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How MSPs Can Profit from Hiring Underqualified Candidates

Hiring strong but slightly underqualified staff and training them can help avoid turnover.

July 31, 2019

6 Min Read
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"In addition to educating our managed-services sales teams, we have dedicated security pre-sales resources who understand the differences of selling security versus traditional managed services. Generally speaking, we have found that in order to be successful in selling security to the SMB market, you have to move beyond the use of fear, uncertainty and, doubt (FUD). We help business owners understand that security is not only a necessity in today’s current climate but can be affordable for their growing business." —Chris Sousa, VP of solutions and strategy, DatapriseShutterstock

By John Davenjay


John Davenjay

A successful hire doesn’t always mean hiring the most talented person. Sometimes, a successful hire is just not making a mistake. That’s because a hiring mistake can pull your managed service provider’s staff (especially management) away from revenue-generating responsibilities. Training new employees is a financial investment and if an employee leaves us unexpectedly, service delivery or professional services might lose revenue that would have otherwise been realized if fully staffed.

Here’s how many successful MSPs approach filling vacant seats on the service desk.

Mitigate Costly Turnover

Hiring mistakes beget turnover and turnover is costly. Employee turnover becomes especially costly when our investment in the employee’s training and salary aren’t recouped in billable hours before they leave us. The problem becomes compounded further if we overpaid the employee’s salary to begin with to “woo” their talent onto our team. Recognize that mitigating normal turnover requires different tactics than mitigating the cost of turnover.

  • The first tactic is recognizing you don’t need to hire a team comprised entirely of Michael Jordan all-stars. When we hire the super talented, we can find ourselves overpaying the person or negotiating concessions that end up biting us in the rear if they quit prematurely. Overpaid talent is worth it if we can keep them long enough to realize our investment, but it puts us at risk when we don’t.

Using our Michael Jordan metaphor, while he has set many impressive NBA records, there are still dozens of talented players in the game. Anyone who can get into the NBA is among the top percentage of basketball players in the country. Just because you haven’t heard of them, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there waiting to apply to your job or, with proper training, rise to the top of your organization. Play the numbers game and get ahead of a time-intensive hiring process by proactively posting job ads even when you’re not hiring so you can build up a funnel or strike quickly when you need to scale or backfill a seat quickly.

  • The second tactic reducing turnover is recognizing the value in hiring employees who unequivocally feel they are advancing in responsibility – not compensation – their first day of employment. That means, by any comparison, the job opportunity you’re offering feels like career advancement. Hiring employees who feel as though they’re advancing their job responsibilities and job title day one will give you more runway to train and more time to incrementally increase their compensation over a longer period of time, helping ensure they stick around long enough to reach your profitable utilization rate.

Yes, hiring candidates who can’t find better offers advancing their skill set could mean your MSP is potentially hiring someone who is slightly underqualified for the role, but that is the secret — hire candidates possessing MSP skills slightly short of being qualified for what you need, put your trust in your ability to “size-up” a candidate’s aptitude and invest heavily in your company’s training program so that your new hires achieve a useful proficiency in a relative short amount of time. They might not “hit the ground running” as would a Tier 1 or Tier 2 candidate, but you’re mitigating the cost and risk of an overpaid employee turning over before they become useful.

The average tenure for the average MSP professional at a Tier 1 or Tier 2 technical skill level living in a major U.S. metropolitan area is about 20 months (my company, Bowman Williams, has Skyped with more than 5,000 MSP professionals and we do our best to track these data points).

Instead of chasing the top 1% of talent who already have 20 other companies jockeying for their skills, consider hiring candidates that are slightly underqualified but possess enough aptitude to ramp up quickly so that they stay longer than 20 months. This way, your MSP has enough time to …

… realize profits from your investment and reduce turnover from high-risk employees who know they always have other job options aside from what you’re offering them today.

Ramping Up for the Long Term

In professional services, your people are your product. But trying to solely rely on hiring Michael Jordan-level talent to deliver MSP services instead of relying on sound, effective procedures can put your company’s stability at risk. If you’re solely relying on the quality of your individuals to deliver your IT services, you’re not setting up your MSP to scale for the long term. The long-term play for an MSP requires redundant processes, protocols and a quality of service standard so that clients receive the same quality of support no matter who they interact with on your team.

Since most of the trouble tickets your technicians are working aren’t issues no one has ever seen before, an MSP should be able to rely on the team, not the individual, to figure it out. That’s why we escalate. A team can follow a defined construct of processes that a company’s management team has created to turn inputs and outputs into happy clients. But if your MSP relies on rogue all-stars to deliver your work, it’s going to be much harder to influence any standard of service delivery when that quality is mandated by opinion and not processes. Best to be the ghost in the machine and manage the processes that manage the people.

Successful MSPs are incredibly organized and process oriented. If you’re a college basketball fan like me, I’m always reminded of how Mike Krzyzewski leads his Duke Blue Devils to be a nationally ranked basketball team every year as being a stellar example for how effective the right structure and training can be to the cultivation of a successful team. One of his most memorable quotes, “To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one,” speaks to a team’s ability to be great because they think as one and act as one.

While you don’t need to build an entire team of Michael Jordan-level talent to be a successful MSP, you can still benefit from Jordan’s advice: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championship.”

John Davenjay is the CEO of staffing agency 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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