We often hear about the skills drought in IT. If you attend any industry event, or simply dip your toe into any IT-themed LinkedIn group, you’ll soon enough hear about somebody’s struggle to find good new talent for their team within just a few conversations or clicks.
Yet, in my opinion, it’s not the people who are the issue, it’s the hiring process. I’ll put this front and center from the outset: IT is changing, but the hiring process is not. Everyone talks about valuing soft skills and customer-centricity over technical skills, but how often do those same people follow through?
IT is changing, but the hiring process is not.
The Hiring Status Quo
It’s just too easy to look down at a CV to see someone has experience in the right CRM system or email management tool and to put them in the “Yes” pile. The end result? Five interview candidates with adequate technical skills, but all a total gamble on whether they have the customer service and business skills your service desk really needs.
So what can you do to prevent history repeating? It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, but you can do it. The following three tips will look at three core areas of the hiring process and describe how shifting your approach to each can help you to find the right manager for your service desk team.
Tip 1: Create a Killer Job Description
Great talent is in great demand, so you’re going to need to temporarily turn the tables. Instead of getting the candidate to sell themselves to you, you’re going to have to start off by selling yourself to them. If you don’t, you’ll most likely end up with CVs from the people that didn’t get the jobs at the companies with the sexiest job descriptions.
To attract the right talent, you’re going to need to drop the dull job description and kick start your candidate search with something that’s more like an advertisement than a job spec. Gone are the days when a job description could be a simple checklist of skills the candidate needs to tick off before they could apply for a job.
The kind of candidates you’ll be looking for will use the job description to decide if this is the sort of job they’d like to do and if yours is the kind of company that they’d like to work for. Because of this, you now have to write your description like a sales pitch. It’s an advertisement for attracting the best talent and inviting them to work with you.
So what does a great service desk manager care about? Well for starters, they probably don’t really care about whether you use Windows or Linux, if Active Directory needs to be kept up-to-date, or if your ticket records are logged effectively. So you can ditch all that stuff. A great service desk manager is going to want to know what the team is like, what motivates them, and whether their personal management style will play nicely with the team.
They’ll also want to know what great service looks likes in your business, so that when they start to put their stamp on things, people are hopefully going to be receptive to it.
A great service desk manager does two things: manages people and delivers services. So recognize this in the job description. Chances are a good candidate is going to have strong, passionate feelings about both and will want to get into your business to start making a difference.
So with this in mind let’s forget the self-praise about how dynamic and fast growing your company is and start talking in a language that will resonate with your potential hire. Try talking about where the business is going and how they can help, for example:
“We are looking for someone who thrives on making a difference in IT support and customer service, to build upon our existing customer-experience-obsessed and detail-orientated approach. We also need a great leader who can understand the individuals in the service desk team, with a portfolio of techniques to keep team members motivated and outcome-focused.”
Okay it might be a little flowery for your taste. And absolutely it’s straying away from the norm. Nor does it announce in black and white that you need someone with “attention to detail,” who is “self-motivated,” or “manages customer expectations.” The aim is instead to reach out to someone on an emotional level, letting them know that there is an opportunity behind the job description that’s going to make them feel fulfilled and really at home.
Tip 2: When Reading a CV, Focus on the Stuff that Matters
When it comes to reading CVs, it’s really easy to get distracted—“Oh, this guy went to the same university as me!” or “We have a shared interest in ping pong.” And then suddenly you’re adding people to your short list who would make for a great friend but not necessarily a great colleague.
At the same time, you don’t want to go overboard in terms of searching out the perfect person. Then you run the risk of not actually finding anyone who fits the role, and you’ve shut yourself down to that “surprise” candidate who might be able to do IT support things you never thought possible.
So to ensure that you don’t lose focus, it’s a good idea to consistently refer back to your job description throughout the CV review process; look at the candidate’s experience and personal statement, and think about how they could help you to fulfill all the objectives you set out in the role specification.
For example, let’s say on the job description you stated that:
“We want someone who can help us to grow the levels of professionalism we have in our external-customer-facing services.”
This is an easy one to tie back to an objective; your external services need to accurately represent the perception your company is trying to create in its marketplace. So again, looking at whether they have the right kind of technical experience isn’t going to help you here. Instead you want to look at the type of companies that they have already worked for to see whether it aligns with your target culture.
But perhaps the first candidate has been managing service desk teams for years, with the majority of their experience working for a chain of summer camp companies. The second candidate you see may have less management experience but they have spent the last three years looking after service delivery for a bank. I can’t tell you which of these is the right person, but if you have a full awareness of the role’s objectives within the job description, and some prioritization of them, you can use that to guide your decision-making process.
The important lesson here is take a consistent approach to looking for the “right stuff.” Don’t let one stand-out thing in a CV lead your decision astray. Instead, a fair and balanced approach that helps you get what you really want, or need, is what counts. And just because someone’s CV says that they did well in one company doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily do well in yours.
Tip 3: In the Interview, Get a Clear View of the Candidate in Front of You
This might seem obvious, but interviewing is all about asking the right questions to better understand the candidate and their potential within your organization. Unfortunately, it can be the easy and obvious things that we mess up the most while interviewing.
The most common mistake in an interview—particularly for an IT role—is getting bogged down in the wrong questions. Digging too deep into the technical aspects of a project they worked on, for example. If you catch yourself asking things like “…and what level of granularity did you go down to when outlining your configuration items?” then hopefully you know that it’s time to hit the reset button and to ask a new question.
OK, so what should you be looking for? In the case of a service desk manager role, the x-factor that you’re looking for during the interview process might be something like:
“Is this the sort of person I feel confident putting in front of my team as a leader AND in front of my customers as a champion of IT?”
If through the interview process you decide that the answer is yes, then the next step is to uncover all the areas of learning that they still have left to start returning the results you want to see. This way you can base your final decision squarely on the correct balance of character (which is almost unteachable) and skills (which is completely teachable).
But remember that the most important anchor throughout is bringing your decision making back to your “killer job description” and asking yourself “Will this person achieve these goals?” and “Does this person match up with these character attributes?”
Three Simple Steps
The three simple tips for hiring an amazing service desk manager are:
Write a killer job description. Don’t be tricked into thinking that all that “self-motivated, team player, good communicator” stuff is essential in your job advert. If you hate reading it in CVs time and time again, chances are that job seekers hate reading it too. Cut down the word count and clearly explain what the goals are and what things your future hire needs to care about to get the job done.
When reading a CV, focus on the stuff that matters. It’s pretty simple, just don’t get distracted by CV circus acts; look into their experiences and see where the dots connect between them and you.
In the interview, get a clear view of the candidate in front of you. Just stay on track, ask the right questions, and dig deeper where it matters and move on when it doesn’t. Take the time to imagine how this person will behave in front of your team and customers, and give them an honest appraisal. The last thing you want to do is to gloss over the candidate’s cracks just to fill a position quickly, only to regret it a few months down the line.
Ultimately it’s all about your instincts and experiences telling you what to do, as checklists and tick boxes will only take you so far. Listen to what your gut is telling you, observe how the candidate presents themselves to people other than yourself, and validate your feelings with the goals and characteristics you know you are looking for.
So there you have it, three tips for hiring a great service desk manager. What would you do differently?
As SysAid Technologies' first employee, Sarah Lahav has remained the vital link between SysAid and its customers since 2003. She is the current CEO and former VP of Customer Relations at SysAid, two positions that have given her a hands-on role in evolving SysAid solutions to align with the dynamic needs of service managers. Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahlahav.