Goal setting at the start of the year

Ahhh, that time of year where there is a collective groan when we’re asked to set our goals for the year. To be brutally honest, I’ve never really understood them both for setting them myself and for my team. I know they are something we should all strive to achieve during the coming year. They are meant to tie into the strategy of the organisation and of the IT department but hand on heart, do you really understand how your companies strategy will be used to form your goals?

Over the past few months, I have taken some time out of the workforce and used this opportunity to really grow as a person. Some huge reflections and thinking has been done. Plus lots of reading and podcasts. One podcast really stood out for me on this subject and really got me thinking about how I could set better goals for myself and my team.

The podcast in question was this : The High Performance Podcast with Alastair Campbell https://open.spotify.com/episode/39ROE2dL2qJCESv5aC3bIp?si=9IGlBh2NSHaVjJgBaDOvPA

I know if you know about British politics you know he is known as a bit of a marmite character but what he talks about is OST:

  • Objective / Goal
  • Strategy
  • Tactics

This made way more sense to me that the usual reasoning that goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely). I think it makes more sense to me as I also found out goals aren’t that great at motivating people eg I would love to be ripped with muscle as a goal. However, I have not set any method to help me achieve the goal. What is better is setting up a process or tactic eg I will work out everyday for 30 mins. I am going to achieve more muscles mass and be fitter as a result of this process / tactic that will help me achieve my goal. However, the focus is more on the process / tactic rather than the overall goal. So I started to think about what would be my OST for a team and how could a OST for a team member look like who is working as an IT support analyst

An OST for me (the manager of an IT support team) could be:

Objective

  • Make sure my team can give great customer service
  • Make sure my team has a career path and they know what different career paths are open to them

Strategy

  • Create a fun and collaborative environment for my team to learn and share learnings so we grow the team
  • Analyse call statistics to learn if calls are falling (good thing) or rising (bad thing) overall or for a specific service
  • My team and I learn about different business and IT departments
  • Develop an environment to enhance the time to think about a fix or where next to research a topic or technology

Tactics

  • Team meetings where people can voice up about topics they are concerned about eg a new roll out of software they aren’t sure how to support, trying to troubleshoot an issue and others can help brainstorm and come up with a fix or share a fix that they have come across before
  • Create a dashboard showing the number of incidents logged per month, by service and other metrics to know where to focus attention on trending down tickets. If your team is over stretched answering calls them they have no time to think or do other things. They are in firefighting mode.
  • Implement the Service Desk Triangle https://itilbegood.com/category/service-desk-evolution/
  • Make “Meet the business” sessions and ask the business department to fill out a presentation template to make sure the information is the same across departments
  • Make “Meet the IT teams” sessions, again with a presentation template so the information from each presentation are the same. One of the slides should be around, what training or certification would my team need to do in order to get into your team.
  • One day a month a team member spends the day with each team in IT to build up a picture of what each team really does on a day to days basis.
  • Team drinks / meal all together to build better bonds with each other.

What could an IT support analyst OST be though:

Objective

  • I want to aim at being promoted into the Problem management team

Strategy

  • I need to learn what I need to do in order to get into the team

Tactics

  • Schedule a meeting with the manager of Problem management to understand what the team does.
  • Ask to spend a day with the team to understand exactly what the team does.
  • Ask to go and work with the escalation teams that the support team cannot fix to understand a deeper understanding of IT and therefore understanding more of what could be terms a problem fix rather than an incident fix
  • Schedule a monthly meeting with the problem manager to go over what I have learnt or work on
  • Get ITIL certificate

Or

Objective

  • I want to get better at my network knowledge

Strategy

  • Develop a better understanding of Hubs, Switches and Routers
  • Understand the protocols used
  • Understand how to troubleshoot network issues better

Tactics

  • Sit down with the network team and ask if they could show x/y/z technology
  • Ask to sit down with the network team and go over a past incident and how they troubleshot the call on a month
  • Enlist in a network class in person or an on line course
  • Schedule a monthly meeting with the a network analyst to go over what was learnt and perhaps they could give pointers or show how that set up looks in the real world.
  • Set aside one hour per week to study

As always any comments / feedback / different takes on these articles are always welcome these articles are a way for me to put out my thinking and to learn from others. Managing is always a bit lonely as there is rarely anyone to bounce ideas off so this is my opportunity to do this.

Getting to know your team – Knowing me, knowing you

This article is all about starting out with a new team and how to get to know them. In my time as manager of IT support teams I have joined 3 companies / teams. The challenge is always how do I get to know the team members. Of course, I speak to my team to try and get to know them informally during the work days that we are together. These are the more formal steps I have always gone through to get to know my teams. Though I want to learn what other people do when starting out with a new team. How do you go about getting know your new team?

  • Send out an email to all team members saying I will be arranging 1:1’s with each of them to get to know them. Attached is my CV to this email as I ask everyone prior to their 1:1 meeting to send me their CV (I stress this is not an interview) but a quick way for both of us to know each other’s backgrounds. I make it a point that the team member will always be able to ask me anything about my CV. This is building trust and knowledge about the manager and for me, the team member.
  • Send an email to all team members with a link to an anonymous survey where I want to know:
    • What are you expecting from me / what do you want me to be as a manager?
    • What qualities are important to you when thinking abut your ideal manager?
    • What would you focus on doing if you were the manager?
    • Where are the teams struggles?
    • What things do they like about working in this team?
    • What thing do they not like about working in this team?
    • What should I watch out for? Etc.
  • It is anonymous as I am new and therefore have no trust relationship with the team for them to trust me to impart information which isn’t so positive but needs to be known.
  • 1:1’s are structured for the team member to start building trust with me but getting the first chance to speak and ask questions. Once this is complete, I want to know about them eg what do they do outside work, music they listen to, why do they do this job, why have they stayed so long in this job etc.
  • I send out a weekly email for the first 100 days after I have joined to show my team what I have done in that week. Who I have met, what I have learnt and what I will be looking at next week. I never want to be the manager where the team are thinking…what does he do, he is useless?I heard that in every job, the leader manager has 100 days to make an impact so this is why I came up with the 100 days of reporting what I have completed.
  • Shadow my team working on their day to day activities. I know this isn’t the most comfortable thing for any team member to have their manager watching what they do but it is a great way for me to understand how the team works and what they do.

Though I have been thinking what else I can be doing to be better at getting to know my team?

I listened to this podcast : Diary of a CEO. E96 How to Take Full Control Of Your Mind: Pro. Steve Peters, the Chimp Paradox https://open.spotify.com/episode/0f7J5v1K7PFOtqtApe636W?si=1j8JF5ElSU-5tYnac4dhTw

And I thought wouldn’t it be great to know what each team members buttons are to get their mind chimps rattling the cage?

Eg my buttons are:

  • Lack of respect
    • Interrupting / talking over / rolling eyes
    • Not responding and moving the conversation on immediately after I finished speaking
    • Rude
    • Dismissive
    • Challenge ideas / beliefs in a disrespectful way
  • Lack of honesty / playing me / pulling the wool over my eyes
  • Not keeping me up to date on projects / tasks, especially if they are about to blow up / high impact / senior management involved – The trust/autonomous responsibility gets more or less as a result.
  • Lateness to work / meetings

If I knew what my teams buttons are too then we become a better team at communicating and working with each other?

Another area I thought about would be putting together a paragraph with the team on how we should work together eg what I need to know and when and what my team needs from me and when eg when to escalate an issue? What we support and don’t? This might be a live document that you start with a rough draft and add things to it as new things come up and we have to deal with them.

As always, I am happy to take feedback. This is a learning experience for me and it would be great to know what you think about these methods I use and new ideas I am thinking about. What do you do to get to know your team?

Managing remote IT support teams in Asia and in Covid times

I’m going to start this article, with an ask rather than at the end. How do you manage your remote teams in Asia or manage any teams who are remote to make sure you bring them together as a team? After reading this article, how can I improve? I want to be better at managing remote team so if you have any secret sauce to share with me on how you do it then I am all ears to learn.

Let’s get a couple of things straight before we get into this.

  1. China is not Asia. Singapore is not part of China. Singapore is not part of Malaysia. China is a country in the Asian continent.  Singapore is a country.
  2. Asia is probably one of the most culturally diverse continents in the world. With language, customs and backgrounds being very different from country to country. If you remember when you were young and went back packing. Which gave you a more cultural diverse experience going through UK, France, Germany, Italy or Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia?

So here is my premise for managing teams and what I tried to do to manage my teams

My premise / goal for managing teams

  • Like all managers, my primary duty to any team is to care and protect my team. This doesn’t not matter if they are in the same room or spread across Asia.

The role of any manager / leader is build a framework where their team can perform the best they can and can build a better and better team around the framework set.

  • A team should be a team and have open lines of communication to each other and the wider IT department to share ideas/ problems and jokes (humour brings people together so this is very important to me that this happens) no matter where they are in the region / world. No person should be an island / left on their own even when they are geographically the only support person in that country.

So what did I try to bring my team together across Asia?

  • Team meetings, everyone from across the region attends a 1 hour meeting every two weeks where I would go around the virtual ‘room’ / meeting to make sure everyone got the chance to speak and bring up any issues they were facing, either for me to escalate / help with or for the team to suggest a fix for the IT problem someone was facing.
  • 1:1, every team member got a 30 mins 1:1 every two weeks. The meeting would start with the team member having uninterrupted time to speak about anything they wanted to. We would then talk this through. After which I would speak about projects that were coming up and sometimes also used this as coaching sessions to highlight places where they could improve.
  • My teams who provided IT support to call centre functions and therefore key business areas, had a meeting with Engineering and Network teams every two weeks. This meant any IT support lead in any office had direct access to senior teams to either know what projects were coming and could speak about the roll out or to give feedback or voice up issues that were coming up to get a more permanent fix.
  • Microsoft Team chats. I had two main chat groups:
    • A chat group just for the team to converse in, send jokes or memes, talk about issues / IT problems they were having.
    • A chat group with the team, other support teams around the world and engineering and security in this group. This was more to highlight issues Asia might be having and to see if other support teams around the world had these issues. Also engineering and security were involved so they could give advice in real time to the IT support world for the company.
  • Every member of my team knew they could ping me on chat / email and either write their issue or ask for a chat and they would get to chat to me about anything. I made myself super available for my team.
  • Attend bridge calls when there was a serious service outage or degradation of a service in Asia to help my team push back when needed on engineering / networks or help refereeing what was being asked for by a senior technical team to the IT support person on the ground was reasonable and was broken down enough so the person, who’s first language wasn’t English, understood the request. I want to be seen as a manager who will ‘go through the trenches’ with my team and does not allow my team to suffer on their own.
  • A Servicenow report showing me the number of tickets that were more than a week old that were assigned to my team. This allowed me to see if someone needs help on a ticket and doesn’t suffer in silence.
  • Yearly anonymous survey monkey survey which was sent to everyone in my team asking them to give me feedback on my:
    • Overall management, what is good and bad
    • Team meetings, what is good and bad
    • 1:1, what is good and bad
    • Any additional comments or feedback

We tried daily scrum / catch up calls to find out what everyone was doing across the region but it was quickly ended as it seems too work vs not enough reward and just didn’t work for my teams in bringing people together so regularly, it felt a bit artificial.

Though in all honesty, I am not sure this was all enough or I could have been better at managing my teams? Life as a manager is hard as there is no one to really give you feedback who was in the meetings or knew what you were trying to do against what was done. How do you make sure everyone is comfortable enough in a meeting to express themselves, their challenges and how they are doing if they aren’t totally comfortable speaking in English if this is a 2nd language? How do you cope with Asian ‘saving face’ and a team member struggling to admit a mistake to you as their manager? As a Western manager I try and make all allowances for my team and I love being in Asia to learn about these different culture and people but I also think and question if I can do more to understand someone more in Asia but be authentic in how it is delivered.

I also struggled with not ever seeing the offices I was managing due to Covid and travel restrictions. So it was hard to really understand the struggles some time of the support people who were support the office and to give advice when I had limited context of the issue. How do you manage remote offices that you haven’t seen and might be a totally different business unit to the one you normally manage?

During Covid time

Communication and trying to be as together as we could as a time was even more important but it was extremely hard to do. In Singapore, where I live, the weather is 28c all year around with 80-90% humidity. It is mandatory to wear a mask all the time you are out of your house and can only remove it when you are eating or drinking in a restaurant / bar / food court. For most of the last two years offices has been closed or max 50% capacity meant the office when from a very vibrant and fun place to be to being a ghost town as by the time the office was allowed to be opened everyone was so used to working from home and masks were also mandatory to wear in the office. To meet outside was also restricted with Singapore with groups of 2 -5 being the maximum allowed to meet since early 2020 to the present time of writing (Jan ’22)

I met my Singapore team for lunches when restricts allowed it but the silly, water cooler conversations were something I missed very much. Coming off a hard meeting and not being able to turn around to a colleague and talk about their dinner with friends they were looking forward to after work or something to take your mind of the meeting was really hard.

Personally, my mental health suffered and this is one of the reasons I needed to take some time out. I felt very not centered and therefore was not my best for my team. Whilst we can all joke about our commute being so much shorter when WFH. We are humans and we are build to be around other humans. Video conferencing helps but the funny, random conversations along with seeing someone face to face in real life were lost. You don’t normally have a video conference just to talk about yesterdays sports match / news article, some office gossip or overhear a conversation that you can join in through being around colleagues in the office. Thought my flat is and was normality for me as I don’t have to wear a mask when walking around my flat.

During this time out I have reset, read lots, exercised lots and repaired. I have developed some coping mechanisms plus just personally improved my whole outlook on life and learning and I am pleased to say Singapore is opening up a little to have 5 people able to dine together. Along with vaccinated travel lanes which makes it easier to go back home to the UK to see friends and family and not need to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days after the trip. So I very excited and look forward taking on my next challenge in Singapore.

How have you coped with Covid restrictions where you are as a team member or the manager of team?

These articles are meant as a learning experience for me. I have laid out everything I do but I know I could be better. So I would ask, if anyone is reading this and can suggest better ways or a new idea to help manage teams better then I would love to know. Thankyou.

Salaries in IT support

A big post and subject – Salaries. I wanted to put together an article showing you from a managers point of view how salaries work and how our hands are tied when giving salary increases by most companies.

I thought this would be good to put this out there at the start of the year when people are setting their new years resolutions. Towards the end I have some advice for how to manage your careers and could be some new year resolutions starting this year.

Please note : All salaries are numbers I have plucked from thin air in £ and then just done a straight conversion to $ USD.

Let’s take our example as Paul and he is looking to start in IT support. As he has no experience but is keen as mustard and he gets a job at a company. Let’s say the starting salary is £20,000 as I’m English or $26,000 USD for all you who are the other side of the pond. Paul works his hardest getting up to speed and proves to be a really great member of the team. He watches loads of IT videos and learns lots in the first 6 -12 months of starting. In some ways, he is better than David and Hayley who are two of my more senior analysts who are both on £28,000 / $38000. As he has powered through learning and coming up to speed way quicker than anticipated. Well now I have a problem as Paul’s manager. Here is my problem, most companies pay 2-4% pay increases per year based on performance. Most companies have a grading system of high performance, average performance and under performance. This can be dressed up by various different names but essentially this is what the levels are. Getting an amazing performance rating is akin to capturing lightning in a bottle, it is near impossible to get as the performance weighting are done against the whole IT department and against a bell curve. High and low performers are on either side of the start and end of the curve and the middle is where most people end up in average performance rating. So while any of my team might have absolutely rocked their socks off for the entire year, everyone will get an average performance grading as this is the biggest section of a bell curve. Other teams will have completely more impactful and bigger projects that will have helped the business much more than BAU IT support. So based on the percentage banding Paul is going to get a 3% increase, so his salary will now be £20,600 / $26,700. I know what you are feeling right now. Think how I feel when I have to sit across the desk from Paul knowing he is worth more but can’t get him there and telling him his salary increase. Don’t shoot the messenger. I would love to align all my team on salary so I know everyone is being paid fairly for the work they are doing. Unfortunately, this is the real world and the real world bases salary increments on percentages. Anything over a 10% increase and it going to be near impossible to justify. I’m sorry.

So what are my options as Paul’s manager to get him closer to David and Hayley’s salary if they are performing all at the same level, some companies offer an ‘out of band’/ out of sync with the yearly performance increase which is where the manager puts together a case for the employee that they are under paid based on some justification eg he is as good as David and Hayley, he has studied and got these qualifications etc. The most companies usually award is max 10% increase. Any more and you have to go all through the IT organisation to very senior people to get a sign off. 10% usually just goes a couple of levels up in the org structure. So lets say I get him a 10% increase. He is now on £22660 / $29500.

So that is an example of how salaries work in a yearly pay review cycle.

Another way is some companies allow line managers to give lower pay increases to some people in the team and higher pay increases to others eg David and Hayley get a 1% increase and Paul gets 8% when it comes to the yearly performance review. This is a great idea but when it comes to it, HR normally has worked out the increases across the whole IT department and the CTO and senior directors know the bottom line cost of the entire departments salary increases, so when me as the manager and asks if I can tweak some increases I am and have been told, No as everything has been worked out prior to me knowing what increases were agreed for my team.

So what are Paul’s options, stay and grind out the pay increases year on year, get promoted or go find another job. IF he wants to get a higher salary.

Please note : Everyone works to different speeds in life. Some people are very happy doing IT support for years and this is perfectly fine. I love IT support and did this for 10 years, now I get to manage teams who do IT support. I am happier than a pig rolling around in prize winning mud. So do not think everyone needs to be on a hard and fast career path from the word go. Probably this will lead to burn out further down the line as some people went too hard at the career at the start for some people not ready for the pressure. Do what feels right to you at the right times in your life. You are going to be working for 40 years, so it is a marathon where the route is not sign posted and you will go down wrong paths, rather than a well marked 100m sprint.

Let’s explore these options:

Stay and grind out the increases, cool, expect 3-4% increases year on year. Day in, day out he will do the same sort of work until he changes it up or his manager sees the potential and tries to give him more responsibilities and align him on a career path to a team he wants to work in.

Find another job in IT support. This where if Paul are really lucky a new company might give Paul a big raise because they think Paul is underpaid or they want to make sure everyone doing the same job are aligned on pay. I have seen this type of raise only once and I have hired many people over my time as manager. If this happens to Paul, I would advise him to go buy a lottery ticket as this is a rare and very lucky day for him. Paul switches jobs and get a 10% increase based on his previous salary. So now his salary increases to £22600 / $29500 to £25000/$32450. Switching jobs are a risk as he may or may not find a better team / manager / work environment. You want to enjoy going to work for the whole month instead of just the day you get paid, right? He can keep doing this for a few years but there will become a ceiling on the max a company is willing to pay on someone doing IT support.

My overriding suggestion based on personal experience and seeing friend who realised this way before I did, is get promoted. Find a company with a big IT department and get stuck in trying to find out about all the different teams, what they do and if you like the sound of what the team does, then find out the career path eg certs / experience needed to get into that team. People are on different timings in life, some are go getters, some are not. Personally, for 10 years I had a great time working in IT support 1st and 2nd line but then I realised it is a young persons game and to earn the bigger bucks I needed to move on. Some of my most successful friends realised this way before me and grinded out the junior jobs, spoke to people working in senior teams on what they did and asked if they could stay late or work through their lunch break and understand a bit more. You need to sacrifice something in order to get ahead as not much will come for free. A friend summed it up by saying, you need to show a company what they could get from you before they will give it to you. It can and will feel like you are getting taken advantage of, but, when you look back where it got you in 3-5 years time. The grind will be worth it. Treat it like a work workout. Workouts suck at the start but you see the results after time. Working out your career is the same but it takes a bit longer then it takes to get a six pack.

So go and try to work with the Server team / Network team on an issue you would have normally just passed over to those teams and find out more and how they solve the problem. Probably speak to your manager about doing this before going off for an hour and spend it with another team. You might get more access and be able to solve those issues on your own without having to pass over the ticket in future. If the technical route isn’t for you, maybe talk to your manager on what are they working on or the change / problem managers to find out about what they do. Nobody is going to push your career forward except for you.

All you are looking for is for someone to give you a break into another job or team. By making these sacrifices and building these relationships you put yourself before anyone else when a vacancy might come up in that team. Why go out to market and get a random person from the street when the hiring managers has someone who is really keen to get into Networks, has been working with the networks team for 6 months building their knowledge and the team really likes to work with them. Slam dunk that you put yourself in the running to get hired over some unknown who comes for interviews.

My big break was when a job came up to be a Support Team Lead in a team where I was just a IT support analyst and I finally implemented my Service Desk Triangle which had been in my head for a few years click here to watch my webinar on this. Hopefully it might give you some ideas how to make new relationships with teams and present your new knowledge to senior teams.

There is no guarantee this will work. However, like Michael Jordan said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Even if you don’t get the promotion then you still have the newly gained knowledge and maybe a better idea of your career path then you did just working the support desk. You can then look out but maybe with more of a chance of getting a junior network / server position or Change analyst.

Money is a huge driver and it is hard not to think about it. It is hard not too and they are times, lots of times, I have felt very hard done by with my salary increase to performance or for my team. However, if you look at the nickels and dimes in the short term…you aren’t looking at the dollars in the long term.

My philosophy to my IT support teams are it is the first / second rung on IT career ladder and they are many rungs above. I am an asshole if I don’t let my team progress. It is great to see people you hired go through the ranks and remember you. If you read my ‘Interviews for IT support positions’ article, click here to read, then you will know I am not that fussy on who I interview so re hiring is not too much of an issue. I just want to see people happy and achieving their potential. To be honest, most managers expect most people to do IT support for about 3-5 years before moving onto bigger and better things.

As with all these articles, these are just my opinions and I really want to know yours so my opinions can be challenged and I can grow and learn. How have you navigated your career and got to a higher salary? Are you happy with what you are doing? Any managers out there who know other ways to get their team members higher salaries based on performance that are above the company standard?

Interviews for IT support positions

Ahhh the humble interview, not nerve wracking at all! I have seen some horrible posts on LinkedIn of people’s interview experience when interviewing for IT support positions, one candidate was asked to explain the OSPF/OSI model and how to set a firewall in an interview for a junior IT support position. Needless to say the candidate walked out the interview shaken up and feeling really bad.

I am also saddened and humbled by all the posts of people posting on Linkedin from people in some really desperate situations over this holiday period (this post was written Christmas 2021). I really want you to read this post, absorb it and own the interview when it is offered to you. Nobody deserves to be in these situations that I have read about.

Therefore I wanted to put together a post to show some of the questions I ask in my interviews when interviewing potential IT support candidates to join my teams and the reasons why I ask the question. Hopefully this will help anyone about to goto an interview and also for anyone taking interviews to give me feedback as I want to be better at interviews.

First I think I need to explain some of the thinking behind interviews:

  • People hire people they like. You could have more IT qualifications than an MVP at Microsoft but if you don’t click with the interviewer, it is going to be hard to progress in the interview process.
  • Most interviewers know or will have gut feel if the candidate is the right fit in the first 1 – 5 minutes of talking to the candidate so this is the most impactful part of the interview. In a moment of honesty, I have been in a lift / elevator going with the candidate to the interview room after picking them up from reception and knew it was a waste of time taking that ride based on my initial impressions of the candidate. So be on point and smile. There is also chance to make a quick joke to break the ice so try it. If you have looked up the interviewer on Linkedin and seen they have just won an award…mention that as an ice breaker. Covid / social distancing rules offers a good opener / ice breaker for hand shake or fist bump and why does a greeting now turn into a game of paper (going in for a hand shake), scissors, stone (going in for a fist bump). I’m wasted being an IT support manager, I should have been a comedian!
  • The interview are there to get candidates talking so the interviewer can build up a picture if they are going to like the person and will they work well within the existing team. So talk and be more then a few word answer or yes / no but be concise and straightforward with your answers. I want to get from A to B in the answer which is straight forward and not A going via E to G to Z to C to D to B which is a confusing answer.

Golden rule for all interviewers

The interviewer should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER laugh / make fun at the candidates answer in an interview. Interviews are stressful enough. If a candidate answers a question badly and the interviewer laughs or makes fun of the answer then the candidate will be destroyed and it is massively disrespectful to the candidate. I have listened to some terrible answers given to a question but you must sit there dead pan, agree, maybe ask questions and write notes. Like any test, people answer some questions badly sometimes but can answer others really well so if you laugh / make fun of answers and destroy the candidates on question 2 of 10 then answers 3-10 might not be the best.

Remember : An interview is a two way street. Both the candidate AND the interviewer are trying to impress each other in the interview. How you are treated in the interview really shows how the manager might treat their team and is this a team you want to be joining?

Assessing candidates overall on a CV

I hate to break it to you but if you are interviewing for an IT support position and are already working in in IT Support then you are one of many who work in an IT support team of 2-10 analysts who fixed windows / office and other bespoke software on a company’s desktops and laptops. You fix about 10-20 tickets a day served to you by some form of call logging system eg Servicenow, Freshworks, Jira via chat / emails or phone calls. You may have a bunch of qualifications but in the real world, setups of software and various configurations make some of this knowledge, perfect world scenario vs real world scenario. Eg you could put all your windows software knowledge to the test and take hours fixing someone laptop but in the real world, it might be quicker and easier to give someone a replacement laptop, copy over all the data and then just rebuild the software image on the laptop with a problem.

Bottom line. You are unlikely to be that special on paper. Sorry.

IT Recruiters

It does NOT matter :

  • What industry a candidate has worked in. I have worked in the hotel, newspaper, insurance, food and beverage, consultancy, recruitment and media industries. A computer/ software that needs fixing is a computer / software that needs fixing in every company. Yes, there are different demands and different software /configurations but these can be learnt easily through time.
    • Please stop discounting candidates if they haven’t worked in the specific industry your client’s company are working in.
  • What software a candidate may or may not have used.
    • Administering Office 365 to a 1st or 2nd line level takes about 1 hour to learn.
    • Learning how to log tickets in a ITSM tool eg Service now takes about 30 mins – 1 hour to learn the company’s way to log tickets, what categories to use and which team to escalate which tickets to which team.
    • Learning to use Landesk / SCCM to deploy software takes about 10 mins to learn how to search for the machine needing the software and then drag the computer to the distribution task and click deploy.
    • Please stop discounting candidates who may not have used the exact software your client’s company uses to support their users.

Thankyou from all the potential candidates hiring managers should get to see but don’t get considered as they aren’t a 100% cookie cutter fit. Everyone learns on the job they are hired for.

Therefore I will interview anyone with 1-2 years + IT support experience, I’m really not too fussy. What I am really looking for is someone with personality and can give a great customer experience. I can teach technical skills easier than I can teach customer service skills. I would even say, you either have customer service skills or you don’t.

Structure of an interview

The interviews are normally structured into 5 parts:

  1. Introductions of everyone who will be interviewing, their roles within the company and the structure of the interview possibility with a company overview
  2. The candidate is asked to gives an overview of their career / past few jobs
  3. Competency questions based on IT support
  4. Questions around what the candidate knows about the position and company then the interviewer will give an overview of the position being recruited for.
  5. The candidate gets to ask questions to the interviewer. This is an opportunity for the candidate to learn more about the company or manager or position.

My Interview questions

Tell me about your last jobs / job? (I go back maybe 3-5 years so this might be one job or several.)

Why I ask this:

It is an initial standard, boring questions to get someone talking. I want to understand the make up of their team eg how many analysts was in the team, were they in one area or geographically dispersed, what was their role in the team eg were they junior or a senior member in the team, how many tickets did they deal with? What types of tickets did they work on?

I might ask some questions off the back of their initial answers but ultimately I want to know if they have been working for a company of 10 people total and my organisation is 10,000 people…there might be a gap. If this is you, really think about how you might show you can take on the step up. A company of 10,000 is going to be more structured and possibly you might have less responsibilities / you won’t get able to have access to as much as you did in the smaller company to get involved in, so have you through about this?

If someone has had multiple jobs, then I might ask :

What was your best job and why?

Why I ask this:

I want to know why they liked it, maybe they had a great manager or team? Maybe every Friday they were out to a bar with their team and other people from the department which made for a fun environment etc and maybe my environment might align to what they liked in their best job.

What is your greatest achievement either at work or out of work?

Why I ask this:

This gives the candidate the opportunity to puff out their chest out and be proud of something. It is also a good gauge to see what people are proud of and look at some of the personal qualities shown by the candidate when sharing these stories.

Some example answers I have had:

“I took in a stray dog when I had just left school at 18. Nobody in my family believed I could take care of this dog. I am therefore very proud to say that dog is still living with me 5 years later.”

“I stayed late to sort out a laptop for one of the members of staff. I was the only one who could sort this out as I was the only one with the level of access and had sorted out this persons issues with the particular software in question. The next day the person bought me a box of chocolates for staying late and helping them.”

“I sourced and was the main person to deal with an audio and visual company to come in and replace all the audio and visual equipment in our large meeting room where townhall’s with the entire office took place. After the replacement I was the main person to train up my team on how to use the equipment. After replacing the equipment there was never any issues hosting and running a townhall.”

What would you do if you are dealing with an issue with one member of the business and then the Managing Director (MD) comes over to you and needs your help urgently in the meeting room. What would you do?

Why I ask this:

This is a customer experience questions. Ultimately the most senior person in an organisation is asking for urgent help but you are dealing with an issue already. How are you going to deal with this?

eg:

  1. Are you going to drop everything, walk away from the existing issue and go help the MD?
  2. Are you going to ask the business person if it is ok to go take a look and help the MD?
  3. Are you going to ask a colleague if they can help take over helping the business user issues while you go help the MD?
  4. Are you going to turn around to the MD and say ‘I’m busy already, go find someone else’
  5. Are you going to run out the door scream ‘I can’t take this pressure!!!!’?

My whole ethos about IT support is the customer experience so this is key question for me to assess if we are aligned or not?

What is a CAB or a Change Advisory Board?

Why I ask this:

  • Do you know about ITIL?
  • Do you know how changes work in an ITIL environment?

What is the difference between an incident and a request?

Why I ask this:

  • What do you know about ITIL?
  • What do you know about IT operations, logging tickets and maybe SLA which normally are different when talking about an incident vs a request

Someone in marketing is trying to print to a printer in the office they have always printed to and nothing is coming out, what would you do?

Why I ask this:

I want to see how you troubleshoot an issue eg

  • How are you managing the customer experience? Are they under any time pressures? Are they late for a meeting so you can’t troubleshoot for a long time so need a workaround for now and can go back and fix it when there is more time?
  • Ask the person to reboot their machine and try again?
  • Can you print to that printer?
  • Is there any error messages on the printer?
  • Has the printer got paper?
  • Can you ping that printer?
  • Is the printer plugged in?
  • Can you reboot the printer?
  • Have you reloaded the printer on the persons machine?
  • Can anyone else print to that printer?

Someone is working from home and their internal webcam eg integrated into the laptop isn’t working in Microsoft Teams, what do you do to try and solve this issue?

Why I ask this:

I want to see how you troubleshoot an issue remotely when you can’t get your hands on the machine. What things would you check or are initial things you would try to solve this?

  • How are you managing the customer experience? Are they under any time pressures? Are they late for a meeting so you can’t troubleshoot for a long time so need a workaround for now and can go back and fix it when there is more time?
  • Have you rebooted the machine?
  • Does the webcam pick up in other programs eg skype? Webex?
  • What is the error message? Have you googled it?
  • Have you reloaded the drivers?
  • Has the person got another webcam eg an external webcam that they could use.

Some one is working in the office and they can’t connect to anything on the network. You run a cmd – ipconfig command and see their IP address is 169.254.x.x. What would you do?

Why I ask this:

  • How are you managing the customer experience? Are they under any time pressures? Can they work from another desk? Are they late for a meeting so you can’t troubleshoot for a long time so need a workaround for now and can go back and fix it when there is more time?
  • What do you know about the special address range of 169.254.x.x?
  • Have you released and renewed the ip address?
  • Have you checked the patching?
  • Is the network cable plugged directly into the computer or via the IP Phone? Can you plug the network cable directly into the computer instead of via the phone?
  • Have you reseated the network cables?

Tell me a time where an issues hasn’t gone well or you made a mistake. How did you mitigate it or recover the situation?

Why I ask this:

EVERYONE makes mistakes. Anyone that tells you they haven’t is lying or is a weak individual that they can’t admit their faults. I have made small to massive mistakes during my career. eg many, many years ago I encrypted a directors ‘my documents’ on this laptop as this was an IT project to encrypt peoples documents if they were working on a laptop. Unfortunately he hadn’t backed up these files to the server and then accidentally I deleted the private key needed to decrypt all the documents on this laptop. As result all the documents in ‘my documents’ was encrypted and there was no ways to decrypt them. That was a fun day…no, it was SO NOT a fun day.

So I want to know are you able to admit a mistake? What happened? How did you recover the situation? Did you escalate this to your manager and get their help or did you go it alone to recover the situation? How did you manage the customer experience?

My teams know I would rather put out little fires then big forest fires. Therefore if you keep an issue from me and it blows up from a little issue to a massive issue with escalations and lots of people very upset then that is a less than ideal situation for me to deal with. Managers should be there to support and help in these situations.

Why do you work in IT support?

Why I ask this:

I want to see if we are aligned. Answers that involve words like I enjoy speaking to people, I enjoy solving peoples problem or I like to make sure of a good customer experience are much better than, it’s just a job to pay the bills and to be honest I hate dealing with people but I need to do this job to get into networks or systems which is my dream job. An answer like this makes me sad and probably the interview isn’t going last too much longer.

What would be the result if I was to block port 80 on a users computer?

Why I ask this:

Do you know the IP ports of common protocols? eg the result of this action would be the user would not be able to access the internet as this is the port the computer uses to go out to the internet.

Curve ball question. Tell me your best friends name and tell me their best and worst quality?

Why I ask this :

Surprise question that you didn’t see coming, did you! This is all about catching someone off their guard with a question they have not prepared for. Everyone prepares to answer questions on themselves but not their best friend. So this is a bit of reverse psychology. Imagine your best friend is Ben. If Ben’s best quality is he likes to help people and his worse quality is he is always late. Then depending how the rest of the interview has gone, I might be drawing up the contract and hiring that person on the spot, why?

The best quality of a person is usually an aspirational quality of the person talking about their best friend that they want to be more like. I am all about customer experience and helping people so this is a pretty good quality to highlight that is their best friend best quality is also helping people.

The worse quality of Ben is he is always late. It is reasonable to guess the person saying this is always on time and is always waiting for Ben. Therefore I would assume that the person I am interviewing will always be on time to work and for meetings.

I have had a few people be so surprised by this question that they answer that their computer is their best friend. Please don’t use this as the answer. There isn’t many places to go when the answer for the best friends best quality is the computers load time and the worst quality is it tiny hard drive.

Questions to ask at the end of an interview to the interviewer

Never leave an interview without asking any questions at the end of the interview. Any job will mean you spend more time at work then you see your loved ones. You might want to make sure you will be happy working at the company if you are successful and you know what you are going to be doing.

Some example questions:

  • Can you explain what a normal day/ week might look like for me eg duties and responsibilities if I am successful at this job?
  • Can you tell me what hours are worked eg are you going to be on duty 9am-5pm? Are there shifts?
  • How often do team meetings and 1:1’s take place with you and the team?
  • Can you give me an overview of the team members I will be working with?
  • What projects might be coming up that I might be involved in?
  • Why do you like working at this company?
  • What would you change to make your or the teams life better, if you had a magic wand and money / budgets were unlimited.
  • What is your biggest achievement while you have been working at this company?
  • What is the biggest issue for the team at the moment?
  • What would you expect of me/goals/targets during my first 3-6 months?
  • Name your best friend and their best and worst quality? Reasoning above.
  • Can I see where I might be working? Note : A clean environment rather than a messy environment is normally preferred.

What can you do to better prepare for interviews?

Dress to impress, I might be old school but while you might be comfortable in shorts and t shirts, if I am the interviewer and I am wearing a suit…how comfortable would you be feeling in interview when you are there to impress me but you are wearing an old t-shirt? It is better to overdress than under dress for an interview.

If the interview is a video conference. Make sure you have a neutral or plain wall background. You may love a sports team and have all their posters but don’t have them in the background to your video conference. That a) is distracting to the interviewer b) if the interviewer or their team hates your sports team, it might impact the interview or your chances of getting to the next stage. A neutral or plan background means there are no distractions, so the interviewer focuses on you.

Try answering the interview questions I listed earlier on to your mum, dad, loved one and see if they understand what you are saying or they get lost in your description of your work back ground or other answers. You must be able to explain things in plain terms. In an interview I might ask you what is a ping, so if your mum / dad /loved one also asked this and you could explain this in simple terms to them then you are ahead of the game. Some people in a business really do not know too much about computers and this is not a bad thing. They are much better then you at the jobs they are paid to do. Remember this the next time someone on the support desk scoffs/laughs that someone didn’t know how to reboot their computer or do something you on the support desk think is SO easy. If you come at the business person with really technical phases and make them feel stupid then this might be a recipe to inflame the situation. You have to be able to explain things in plain term and making sure the customer experience is on point.

Remember, Einstein once said :

“If you can’t explain things simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

I have unfortunately met and worked with lots of IT people who this quote is very true for.

Put away your phone and make sure it is on silent. The second you look at your phone in an interview then you are saying to the interviewer my phone is more important then you. Game over.

Look up the company and what they do and maybe look up the interviewers on LinkedIn to know their background. If the interviewer has just started at the company, then you could asked ‘I noticed on Linkedin you have just started at the company. How are you getting on starting at x company?’. Show some interest in what the company does, who runs it, some recent news etc if you are asked ‘what do you know about this company’ you need to say something.

Answer questions as ‘I’ and not ‘we’. I want to know what you (the candidate) did not what a collective did. If a candidate answers questions as ‘we did this’ we did that’ it gives the impression the candidate was in the backseat and didn’t really know what was going on, they were more going along for the ride.

DO NOT BE LATE. If needs be, go on a visit to the office ahead on weekend or after work on weekday before the interview to make sure you know where to go on the day or allow plenty of time to get to the interview on the day. You would rather be walking around outside the office killing time before the interview then flustered and late for the interview. I have cancelled interviews if the candidate was more then 10mins late, plenty more candidates who can be on time out there. Do not be the one who does not make it past reception as they have arrived late.

Learn about ITIL, it is a framework most companies use to organise and run their IT department so knowing something about this or getting the foundation exam is a massive bonus. I know ITIL can be a little dry but this is a book I recommend to everyone and is even funny in parts explaining what ITIL is. Click here

This is an article I wrote explaining ITIL click here as an interior design catalogue…go with it people.

Try out Servicenow. Servicenow is one of the biggest IT Service Management (ITSM) tools used by most organisations. So learn how to log tickets, reassign tickets to different teams, close tickets etc. You can get a free instance of Servicenow via their developer portal here

I have also put together some Servicenow videos that are available on my blog for more of a delve into the inner workings of Servicenow. click here

Do you know how to change someone password? What is AD? What is a ping? What is a tracert?

There are plenty of resources. Watch Kevin Apolinario (click here) and Zac Hill’s (click here) youtube channels which are great. Have a play and learn about different software eg:

Microsoft Learning Centre : https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/learn/browse/ – English, other languages are available.

AWS fundamental free training https://explore.skillbuilder.aws/learn/public/learning_plan/view/82/cloud-foundations-learning-plan

Networking basics by Cisco for free https://www.cisco.com/c/en_uk/solutions/small-business/resource-center/networking/networking-basics.html

Then there are sites such as :

https://www.udemy.com/

https://www.coursera.org/

If you want to start paying for courses which go into more depth.

Blog. Like I said earlier, on CV it is hard to differentiate most IT support candidates so one way to be different and stand out from the crowd is start a blog. This blog costs me about $20 per year for the domain and is set up on WordPress. However, if you click about, you learn about me that you wouldn’t learn from reading my CV. Therefore my blog help make me stand out from the crowd as any hiring manager can look at my blog and click through my articles in their own time, to work out if they want to interview me and can build up a picture of my thinking prior to the interview. As this is just a link on my CV. If you were to blog about technologies you are interested in, your opinions or views it lets people know about you and you might align to a hiring managers thinking before the interview.

I hope this helps and I would really love to hear what you think of this article? These articles are written to lay out everything I do and want to learn how to be better. So please leave any comments how I could run an interview better. Do you agree / disagree with some of the questions? Are there any questions I am missing? What has been your best and worst questions asked?

Better team meetings

Reflecting on management practice that someone else carries out and your own management practice is key for any manager / leader to try and better. I was thinking about my team meetings and how they could be much better. A team meeting, to me, is a place where a team can come together and voice up any issues they are having that the team can help or the manager can escalate, ask for help from the team on a problem and the manager can explain any new projects coming up or ask for status updates on projects or work needing to be done.

In a moment of pure honesty, these sound great on paper but, there are not issues 100% of the time, there are not new projects coming 100% of the time and people know how to do their jobs. So the team meeting becomes a bit unstructured and can be very short if there is nothing really to talk about. Its nice to sometime have a team meeting where if there is nothing to talk about it turns into a bonding, fun session where you can just talk about some current affairs or a sports match…but not too many meetings otherwise people will start thinking if it worth take 30mins out of their day.

What could I do to make my team meetings more engaging and provide more value? I thought about getting my team to watch youtube self help / management videos and to discuss them in the team meeting. A sort of book club lite. 15-30 mins videos to be watched between the team meetings and then discuss them. The hope would be this might spark interest in other team member to add their videos they might have watched. This would build a better and more rounded team.

Some talks / books I would be targeting :

Talks

Books

  • Total competition : Lessons in Strategy from Formula One – Ross Brawn / Adam Parr
  • Legacy – What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life – James Kerr
  • How to Win Rugby and Leadership – Clive Woodward
  • SAS : Who Dares Wins : Leadership Secret from the Special Forces – Ant Middleton, Jason Fox, Matthew Ollerton and Colin Maclachlan
  • Turn the ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the rules – L. David Marquet
  • The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek
  • Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
  • Hit Refresh – Satya Nadella

Podcasts

  • The High Performance Podcast
  • The Diary of a CEO with Steve Bartlett – Episode 96 How to take full control of your mind
  • Modern Wisdom

Learning Resources

Interested to know what other managers thoughts on this are? Is this something you have tried? Do you think this will work or not, and why do you think this?

This blog is all about making IT more user friendly by looking at ITIL, Service Management and everything else to make IT better. Please leave comments and tell me what you think, this is also an opportunity for me, to write down my ideas and get feedback from everyone to help me understand the subject better.