read your own resume. If it doesn’t knock your cybersocks off, rewrite it. Then ask a close friend or two to review it, and rewrite it. Repeat until you get it right.

Second, practice your conversational-interview skills. Start by taking your resume-reviewing friend to lunch. Have that person say to you: “Tell me about a time when you faced a negative situation and overcame it.” After a few rehearsals, you’ll be primed and ready to shine in your next interview.

Rate your interview skills

If you’ve been on either side of a job interview recently, we want to know what went well and what didn’t. Post a comment below or write to Jeff.