Hiring the right people for your Service Desk

276639499_f2b002ceaa_zHiring people for a service desk is a major challenge, but an important one. Without good people, even the best processes and tools will fail to deliver high quality services and support.

So where do you start?

Planning out a recruitment process is critical to helping you find the right person quickly. IT Recruitment is complex and requires good project management (although it is a process that rarely gets the attention it needs). You will need to set out clear stages and tasks, create supporting documentation, and involve people from across the organization, including IT, HR and perhaps even the marketing department.

Work out who you need

Recruiting for any part of an organization tends to fail when the business doesn’t have a clear understanding of what they need. Most often this is due to assumptions made. It might look like an easy option to recycle an existing Service Desk Analyst job specification but your requirements might have changed since it was used. In the end, you’ll get what you ask for, so if you’re asking for the wrong person, you’ll get the wrong person. It will pay dividends later in the process to start with a clear picture of what you need.

The service desk is the friendly face of IT, so an effective service desk analyst requires a mix of interpersonal, technical and problem-solving skills to succeed. In general, an analyst should be polite, considerate, patient, calm and respectful. The technical skills they require will depend on your own organization. What applications do your business people use? How do they communicate with the service desk? What tools do the service desk use? The technical problem-solving skills they will require will depend on where you draw the line between the service desk and 2nd line support e.g. which issues will they be expected to handle on the front line and which will they escalate to the technical support teams.

Work out what you need to pay

People cost money, so you’ll need to work out how much money is available to hire someone new for the service desk. You might already have a “default” salary range for analysts, but salaries change over time and you get what you pay for, so you might need to revise your budget.

If you are going to have to pay more to get somebody who is up to the job, you will probably need to justify this, so you might need to articulate the business case. What value do you need a new analyst to bring? The trigger for recruiting a new service desk analyst is usually one of two things: to replace somebody who is moving on, or to scale up support capacity to handle increased demand from the business. By presenting the case in terms the business can understand – such as an increase in the number of incidents/service requests logged per month, or an increase in the number of SLA breaches – it should become clear as to exactly why a new analyst is required, and the difference they will make.

Work out what they need and expect

Try as you might, if you’re paying under market value you won’t net the right people for your service desk – and support quality will suffer. But salary is just one component of the package. A prospective employee will also want to know about incentives, benefits package, training and career path. They might also check the reputation of the company using social sites like Glassdoor, so it pays to keep an eye on who is saying what about you so that you can respond to any negative comments. Talk to your HR department for guidance on expectations you need to meet as an employer, as well as any reputation issues you might need to counter.

Where do you find good service desk candidates?

The chances are, the best service desk analysts are currently working in a service desk elsewhere. Most service desk’s have a high turnover of staff (much higher than average across the organization)  but this is more reflective of the absence of a staff retention strategy, rather than down to the general calibre of people on the service desk. With analysts changing jobs frequently, they will eventually settle in to an organization that both recognizes and rewards their talents, so this is where you will find the star employees. Companies need to compete for the best staff, but the pay-off is outstanding IT support and happy end users. You’re going to have to pay to get them, and work hard to keep them. Remember, it’s not just about you finding the right employee. It’s also about the employee finding the right company.

In order to reach these star candidates, you’ll need to use a mix of channels. Consider how you can use your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, specialist forums, industry events and word of mouth – as well as outsourcing to recruitment agencies – to let people know you’re hiring. Wherever service desk people are hanging out, that’s where you need to get your message. Your marketing department may be able to help you spread the word across an array of digital and social channels.

It was highly possible that not paying the market rate was having a detrimental affect on service
It was highly possible that not paying the market rate was having a detrimental affect on service

Candidate Shortlisting

If you are offering a competitive package and you’re putting word out in the right places you can expect a flood of responses. With such a high turnover of staff happening across the service desk industry there are always plenty of people looking to move to an organization that provides better career prospects. Some people are just not good at writing a CV that really sells their potential value (particularly in IT where the focus is still very much on technical skill sets), so a short phone interview will help you get a clearer picture. Depending on your corporate vetting policy this might be done by HR, so make sure they have a clear list of criteria to work with and a set of poignant questions to ask.

After all of this, if you’re still not getting CVs of the calibre you require, it might be time to ask the HR department to headhunt candidates who are not actively/openly looking for a new role.

The interview process

Make sure you have a plan for a structured interview. Too often, organizations waste time talking through the candidate’s CV, instead of focusing on meeting their specific requirements. If you have spent the time documenting your requirements to begin with, interviews should be a simple process of “checking off” the skills of the candidate against what you need them to do. Going beyond the set of technical, interpersonal and problem-solving skills you have specified, you should also look at:

  • Qualifications: What qualifications do they have that support their application e.g. ITIL Foundation, the SDI Service Desk Qualification or one of the many more general customer service qualifications? Qualifications aren’t everything, although they will give you a quick indication of capability. Make sure you balance qualifications against real-world experience to ensure you will gain value within a reasonable timescale – without putting too heavy a burden on the rest of the service desk.
  • Culture: You will need to assess whether they will be able to operate effectively within your organisation’s own unique culture. Are they from a similar size of organisation in the same industry? You may favour hiring from similar organisations. A proven track record in the same area of business will be of value, but analysts who have spent time in a number of different types of organisation will have experienced a higher variety of support and are likely to be more adaptable. They may also bring more ideas for improvements with them, so if this is something you’re looking for, gaining some insight into their background will be important. By nature, large organisations tend to emphasis rigid processes and escalation paths to handle the challenges of scalability, whereas Small-to-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups foster greater flexibility and problem-solving. How much will a new analyst need to work within the constraints of your existing framework? And how much room is there for more creative approaches to problem-solving? Many large businesses are seeing the value in recruiting people with problem-solving skills and entrepreneurial attitudes that are bred by necessity within start-ups and SMEs.

Conclusions

  • Upfront planning and analysis is critical to successful recruitment. Bring members of your service desk team in at an early stage to help you work out exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Finding the right person takes time, money and effort, but the legwork is essential to net somebody who will fulfil the requirements in the long term. You don’t want to have to go through the process all over again in six months.
  • IT recruitment doesn’t work well if it only involves IT people, nor if it only involves HR people. You need both to find and recruit the right person.
  • Once you have your team of service desk superstars, you’ll need to work hard to keep them. Work with the HR department to put together a staff retention strategy that sets out an ongoing process of evaluation, engagement and reward.

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Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) Quick Guide

I know, it actually sounds like something they used to show early in the morning when I was growing up as part of an adult learning initiative, long before children’s television schedules took off.

The first I heard of it was at the itSMF Regional Seminar in Staines, as part of the “speed-dating” networking sessions, as Matthew Burrows had just finished writing the pocket book.

Before chatting to him further on the subject, I took a browse through the website, where I spent a while trying to understand just what it actually means.

SFIA in a nutshell

The idea is to give employers a common terminology framework around a set of generic business skills, and seven defined areas of responsibility, starting with entry level (Level 1) and taking you up to Level 7 where you would expect someone to be defining strategy and mobilising organisations to achieve business goals.

7

Set strategy, Inspire, Mobilise

6

Initiate/Influence

5

Ensure/Advise

4

Enable

3

Apply

2

Assist

1

Follow

This approach makes it quite straightforward to understand, as most people can typically follow the concept of an experience curve.

Some surprises

The biggest surprise for me was that this framework has been around for a long time.

Matthew explained:

“I started using it nearly 11 years ago for an organisation redesign project.

“I discovered SFIA, rather than invent something new, and found it really useful.”

He sees himself as a practitioner (indeed, he is one of the SFIA Accredited Consultants) and has been using it ever since.

Going through the material, I began to recognise skill profiles that I used to have to annually update in one of my previous companies, who have representatives on the SFIA Council and have chosen to adapt and adopt the framework.

Access to the materials

As with many things, there are no two ways about it, you have to register, but it is free to do so.

Once you register you are taken immediately to all the materials, without having to wait for a confirmation email.

  • A3 Size Summary Chart
  • Complete Reference Guide
  • Working With SFIA Guide
  • PDF detailing the changes between V4/4G and V5 (latest)
  • Skills Reminder Card
  • Skills in a spreadsheet form

The skills and descriptions in the Reference Guide are the most valuable resource – the generic description of the skills, and the specific descriptions for the various levels.

How it helps professionals & organisations

  • Recruitment/CV Development

Recruiters these days find the few, rather than attract the many, and you might be more likely to see jobs advertised that use the same language.

Matthew said:

“I saw one [job] the other day which mentioned the specific skill and specific level, right in the headline of the job.

“The more recruitment consultants use SFIA, the more intelligent their matching becomes because if they can educate their customer (who is specifying the role), or if the customer is already aware of SFIA, they can list a couple of core skills”

Using the specific descriptions, matched with the skill level in CVs could help professionals become one of the few.

  • Continual Professional Development & Mentoring

The progression through the levels of responsibility can be charted within disciplines (for example Project Management – starting with leading a single project and progressing to managing a number of projects, or managing project managers.

Training companies have started using SFIA to describe their training offerings, showing where the course is designed to provide which skill and which level.

Mentoring works in exactly in the same way – if you want to get to a certain level, use the SFIA framework to find a mentor with a skill at a particular level.

  • Organisational Skills Planning and (Re)Design

From a company point of view, they can baseline their current skills, and forecast what skills are going to be required, and do a gap analysis between the two, using that to define training and recruitment plans.

It can help in providing informed decisions around restricting and reorganisation.  If a couple is looking to outsource some activity, then assessing those skill needs and gaps can help.

Pitfalls

SFIA only provides you with definitions of professional skills.

It does not describe behavioural skills or specific technical knowledge.

Think of it as helping you put the self-promotional phrases that are all important in CVs and at appraisal time, backed up with specific technical qualifications and those all important softer skills that make someone a rounded professional.

Matthew warned against putting too much faith in the categories and subcategories:

“The categories and sub-categories are just convenient labels.  Don’t read too much into them.

“Service Management doesn’t include all the skills associates with Service Management, so if you were defining a process ownership role, you would find they would have some of the skills in the Service Management category, and some of the skills in the Strategy and Architecture category, so I find the skill names are really useful.”

Who makes it happen and where to find out more

The SFIA Foundation is a non-profit organisation.

There are five Foundation members who fund the Foundation, produce the material and make it available for people:

  • itSMF UK (The IT Service Management Forum)
  • IET (The Institute of Engineering and Technology)
  • e-skills UK (Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology)
  • IMIS (The Institute for the Management of Information Systems)
  • BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT)

Each of these organisations has a member on the SFIA Board, and in addition there is an SFIA council with other members from companies and corporations who use SFIA.

Funding comes in from the Foundation members, and from Accredited SFIA Consultants who pay a percentage of their fee to the central pot.

To register for SFIA materials, and to find out more, visit the SFIA Website.