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Hiring IT Help Desk Talent? 13 Revealing IT Help Desk Interview Questions

man with resume in hands interviewing another man. At the botton, blog title

"Can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.”

That’s what Burt Grady, head of the talent department at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, said of Fred Astaire in 1949. Astaire is now widely considered to be the most influential dancer in the history of film.

Recognizing talent isn’t always easy. And the last thing you want to do is let your industry’s rising stars slip through your fingers…simply because you didn’t ask the right IT help desk interview questions.

That’s not to say your current questions are necessarily bad ones. However, most IT help desk interview questions are too narrowly focused, usually around technical skills and basic problem-solving. Instead, to pinpoint your future top performers, you must pose the questions that are most likely to reveal their technical skills, emotional intelligence, work ethic, integrity, and maturity.

Here is our list of the thirteen most telling questions to ask, why to ask them, and what to listen for in the answers that candidates give. Ask these questions, and you’ll never overlook a star candidate again.

Technical Questions

Q1. How practical and hands-on was your technical training?

Why Ask: One of the first things to determine about a candidate is how practical was their technical education. Some institutions teach a lot of theory. Other institutions are heavily practical with lots of hands-on activities.

What to Listen For: If the candidate attended a 4-year school, find out if they had any hands-on technical learning, because, with 4-year schools, much of the curriculum is general studies with theoretical teaching on IT and little practical, hands-on training.

Other things to listen for:

  • Academic ability: If they are right out of school, you might follow up by asking what their GPA was.
  • Assertiveness. If they went to a 1-year technical school, you might probe for whether they were the go-to person in the class or just someone that blended in.
  • Hands-on expertise: Is their strength primarily academic knowledge or hands-on experience?
  • Phone experience: Have they ever done support over the phone? If not, that’s a yellow flag.
  • Troubleshooting: Do they mention troubleshooting or documentation, or having worked on a ticketing system before? There’s no right answer here, but you know what your help desk handles every day, and you want a technical skillset (or aptitude) that can resolve your issues.

Q2. Tell me about your technical certifications. What motivated you to attain them when you did?

Why Ask: You want to know if candidates have any certifications, such as A+, Network+, Security+, or MCP. These certifications and the timing of when candidates acquired them help you understand your candidate’s motivation for learning IT. They also indicate how seriously candidates are taking their IT careers.

What to Listen For: Listen for answers that demonstrate a candidate’s motivation for pursuing a certification including how long from the end of their education until they achieved their certification; answers that reveal just how seriously they take their IT career.

Q3. Describe your technical strengths.

Why Ask: You need to discover how well they know and can articulate their technical strengths. After they have shared their strengths, invite them to give you an example of a technical area they know they need to work on.

What to Listen For: You want to hear them share in their own words what their technical strengths are. Is it hardware, software, troubleshooting, documentation, quickly isolating a problem, or something else? You want to compare those statements both with what they say in their resume and with what the role requires. Do they align?

Q4. How would you resolve this ticket?

Why Ask: You need to discover if your candidate can handle the type of support requests you receive every day. Ask multiple-choice questions, or describe a common caller problem, then invite your candidate to explain how they would go about solving the issue.

What to Listen For: Listen for the questions they would ask the caller, and the steps they would take to resolve the caller’s issue. If the candidate immediately leaps to a solution without thinking to ask the caller any questions, that’s a red flag (assuming you didn’t give them a complete softball of a ticket to solve).

Work History Questions

Q5. Tell me why your recent IT work history makes you a good IT help desk analyst.

Why Ask: You should know your candidate’s IT work history. If they have a lot of IT experience, is any of it working on a help desk? Just because they have IT experience doesn’t guarantee they will be a good fit for a help desk analyst position.

What to Listen For: Listen as they describe the kind of IT work they did at each employer. Find out if they had any time constraints on their workday or what number of tickets they were required to close each day. If they had no goals or daily expectations, and if they have never worked on a help desk before, they may be in for a shock once they walk into a help desk that has service levels they must meet every day.

Related Content: Top 4 Help Desk Services KPIs and How to Improve Them

Q6. I see you lack IT work experience. Tell me why your work history or personal experience makes you a good help desk analyst.

Why Ask: If your candidate lacks relevant work experience in IT, you must uncover if they nevertheless have a technical aptitude. Someone that has a technical aptitude, but little IT work experience, may still be an ideal candidate for your help desk, requiring minimal training to catch on quickly.

What to Listen For: Do they tinker with PCs? Do they help grandma and uncle Bob resolve technical issues? Have they built their own network or servers at home? They may have the technical aptitude you want. If they also have a basic certification like A+, you are a step closer.

Q7. Please walk me through each job on your resume, how you got the job, and the reasons for leaving each job for the next one.

Why Ask: This question will help you understand all gaps in a person’s resume as well as the circumstances under which they moved from one job to the next.

What to Listen For: You are listening for good reasons for any gaps in their resume, including their motivation for looking for another job. You are listening for both good and bad reasons for them leaving one job for the next. Did they blame others for their departure? Or did they take responsibility? Did they resign or were they let go? Why? Did they leave simply for more money? Or were there other reasons for their departure?

Emotional Intelligence Questions

Q8. Tell me about a time when you got frustrated or angry at work. How did you know you were feeling this way? How did you resolve the situation?

Why Ask: You need to discover if candidates can identify the emotions they experience at work, how they recognize those emotions (especially negative ones), and what they have done in the past to address both the emotions they were experiencing and the situations that caused the emotions. If it’s not clear from their answer what caused the emotion they felt, follow up by asking what specifically happened to cause them to feel that way.

What to Listen For: The first thing to listen for is if they can answer this question in the first place. If they can’t, or if they have difficulty, you may have a candidate in front of you who is not self-aware. They could simply be walking through life reacting mindlessly to every situation they face, not self-aware…and probably without much self-control.

Next, listen for the emotion they chose to give you as an example. Dig deeper to see how forthcoming they are about the emotion they chose, and after they answer, remain silent for a moment to see if they add more detail. (When you let interviewees talk, they often share a whole lot more than they intended, giving you greater insight.)

Listen for clues that they demonstrated self-control by constructively working through that emotion, or that they lost that self-control and lashed out at someone. If this incident happened over the phone, follow up with more questions to get a full picture of their ability to control their emotions.

  • What words did you use to resolve the situation?
  • Did you have to get your manager involved to resolve it? If so, how early in the call?
  • Did you have to walk away from the call?
  • Who do you feel was responsible for the call going badly? (This one is important – it takes a fairly high level of emotional maturity to recognize that one can be responsible for a failed situation, even if they weren’t necessarily the catalyst for that failure.)
  • Were other people impacted by your emotions?
  • What would you do differently if you could take that call again?

Q9. Describe your strengths as a person, as they relate to your character.

Why Ask: You are looking for someone’s ability to identify their personal character strengths. The best candidates know themselves well and can articulate the values that are important to them. Follow up the initial question by asking them to give an example of an area they know they need to work on personally. Force them to identify at least one area for growth, why they want to grow in that area, and what steps they’d like to take to foster that growth. (This is a great way to move past that overused “My biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist” answer.)

What to Listen For: Listen for acknowledgment that they don’t know everything and that they’re keen on learning and on bettering themselves. They should know an area they need to work on personally, and at least have ideas for how they can progress. This reveals a level of self-awareness and humility.

Q10. Tell me about a challenging work relationship with a co-worker or boss you had in a previous job.

Why Ask: You need to discover how well they work with others because your new hire will be working on a help desk team – and sometimes, personalities clash.

Follow-up questions:

  • How was this person a challenge?
  • Tell me about your interactions with them and how you handled the challenge.
  • What did you do to address the challenge or make the outcome more successful?

What to Listen For: Listen for their ability to navigate challenging relationships and manage conflict. Also, look for blame-shifting. If everything you hear from the candidate is that it’s always someone else’s fault or the company’s fault, or that the other person needed to change, that’s a big red flag and you should dig deeper.

Follow up questions:

  • What were the situation and the interaction specifically?
  • How did you respond?
  • What steps did you take to resolve the conflict or make the relationship more successful?
  • Did you have to get a manager involved to resolve the situation, or were you able to do it yourself?

Questions About Work Ethic, Humility, Integrity, and Maturity (WHIM)

Q11. Of all the positions you’ve had, which one did you enjoy the most? Why?

Why Ask: You want to uncover the types of environments that candidates feel they worked well in, and the reasons they enjoyed those environments. You’re looking for the kind of culture the candidate was working in that made it enjoyable and a good or fun place to work in.

What to Listen For: Listen for clues that identify what’s important to the candidate, including:

  • Communication
  • Leadership or guidance in their position
  • Their level of interaction with management
  • How their employer showed concern for their employees
  • How well they interreacted with their coworkers

Q12. What people or events have most molded you into who you are today? Why?

Why Ask: This question helps get to the heart of who the candidate truly is. What influences have been in their life to make them who they are today? Who molded their work ethic? Who or what played a part in their maturing or showed them how to do life successfully? 

What to Listen For: Listen for a story about who or what has played a major role in making them who they are today. Discover who or what made them stronger, made them more aware of their responsibilities, or motivated them to be a better person.

Q13. Describe the biggest risk you've ever taken.

Why Ask:  Find out if the candidate ever pushes themselves outside their comfort zone. You want to discover if they realize that some risks are worth taking for the chance to grow, to discover what they’re capable of, and to realize the rewards that come with taking risks.

After they describe a risk they took, follow up with this: Are you glad you took the risk? Why?

What to Listen For: You’re looking to see if the candidate ever goes out of their “comfortable place.” The candidate’s ability to do something outside the box or outside their comfort zone shows that they are open-minded and are willing to learn and adapt, or to experience new things and then enjoy the reward that comes with it. 

Many candidates will speak up immediately, saying they don’t take many risks. But even answers like “riding a roller coaster with my kids because they really wanted me to” is a great answer because it shows they pushed past their comfort limits to experience something with people they’re close to.

Listen for common risks:

  • Moving to another state without a job to live and work
  • Going to college in another state away from family
  • Changing their major in college halfway through
  • Joining the military
  • Driving across the country with a friend without a plan

Related Content: IT Help Desk Staffing: How to Hire Top Talent

The Best IT Help Desk Interview Question that Isn’t a Question

If you want to recognize top IT help desk talent when you see it, you must ask the right questions. But you must also listen for a candidate’s ability to hear your questions.

For example, did they hear and accurately interpret your question? If you asked a two-part question, did they hear only the first part and only answer that? When needed, did they ask questions to clarify what it is that you’re asking? Your candidate’s ability to listen is a key indicator of how good they will be as a help desk agent – and not every caller will be a good communicator. If they don’t listen well to interview questions and ask questions to clarify them when needed, how are they going to help the people you support?

By the way, at Global Help Desk Services, Inc, we ask all these questions (and more) when we hire. And we don’t hire anyone unless they dazzle us during their interview.

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