MSP Community Blog
The ASCII Blog highlights articles featuring MSP members from our community as well as ASCII staff
ASCII Insight: MSPs Share Their Thoughts On What To Consider When Hiring
In our ongoing quest to provide you with the best business advice possible, we’ve partnered with The ASCII Group and their members who are going to share their thoughts on timely topics or best business practices. In this article, the following ASCII member answered our questions about what to consider when hiring technicians:
- Joshua Liberman, President of Net Sciences, Inc.
- Dawn Sizer, CEO, 3rd Element Consulting
- Andrew Harrover, CEO, Matrix Computer Consulting
- Keith Nelson, Vice President of Technology, Vistem Solutions, Inc.
- Zina Hassel, President, ZLH Enterprises Technology Consulting
- Christopher Barber, Chief Nerd, Cheaper Than A Geek
- Angel Rojas, President & CEO, DataCorps Technology Solutions
- Ben Filippelli, CTO, Level5 Management
- Alain Lefebvre, Chief Operating Officer, Great White North Technology Consulting Inc.
Q: Should an MSP consider implementing new technologies to attract the new breed of technician?
Liberman: Absolutely, but don’t let the tail wag the dog. Choose the right technology stack and hire for that stack, not the other way around.
Sizer: The tech you are using in your current stack shouldn’t be the driver of how you attract talent. You should be evaluating new products continually to augment your stack. New employees can bring different perspectives and experiences with products, and you may find their experience insightful. The flip side of this is if you are adding a new division with different services than you were offering previously and are looking for staff to head it and run it.
Harrover: If your answer is yes, you are looking at the wrong end of the tube. Your job as an MSP is to service your clients. You don’t implement new tech because your staff is bored. Now, there’s an argument to be made that if you are not researching and implementing new tech to keep your clients ahead of the curve but that’s a lot different from implementing new solutions because your staff is bored.
Nelson: No, I think your company culture, service goals, and delivery have a much greater impact on hiring the right staff. New Tech pay jumps et al attract job lookers.
Barber: In every industry, finding good, reliable talent is an uphill battle. All MSPs should be doing everything they can to lure in well-performing candidates.
Rojas: Adoption of new technologies purely to attract new, younger employees may be a case of putting the cart before the horse. For any technology adoption, there needs to be a clear use-case. For example, to manage through the COVID pandemic, our company adopted Microsoft Teams for voice/video/text/screen share. Previously, we all worked in the office and this was not necessary or heavily used.
Filippelli: No, the last thing you want is cowboys. To provide good service and be profitable it’s important that the team knows the products and services in and out and be able to cover for another person. The bleeding edge tech comes over time after it’s proven to be effective and can be properly managed.
Lefebvre: Our thoughts here are that MSPs should consider implementing new technologies that benefit both themselves and their clients and the side benefit of that would be alignment with the new breed of technician. If an MSP is doing their best to remain relevant in today’s security and remote working landscape, they should have the tools and systems in place that would attract top-tier talent. A strong focus on RMM configuration, automation, and technology stack integration will help ensure your team isn’t working against their toolset. We don’t think new technology should be implemented solely to attract new talent. Bringing in the new breed of technician should be a by-product of being agile and effective with integrating new technologies.
Q: What questions must be asked when interviewing a potential hire?
Liberman: Never forget to ask about their greatest failure; what caused it and how did they react. And what did they learn.
Sizer: Everyone has a spin on what questions they do or don’t ask. We ask what makes them unique that isn’t on the resume. A lot of people have interesting skillsets that aren’t on a resume. Those can make a big difference, especially in terms of culture and fit. Ask about decisions that a previous supervisor or boss made that the candidate didn’t agree with and how they handled it. This question can tell you how well they do with change, structure, and if they are a potential liability. Asking what they know about your company is key as well. If they took no time to learn about you, you must ask yourself if they put that much care into the rest of their work.
Harrover: On the tech front – a lot of places like to ask a ton of short questions: “What is DNS”, “What is DHCP”. I think that these miss the mark. We stick with open-ended scenario type questions that force the candidate to demonstrate that, not only do they know what those acronyms stand for, they understand how they work together. For example – A customer with a traditional AD set calls to report that one of their users can’t get on the internet. This customer has 10 users, a server, a firewall, and an internet connection. What do you do?
Nelson: We focus on service delivery methodology, problem-solving, and personal interaction ability.
Hassel: Obvious questions include why are you looking to leave the current employer; what would you like to be doing in five years; describe your perfect workday.
Barber: Some deep-dive technical questions are a must- you need to ensure the candidate can “walk the walk”. But additionally, I always weave in questions to get a better insight into a candidate’s personality. For example, I ask candidates what their spirit animal is. It throws them off and is ALWAYS insightful. I also ask them how many tennis balls fit into a limousine to determine how they handle surprises and if they can think logically.
Rojas: It’s critical to note that a prospective employee will perform their absolute best at the job interview. Asking nebulous questions that are typical for “HR” and sanitized to avoid potential legal pitfalls have reduced interviews to an unproductive and carefully choreographed dance. In our experience, resumés have been little help to reflect reality so I prefer a candid conversation to get to character and heart. Why do you love this industry? How did you get into it? What keeps you growing? What’s a technology that you really want to learn? What’s one you hate?
Filippelli: Tell me the hardest problem you ever faced, and how did you go about solving it or not. What do you do in your spare time? What sites, news feeds, email groups do you belong to or read to stay updated on trends and technology. Why are you leaving your current job, what did or didn’t you like about it? (or why did you leave your last job).
Lefebvre: Our main goal from the interview process is to get a sense of whether the candidate will fit within our core values and if they’ll mesh well with our team. Many of our questions are geared to see if they fit or would act in alignment with our core values (Greatness, Honesty, Empathy, Agility, and Happiness). There will always be different questions geared to the position being filled; you won’t always ask the same questions to sales and technical candidates for example. One question we ask in the screening interview (videoconference) is “What can you tell us about our company and what we do?” to see if they bothered to research your company at all. During the in-person interview we’ll also ask them to “Tell us a bit about the technology in your life, what type of computer and cell phone do you prefer to use?” to get a general sense of their interest or passion for technology. Each company and position will be unique so I’m not sure of any real “must-haves”, anything that helps you determine if the candidate will be the right fit for the company values and requirements of the role.
Q: What skills must a new hire have at the time of hiring and what skills can be taught?
Liberman: They must have the right attitude and enough desire. All else can be learned, even most people skills.
Sizer: Most technical skills can be taught, not knowing all the answers isn’t the end of the world. Critical thinking and problem solving are much harder skills to learn. If they can’t troubleshoot and think through scenarios under pressure they will struggle. Work ethic, drive, and willingness to go the extra mile aren’t things you can teach, only model. Either the candidate has them to a degree, or they don’t. It’s a red flag if you put worth a scenario and the candidate takes the shortest route possible and is cold.
Nelson: Teaching tech is easy – teaching compassion and empathy is more deeply centered in a person.
Hassel: Attention to detail (good for troubleshooting); people skills. How many times have you heard about that great tech/engineer but don’t ever put them in front of a customer?
Barber: Obviously, a new hire must bring to the table the minimum level of training to do their job. But everything else can be taught. I find that developing an employee’s skillset creates loyalty to the company. Personality is what I hire for. You need to have a sense of humor in this industry or you’ll burn out and deliver poor customer service.
Rojas: Intelligence is the only thing I require – with it, any new skill can be acquired. Without it, a rigorous and thorough set of searchable knowledge-based articles will be requisite for a person to perform well enough to warrant a salary.
Filippelli: People skills and personable skills. Our best help desk techs are friendly and cordial and people generally like speaking to them on the phone. We have seen better-qualified people, but if they aren’t engaging then the experience is not positive, whether it takes them 5 or 15 minutes to solve an issue.
Lefebvre: Our feeling is that any skill can be taught. The odds of a candidate having previous experience with your technology and solution stack is slim so rather than specifics we prefer soft skills and a genuine interest to learn. Having a cultural and personality fit with our team is much more important to us than IT related skills or knowledge. Now, that isn’t to say we don’t value someone knowledgeable in the field with a broad skillset. When looking for specific knowledge we prefer candidates with a strong understanding of IT fundamentals and a good troubleshooting methodology. Our advice is to focus more on alignment with your core values and having a personality fit with your team, everything within your stack and breadth of technical responsibility can be taught over time.
Q: How can an MSP know if a candidate is right?
Liberman: If there was a one-size-fits-all answer to this question we would all have perfect employees. But personality testing (DISC, etc.) is very helpful.
Sizer: In a word, culture. They must be able to fit into your company culture. Without the fit in the culture, you’re inviting problems in many aspects of your business from customer service to employee interactions and expectations. They may be a good person and a hard worker, and you might really like them. Long term, if they don’t fit in with your culture you will either fire them or they will leave. You’ve probably heard the saying get the right person on the bus. It’s more than that. It has to be the right person, on the right bus, in the right seat, at the right time, AND wanting to go to the same destination, or at least in the same direction.
Nelson: Based on the ability to relate to the current staff and culture.
Hassel: Take a look at previous job-hopping and explore any gaps in employment. I don’t think you ever know for sure if someone is right but if you’ve looked at the candidate job history, their skillset and ability to learn/absorb then the odds are in your favor of a good pick.
Barber: I hire primarily on personality. But I also get the team to weigh in- after all, they would be working together a lot! If both myself and the team have a good feeling about a candidate, it almost always works out.
Rojas: I’ll say what no one wants to hear – you can’t. The right candidate is going to be a mix of intelligence, character, and organizational fit. I will argue that this is not revealed fully until 30-60 days after the hire.
Filippelli: After we narrow down to just a couple of people, we will interact and engage with the staff. It’s important for us for everyone to get along and feel comfortable, so this usually is a deciding factor between two qualified candidates. It doesn’t always work perfectly but having 8 or 9 other people give their opinions on the person does weigh in on our final decision.
Lefebvre: You can’t really, every time you hire someone it is always a bit of a gamble. Try to have a very standardized and rigorous hiring process so that you can learn from your challenges and mistakes as you grow. In our case, we have an online form to fill out to submit your cover letter and resume to start the application process. An automated email will be sent to have the candidate start an online testing process to determine general aptitude, personality fit, and motivation potential. Once we assess the testing results, we decide on a shortlist for videoconference-based screening interviews. We’ll then typically whittle the list down to 2-3 candidates that we’ll bring in for a final in-person interview. We follow this procedure whether we’re hiring an administrative position or a senior technical engineer. We also have a long (6-month) probationary period to help protect us if we do end up hiring a candidate that isn’t the right fit. Do the best you can and get as much information as you can before deciding.
Q: What should an MSP be looking for when hiring a new technician?
Liberman: Finding the right niche for them (working alone remotely, on a help desk, focused on one technology, etc.) and providing a growth path.
Nelson: Service focused individuals.
Hassel: I think that enthusiasm, a basic skillset, and work ethic are key drivers for a tech candidate. With these traits one can build upon the skills and further train in the company operating procedures; a wiliness to learn will keep the employee fresh and up to date; enjoying the job is key to success as you don’t want someone that ‘just shows up’.
Barber: Skill, personality, and a good culture fit. That’s all you need!
Rojas: Intelligence is paramount. I keep harping on this because that’s the consistent quality I see across my best hires. They can acquire, understand, and use knowledge. Without this, the job is gruesome and miserable. Character and attitude come as the most important ones – an intelligent person who does not have character or a good attitude could be toxic and dangerous (insider threat).
Filippelli: For us, it’s people skills first. Especially when hiring younger talent, we always want to make sure they meet all the things we used to take for granted. Showing up on time, being prepared, dressed appropriately all show a person’s character. Our clients are trusting the people we pick are qualified, decent, and respectable humans, that will have access to a lot of data, passwords, and other things. So, we focus heavily on character and personality traits.
Lefebvre: Aside from having a core value and personality fit with your team, look for strong IT fundamentals and willingness to learn. Fundamentals like understanding Microsoft active directory, DNS, group policy, and general networking. Look for someone that is naturally curious and that has a genuine desire to learn. Most solutions within MSPs are pretty specific and odds are most technicians haven’t used your exact RMM, PSA, or security tools before. Any candidates that do have experience with your specific RMM, PSA, or security tools should be given more preference as it will drastically reduce their onboarding time.
Q: What candidate behaviors/responses should serve as red flags?
Liberman: The biggest red flag for me is the phrase “that’s not how we did it at … .” That’s why so many of us hire junior techs with little experience.
Sizer: For us, having a criminal record. Due to compliance issues, we are required to not have criminal records. The other obvious ones are slow response to communication, no research of your company, vague answers, resume fluff (over exaggeration of skills), and no questions for the interviewer. The biggest red flags we have seen is wanting to work remotely from day one (before COVID), being only focused on a paycheck, and not able to define simple IT terms.
Nelson: Job-hopping. The Superman Syndrome – wanting to brag out their technical prowess saved the day.
Hassel: I get concerned when the first questions on an interview are more about time-off policies and practices than position expectations for performance.
Barber: I have had more than a few candidates inflate the number of certifications they have. I insist they bring a copy to the first interview. If the candidate lies about ANYTHING, they are out. Without integrity, they would be horrible employees (and people in general).
Rojas: The most harmful indicators are signs of self-importance, narcissism, failure to take responsibility for actions, defensiveness, and extreme pessimism. Responses that lead you to believe the candidate has those qualities should put you on alert, however, be sure to appreciate the fact that some of the most talented IT professionals can be extremely introverted and guarded so take that into account!
Filippelli: The inability to discuss previous employers and situations. Look for personality quirks, that may become an issue. Listen to how they speak, a lot of times we find people type the same way they speak. If they are using a lot of slang terms, we have found that to translate into ticketing and phone use which may be noticeable depending on your client base.
Lefebvre: Red flags usually present themselves as personality traits or thought processes that are counter to our company’s core values. The whole purpose of the talent procurement process is to find someone that will best fit our culture and mesh well with our team. We strongly try to steer away from people with ego or that seem narcissistic in any way. We also see blaming or coming up with excuses rather than accepting responsibility for faults or challenges as a serious red flag. From a behavior standpoint, we look for eye contact and confidence present in answers given. If the candidate doesn’t seem fully engaged in the process or confident in the answers, they are giving it gives us concerns. It is very acceptable for a candidate to say they don’t know or don’t have experience with a question given. It can be a red flag if they try to either reach or circle around the question rather than admitting they aren’t sure.