7 Steps to Spot MSP Candidates with the 'Secret Sauce'

Successful candidates share similar traits, from common sense to adaptability.

December 20, 2018

5 Min Read
Secret Sauce

By John Davenjay


John Davenjay

Since 2012, we at Bowman Williams have interviewed 10,000 MSP professionals via Skype. We’ve found many similarities among the top 10 percent of the highly qualified MSP candidates with whom we Skype. In fact, when we come across that highly qualified MSP candidate, there will often be a common thread amongst them where every MSP that interviews that candidate will often see the value and agree — they possess the “secret sauce.”

When it comes to the criteria for a candidate with the secret sauce, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into what you as an MSP owner, manager or professional should be looking for during the hiring process.

1. An explorer mindset. You’ll know the answer by watching how the candidate reacts during and after the interview. For example, let’s say the technician gets a technical question wrong during the interview. Pay attention to the candidate’s reaction after you point out the error. Does the interviewee respond by asking additional questions to determine how their mistake was made? Do they even care they were wrong? There is a common thread among the secret sauce candidates, where they follow up after the interview explaining they’ve done research on the problem and understand their mistake. The person you need is someone who’s naturally curious and willing to fight through any adversity to diagnose the root cause of a problem — not an individual who does the bare minimum and passes the buck.

2. Is common sense all that common? Finding a candidate with common sense isn’t an easy feat. Autonomous MSP techs need to rely on more than just technical skills – they must rely on themselves. Ask candidates to cite examples of how they navigated adversity, then ask rapid-fire follow up questions testing their judgment, to see how they respond expressing their thought process. The goal is to figure out why they solved a problem the way they did and were there more logical alternatives. Common sense is what I call the Holy Grail of soft skills.

3. Play nice with others? True team players often can cite believable experiences when they’ve worked collaboratively with others. Weed out candidates who could potentially rub clients and teammates the wrong way. Take candidates out to Happy Hour, take them out to dinner – see how they socialize. Is the way they express themselves well received by everyone who interviewed them? Do you cringe when they talk? Get perspective — have multiple members of your team interview the person and weigh in.

4. Can the candidate adapt? Working in an MSP environment isn’t for everybody. Hiring technicians with backgrounds in MSP environments helps you know what you’re getting into and helps us mitigate potential surprises. Not everybody can adapt to the MSP model’s dynamic, fast-paced work environment, especially candidates who may have worked in an office environment with a slower pace. Don’t forget: MSP technicians are expected to think on their feet, prioritize tasks and set expectations — all while solving problems. You need to hire candidates who can shift and evolve in ever-changing work dynamics. For example, some parts of the model are a bit more structured (think about help desk support adhering to SLAs), while other parts require employees to work autonomously (a field tech on a client site solving IT issues).

5. Resiliency. If you’re unsure about how a candidate would respond to you pointing out an error, inquire about past blunders with previous employers. Candidates with self-awareness are usually their own worst critics, so they should be able to easily recall a few …

… mistakes they’ve made at previous employers, as well as the lessons they learned. Don’t let them off the hook – always get an answer.

6. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Nobody wants to hire a Debbie Downer. Someone who’s pessimistic destroys team morale by feeding on that positivity. A negative outlook also could indirectly affect your organization as a whole by affecting its bottom line. Remember: Positivity begets positivity. Figure out a candidate’s mindset by asking about a time when a positive attitude has propelled a situation in the right direction.

From my experience running an MSP, an optimistic outlook often goes hand in hand with professional maturity. Professional maturity is frequently the key ingredient for accountability. And as managers, it’s our accountable employees that we rely on most.

7. What are the candidate’s motivations? Many skills can be taught, especially in an era where information is readily available, but what cannot be taught is motivation. Ambitious candidates will be ambitious employees. Motivated employees handle uncertainty better. They’re better problem solvers because they display higher levels of innovation, creativity and customer-centricity. Most importantly, motivated employees are usually more profitable; they’re less likely to escalate tickets prematurely, for example. These employees are always striving for more, meaning they’re more likely to study for certification exams, absorb more information and look for ways to improve both personally and professionally. Motivated employees bring value to your business — that’s what sets you apart from competitors.

By asking all the right questions during the interview, you can better determine if the MSP candidate in front of you has the secret sauce. You’ll mitigate turnover, strengthen your company culture and scale with confidence.

John Davenjay is the CEO of Bowman Williams. John founded the company in 2009 after running operations and sales for a managed service and VoIP provider based in Washington, D.C. His firsthand experience of sourcing and hiring MSP employees led to the creation of a staffing firm exclusively focused on helping the MSP industry eliminate the common bottleneck of hiring MSP talent. Forbes ranked Bowman Williams #137 in the Best Recruiting Firms in America in 2018 and the firm is a staffing partner for over 300 MSPs around the country. Reach Davenjay on Twitter: @bowmanwilliams.

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