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How to hire for your customer support/help desk

When you are filling IT customer-support and help-desk positions, getting the right people is critical. They interact with both your internal team and your customers, and the satisfaction of both of these groups is a priority.

With that in mind, we’ve put together some steps that will help you find the right person.

1. Assess which skills your candidates truly need and which they don’t.

In other words, which skills are non-negotiable up front and which can be trained? You likely need an individual who has fantastic problem-solving skills, great people skills, and even better communication skills. It’s truly high stress to deal with people who may not even understand what their problem is. It takes both stellar communication and the patience of a saint to get results. These skills are probably more important than technical ones because the technical side of the job can be taught.

2. Write an accurate job description.

Accuracy means truly knowing both the job requirements and the skills/education/experience necessary to do the job. One of the biggest temptations here is to list a higher level of experience or education than is required, but this can backfire. Instinctively, this seems to be a strategy that would help weed out bad candidates. Unfortunately the opposite can be true - it can mean you get too many candidates who are not ideal, which just creates more work for you! Not to mention, it can mean your new (overqualified) hire is likely to be bored faster, resulting in higher turnover later.

3. Know what to ask.

Here are some examples:

  • “Tell me how to tie my shoes.” While seemingly unrelated, this type of question can quickly assess candidates’ ability to get to basics. It can be a way to ensure they’re not jumping to conclusions when presented with a problem. In this case, you’re looking to see what the candidate asks (such as inquiring about the type of shoes and laces) before jumping into a solution.
  • “Tell me about a time when you’ve handled an unhappy customer.” This type of query can assess how they handle stress and how they describe a frustrating experience.

The key is that every question should have a purpose. Questions that require candidates to relate specific examples or explain how they would handle specific scenarios can be quite beneficial because they show you more about candidates than just their answers.

4. Involve the right people.

Regardless of how much of the process is handled in-house and how much is handled by your recruiting team, get the right people into the decision-making process. Naturally you will make sure that the leaders who are directly involved with this position are part of the process, but don’t forget to consider who else should have input.

5. Resist hiring “the best.”

Go ahead, re-read that. Yep, we said don’t hire the absolute best. Why? Because that’s often missing the point. “Best” is vague. Of course the person you hire should be an excellent fit for the position, but that doesn’t mean he or she must be the top of the industry. Worse, having stellar credentials or references can often make it too easy to overlook major red flags in other areas. So, of course you need to look for a well-suited person who will be the best fit for the role, but don’t confuse that with the person who has the highest degree or the most years’ experience or the fanciest title. Those people might not even be a good fit.

Be especially careful in finding out what a candidate’s goals and ideal career path are. For example, if you hire someone who would much rather be coding (and perhaps she’s an ah-may-zing coder), she may not be so keen to answer phones and troubleshoot the same user issues all day long. Or perhaps she might be the best app developer in the region, but she may not be the right fit for this job. Pay attention to the details that matter, not the credentials that don’t.

6. Last but certainly not least, trust your gut.

If someone looks perfect on paper but you sense something is “off” during the interview, don’t ignore that feeling. Whether that something “off” is worth dismissing the candidate over is a judgment call, but gut instinct matters.

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