Don't Get Blindsided When Hiring Your Next MSP Employee

Hiring can be painful. Understand which skills translate most often into successful hires for MSPs – and which ones do not – then stick with those skill sets to avoid making a bad decision.

October 24, 2018

6 Min Read
Job interview candidates

By John Davenjay

If you’re an MSP hiring manager, you know that the hiring process can be painful. The only thing worse than going through rounds of interviews is going through rounds of interviews only to be blindsided after on-boarding the wrong hire.

Here are a few tips on how to mitigate being blindsided the next time your MSP is hiring, starting with understanding what skills translate most often into successful hires for MSPs — and which ones do not. 

Earlier this month, at Channel Partners Evolution in Philadelphia, I discussed how MSPs can prevent premature staff turnover. During my presentation, I revealed four techniques and gave a high-level overview of each. Below, I’m going to dig a little deeper into two of those skills and share tips for uncovering each during an interview.

Candidates coming from SLA-driven environments. As you know, when it comes to choosing whom your MSP should hire, not all IT candidate backgrounds are created equal. During the hiring process, more than likely you’ll come across two different types of candidates: those from service-level agreement-driven environments (like an MSP) and those not from SLA-driven environments (like an in-house internal IT support tech working for a large government contractor). By being able to identify candidates from SLA-driven environments (or candidates coming out of similarly structured environments), MSP hiring managers can increase the likelihood of hiring candidates who can adapt to the position’s pace and demand, and don’t quit or get fired prematurely.

An SLA-driven environment is designed to move trouble tickets through your MSP at such a velocity that everyone works efficiently. Typically, candidates coming from SLA environments will have success solving IT problems requiring them to work at a fast-pace while prioritizing tickets, setting expectations with end users, and documenting their work. Ultimately, candidates coming out of an SLA-driven environment have proven success solving IT issues within a framework of problem resolution. This rigid IT problem-solving process is a structure that gives candidates from SLA-driven environments the upper hand because they’re less likely to burn out, quit or get fired for failing to follow internal procedures.

Certainly, new hires can learn to follow operational procedures, ticketing systems and understand when it’s time to escalate a ticket. But one of the most common reasons Tier 1 and Tier 2 technicians are terminated by MSP employers is because they have a difficult time adapting — specifically, to juggling the pace and demand of jumping from client to client. This type of support work can be very different when compared with an internal IT support position with a large IT team where skills can become siloed or specialized and the tech doesn’t sharpen their strong IT generalist skills.

If you can’t find candidates to interview who have direct MSP industry experience, consider candidates with similar experiences. For example, look at workers coming out of hedge funds, franchised companies or holding companies where the techs could have worked in a similar capacity as at an SLA-driven environment. The kicker being that they worked in IT environments with unstandardized, heterogenous technologies, i.e., different hardware vendors, versions, environments with different Active Directory forest arrangements, domain structures, etc. Look for candidates that have experiences indicating they can perform reactive IT support across multiple external environments of unstandardized technologies where the end user is treated as a client. These techs are more likely to be armed for success at an MSP because they’ve already been successful solving IT issues without copious amounts of time to close out tickets; they already know when to escalate because they answer to an end user or SLA; and they’ve likely cut their teeth as autonomous problem solvers so they’ve become IT generalists.

Candidates possessing your MSP’s brand of client-facing skills. MSPs are service organizations first and technology companies second. Consider this: How do you feel after you receive poor customer service elsewhere? When you’re out at a restaurant, and the glass in front of you remains empty for an unreasonable amount of time, how does this little inconvenience alter your perception of the restaurant? Are you more or less likely to suggest the restaurant to your friends? You don’t like waiting. Nobody likes waiting. Communication is the key to managing the psychological contract with the end user.

Waiting is one thing, but people especially hate waiting when they don’t have feedback to manage their expectations. Your customers want to know they’re being cared for. Many of the issues your help desk technicians are receiving aren’t some rare event that no one has ever seen before. In fact, most support issues are likely recurrences of previous issues — so if you have good processes and documentation in place, putting an emphasis on soft skills such as communication should probably trump vetting for ideal technical skills. Remember: Most people don’t change in the client-facing department. These skills typically can’t be taught. People don’t just wake up one day and “smell the roses” in this department, so don’t skim that qualification when interviewing for your MSP’s brand of customer service.

Tips to Spot Customer-Service Winners

Here are a few tips on how to ensure that the candidates you are considering possess qualities similar to those your MSP consistently offers its clientele.

  • Find out how a candidate would interact with your customers by role-playing scenarios during the interviewing process. For example, ask the candidate to verbally role play three different scenarios with you, where you are the customer on the phone and they are a tech working for your MSP.

  • Invite the candidate to a happy hour or a dinner and ask them to invite their spouse or significant other to join you and your team. This is a great way to see how people genuinely interact with other people when they don’t feel as “scrutinized” as they might during a formal interview step.

  • Put a candidate in real-life work situations. For example, have the candidate actually “shadow” your best tech on the service desk. This means putting the candidate to work in your office for half the day, where they actually close tickets, answer a few calls and send a few emails. A quick note on this: The MSP should always pay the candidate for their time. Also, remind the candidate that shadowing benefits the employer and the candidate because the candidate will also get the opportunity to see what it’s like being physically in your office environment, doing that particular job and interfacing with potential future colleagues.

Hiring the right people is key to scaling any business, but it doesn’t always have to be painful. Know what to look for and what to rule out. Keep evolving your interview process and place emphasis on hiring candidates that possess the tangible skills translating most often into successful hires for MSPs.

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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