Working on the Help Desk

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What are all the possible job options for the Windows professional? By our count, a Windows careers can encompass an alphabet soup of titles ranging from Administrator to XML Programmer. We begin the first in a regular series of job snapshots with a profile of a Help Desk Analyst.

Job title:
Help Desk Analyst

Variations:
Help Desk Coordinator, Technical Support Agent, Technical Support Analyst, or Web Technician (for online service and support)

Responsibilities:
Deal with frustrated users in a professional manner. They monitor phone, Email and chat queues for user requests, and diagnose and resolve hardware and software problems. "Usually users are at their wit's end, so the technician must put them in a state where they're receptive to a good response, plus give them the right answer," says Mark Thompson, president and director of Service911.com, Dallas, which provides outsourced help desk services via Email and online chat sessions.

Skills required:
Thorough knowledge of desktop operating systems, applications and hardware, plus devices that attach to PCs; analytical and troubleshooting ability; and superb interpersonal communication skills. "I always like to interview people on the phone to see if they're articulate and friendly," says Laurie Davis, treasurer of the New York chapter of the Help Desk Institute and the former help desk manager for the National Basketball Association. "And I want someone with good follow-up skills because users want to be kept informed of what's going on."

Career path options:
Management positions include help desk manager, customer service manager or quality control manager. Interim positions can be help desk project manager, who might spend part of the day working on a knowledge base containing the resolutions to common problems or developing a plan to improve help desk processes.

The help desk can also be a stepping stone to other areas of the IT organization such as networking or operations. In that case, Help Desk Analysts usually stay in the job only about a year to 18 months because of burn-out.

Common questions from users about Win2000:
"Usually they're about how to prepare for an upgrade," Thompson says. "Also, we get a lot of networking and log-in questions."

Certification requirements:
At Service911.com, WebTechs must have at least the A+ Certified PC Technician vendor-independent certification in hardware and software, according to Thompson. To move up the ladder, they must earn the MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional). Davis views certification of any kind as a plus, but not required. She says special certification programs for help desk analysts are just starting to emerge. (For more information, check out: HDI Certified Support Center Program or Help Desk 2000.)

Demand:
High "We're always hiring," Thompson says. Not only is the help desk function growing, turnover is relatively fast because of job stress, Davis adds.

Salary range:
$25,000 to $40,000 for entry-level analysts and up to $60,000 for Level 2 support, Davis estimates; up to $80,000 for Level 3 professionals, Thompson says.

Best types of companies to work for:
The options include working for an internal help desk (almost all large companies have them); a call center supporting external customers (staples with software and hardware makers, systems integrators, computer resellers and PC direct-marketers); or a company that provides outsourced help desk services.

If your goal is to be a support professional, Thompson suggests working for a company whose business is service and support. If you see the help desk as a stepping stone, choose a company that deals with technologies you like or is in an industry you've targeted.

Leslie Goff is a contributing editor based in New York.


This was first published in August 2000

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