MSP Skills Most Often Translating Into Successful Hires

Look for candidates who can communicate and are a good cultural fit; then, offer needed training.

March 8, 2019

6 Min Read
Job interview candidates

By John Davenjay


John Davenjay

While some MSPs place emphasis on hiring a different caliber of candidate for a client-facing position versus a specific technical skills-level position, does it make sense to continually adjust top-end hiring criteria when looking for the right candidate for a specific position?

How important is it to sustain some continuity among the preferred criteria when hiring across the spectrum of roles in your MSP? When an MSP focuses entirely on hiring a highly qualified client-facing candidate, how much should it be willing to sacrifice on the candidate’s technical skills? If these are the questions you’re asking yourself when you’re in the middle of the hiring process, here are some answers.

Why trying to hire candidates with soft skills and hard skills is a bad idea (for the most part): Here’s the truth: MSP owners successful in attracting and hiring top talent often place emphasis on one or the other skill set – soft skills or hard skills – but not both. Often, understandably, it depends on the nature of the role they’re filling, but the reality is an overwhelming majority of the available talent in the marketplace won’t score a 10 out of 10 in presentation and communication skills, as well as a 10 out of 10 in technical skills. However, candidates who do are often expensive and command an above-market-rate salary range. 

The good news is a business in any industry can be successful without having a team comprised solely of diamonds in the rough. Candidates with the highest marks in both technical and presentation skills often demand above-market salaries because they know their skills are in high demand. They can sense they must be good when they’re continually being invited back for second-, third- and final-round interviews. When candidates know they’re well received, they often start jacking up their target salary ranges. (Can you blame them?) Therefore, it’s important to recognize that if the position you’re looking to fill requires a healthy combination of both skill sets – client-facing and technical skills – you’re going to pay a premium to attract and retain the right talent. 

When hiring junior candidates, look for soft skills: It’s good practice to place emphasis on a candidate’s client-facing skills when hiring for junior or entry-level positions. While technical skills enable these employees to “hit the ground running,” what you usually can’t train them on is customer service, logical thinking and common sense. It’s important to remember: Don’t sacrifice skills you can’t enhance through cultivation and training. MSPs hiring candidates based on aptitude over “flashy” technical skills oftentimes retain high-value employees.

To recruit junior candidates successfully, use the following message (it resonates the most often with these candidates): “We’ll train you, certify you and expose you to new technology. Once you’re ramped up, we’ll automatically increase your salary.” Why does this message work? Well, it’s clear and provides a detailed career path for junior candidates; it also gives them something to work toward. At the end of the day, the most common way MSPs with low turnover retain junior and midlevel employees is by outlining career paths with tangible and measurable benchmarks

Think long term, not short term: Oftentimes, MSPs growing at an inconsistent rate experience large spurts of needing to hire multiple people in a short period of time. They’re typically left having to focus their hiring efforts on onboarding IT candidates already possessing a high level of technical aptitude and MSP experience, just so their new hires can add value quickly. 

But placing emphasis almost solely on technical skills can hurt and contribute to employee turnover. Human beings possessing poor attitudes, sloppy writing skills, or lacking common sense often can’t be managed or trained so that they improve those skills — what you see is what you get. These individuals almost never …

… wake up one morning and recognize they need to work hard to enhance their skills. Don’t hire someone with perfect technical skills who doesn’t align with your company culture or who fails to exude drive, common sense or people skills during the interview. It could catch up with you.

Finding sales professionals and C-suite candidates: Service providers who are hiring account managers and sales professionals obviously need their candidates to have pristine presentation and communication styles. Most MSPs choose to hire someone with limited technical knowledge and source someone with solid tenure selling any service (yes, any service).

The virtual CIO (vCIO) is a special breed, and it’s hard to find good ones. This is likely because the role often requires a very specific level of SMB technical knowledge, coupled with an ability to successfully gain a client’s confidence while presenting with an infectious, humble ego. 

What to look for when hiring to fill lower to mid-level support tiers: But what about the middle rung of positions in an MSP’s hierarchy? These employees oftentimes bolster most of a cloud or service provider’s staff. The most commonly filled position is the lower to mid-level support tiers, such as T2. Often, when an MSP is filling a T2 seat, it aims to hire someone with a pristine communication style and a strong foundation in SMB troubleshooting skills. 

When strengthening staffs with T2 skill sets, we see MSPs pulling the trigger on hiring candidates who align with their company’s flavor of personality traits, where the candidates seem to effortlessly assimilate into the company’s culture during the interview process. This can be hard to ascertain during an interview, so we always suggest having group interviews or inviting candidates to social events (such as a happy hour) to see how well the person gets along with the rest the team. 

T2s most often translate into successful long-term hires possessing personalities most agreeable to an MSP’s company culture, but they aren’t always the most eloquent or well-spoken candidates, so focus on identifying someone who fits culturally more so than someone with a rock star-level client-facing presentation. The technical skills should also be on par with the rest of the company’s T2s, but not too far advanced, otherwise you may have a difficult time leading them to the next step in their career. You don’t want T2s feeling stuck in certain roles or capacities for too long.

It’s rather difficult to find a candidate with commanding soft skills and hard skills, so depending on what you’re looking for, you’re going to have to sacrifice certain skills to add the right candidate to your roster.

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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