Whether you’re looking to change career and move into IT or you’re an IT graduate looking for your first IT role, what skills do you need to land your first job?
The first thing to realise is that most IT roles start out supporting users on a service desk, sometimes calls a helpdesk. That is, you’ll be taking requests from people who have problems with their office computers, and you’ll be the one to give them the first line of help, that’s what level 1 means in “Level 1 support”. In these helpdesk roles, there are two key skills that you need.
- Customer support skills
While doing a customer support course could be helpful, the beauty about customer support skills is that you can transfer these skills from other industries. The ability to talk calmly, professionally, and emphatically over the phone to a troubled user are very similar skills to what you would need in pacifying an angry customer at McDonald’s or any other retail or food service environment. The biggest thing you need to understand when it comes to customer service is to listen to the customer, be empathetic and then help them to resolve their problem.
Communication skills are key. So, how do you demonstrate that you have good communication skills, particularly, if you’re not even at the interview stage yet?
On your CV talk about customer service as a passion of yours. List any customer service roles that you’ve had in the past and show what you’ve learned in those customer service roles by mentioning specifically what you believe is required to be successful in customer service environments. Finally, show how you believe that an IT service desk environment mirrors your customer service experience and highlight the differences and how you would adapt to them.
- Supporting Windows computers in a domain environment
I know that’s a mouthful but, what I’m talking about here is the ability to troubleshoot problems on an office computer beyond just problems with your desktop computers at home. A corporate network typically has Windows Servers that run Active Directory and many of the level 1 problems you would deal with on an IT helpdesk are related to network and domain issues. Login issues, setting up and editing users, changing access permissions, resetting passwords, troubleshooting outlook email problems, file accessing problems and security group policy-based issues are all related to Active Directory which runs on Windows Server. To land an IT helpdesk role you need to be able to prove that you have a reasonable understanding of Active Directory from a desktop support perspective.
So, if you’re coming to the IT industry for the first time and you haven’t seen Active Directory or had any Active Directory experience, then that has to be your starting point. Now, if you can’t do it in a corporate environment or if you can’t get some kind of work experience or internship, then you’ll need to do it at home.
You will need to setup a Windows Server with Active Directory either through the cloud or through a virtual machine that you can setup on your own home PC. This will give you the experience that you need to know what Active Directory looks like, how to create users, how to change user’s password, and how to associate them with security groups. That then gives you something to put on your CV so the employer can have the confidence that you’ve actually seen the product before, and you’ve used it even if only in a home-lab style environment. Recent experience with Active Directory is one less thing the employer needs to train and it gives them a reason to take a risk with you knowing that you’ve trained yourself on it and that therefore you can learn things autonomously.
So, if you’ve ticked that box and you’ve got demonstrable experience in a customer service role or can show through some other means that you’ve got really good communication skills and understand what customer service is all about then that could be enough for a company to give you a chance and a start in a help desk style role.
A big shout out to Nikola Milunovic who I met this week. He was a web developer who had no Active Directory experience and I told him that he should build his own Active Directory environment in order to learn it himself and within a day he had done that and written a blog post on it which you can find here.