The Top 10 Help Desk Skills Every Support Specialist Needs

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Whether you’re seeking new help desk hires or you’re looking to start a career in IT support, these are the top 10 skills you’ll need in this field.

While smaller companies can rely on outside contractors to deal with their technical support issues, this strategy becomes less viable as your business grows. Due to the volume and technical nature of enterprise business needs, in-house IT help desk support (aka IT tech support) is the way to go.

I’ve put together a list of the top 10 IT skills to look for when hiring new help desk employees. This list is also helpful if you’re looking to start your career in the IT help desk field and want a head start on the skills you need to know.

However, before we get into that, let’s dive into what help desk support is and how it differs from other types of support.

Overview: What is help desk support?

Help desk support is another way to say in-house technical support, which deals with all kinds of maintenance and support tasks such as software installation and network maintenance.

Technical support responsibilities typically stay within the technical realm and don’t drift into other administrative support tasks unless absolutely necessary. (More on this in the next section.)

Help desk vs. service desk: What's the difference?

While many of their functions are the same, such as managing support tickets and handling requests, help desks and service desks address different needs. Although these terms are used interchangeably, they are different once you get down to brass tacks.

An IT help desk provides immediate technical support for infrequent issues and problems, whereas a service desk focuses on the service requests of end users, such as onboarding, managing assets, providing laptops to employees, etc.

The top 10 help desk skills to have

The master list of tech support skills that every help desk professional ought to know is extensive. However, I’ve boiled down many of those basic help desk skills into 10 of the most important hard and soft skills of IT problem management.

Skill 1: Adaptability

Soft skill

Every career path requires adaptability, but few paths require it as much as working IT support. Imagine working in a career where everyone wants to speak to the manager, but the problems are far more technical in nature. Adaptability is a core skill that every help desk professional should have.

Adapting to the issues at hand is very useful because you never know how technical or confusing an issue might be.

I’ve called help desk support over things like misshapen buttons on a website I was working with, and my issues were fixed because the professionals understood the need to adapt to different situations and problems. Not everyone will come to you with an easily solved problem. Adapt and thrive.

Skill 2: Documentation

Hard skill

Documentation skills are a must in this industry. The ability to document and explain issues easily is extremely important and valuable because you’re not just solving issues for one person, you’re solving them for everybody who runs into those problems.

You don’t need to weave words of gold like Hemingway, just enough to explain a problem and solution so others can understand your solution.

Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time fixing the same problems for end users over, and over, and over again because your documentation wasn’t able to guide them to the solution.

Skill 3: Attention to detail

Soft skill

Everything required of an IT help desk professional, from installing new systems to documenting error solutions, requires a more precise attention to detail than many other other fields.

While you aren’t always dealing with highly complex issues, you’ll routinely encounter situations where attention to detail and critical thinking are crucial for coming up with innovative solutions to unique problems. Without this attention to detail, you’ll find yourself putting out more self-made fires than necessary.

Skill 4: Ticketing systems

Hard skill

If you want a career as an IT help desk worker, you need to get familiar with ticketing systems. IT ticketing systems are used in many industries, from IT work to project management.

Many platforms use them to help their clients track and solve problems. Several IT management software options even offer free versions of their products so you can familiarize yourself without spending a dime. Jira Service Desk and Spiceworks are two examples.

Skill 5: Empathy

Soft skill

Any career path that revolves around problem-solving requires empathy. I learned very quickly as a technical specialist for Apple how little the average person understands about their devices and the software running them.

As an IT help desk professional, it’s important to empathize with those who come to you with their issues and make sure they understand you care about those problems.

These issues are insurmountable to them, and they see you as their only avenue for resolution. We can’t all be technology geeks, so remember that as you receive help requests.

Skill 6: Systems installation

Hard skill

As an IT help desk professional, you’ll need ample computer systems and installation knowledge, both software and hardware. This includes (but is not limited to) operating systems, network switches and routers, IP routers, and much more.

These skills can be acquired through certification courses, boot camps, and comprehensive IT network engineering courses from organizations like NexGenT and Infosec. These skills are non-negotiable since you never know what kinds of problems might be sent your way while working in this career field.

Skill 7: Conflict resolution

Soft skill

Most service-related careers require some degree of conflict resolution skills, especially tech support. Every interaction you have with an end user begins with a problem that's probably frustrating them.

They would rather solve their own problems, but the issue is so out of reach that they felt the need to come to you instead. Conflict resolution and de-escalation skills are valuable when dealing with frustrated or outright angry end users.

By the end of your interaction, you’ll hopefully have changed their mood entirely, which makes your job much easier in the long run.

Skill 8: Administrative support

Hard skill

Troubleshooting administrative problems is a highly sought-after skill in help desk professionals, including dealing with account maintenance issues, password management, user access permissions, and network security.

Many of these administrative skills can be learned on the job or through the certification classes I mentioned above. If you know how to manage these systems, you’ll know how to deal with most issues that are brought to your attention, since most help desk requests deal with simple administrative issues.

Skill 9: Collaboration

Soft skill

IT help desk professionals understand the importance of collaboration. No one can possibly know everything, and knowing how to effectively work with others will help you excel in this field.

These collaborative skills include good communication, goal setting, persuasion skills, coordination, active listening, and leadership. While it is possible to get by on your own in most situations, why not make your life easier by working with others to find better solutions for your end users?

Skill 10: Virtual private networks

Hard skill

Earlier I mentioned the importance of network engineering skills, but if you plan to work in the enterprise and corporate world, you’ll need to take a deep dive into virtual private networks (VPNs).

Corporations deal with sensitive and valuable information that must be protected from the wild west of the public internet, so it’s up to you to know how to work within the confines of virtual private networks between offices.

You should have a thorough understanding of how to install, maintain, and troubleshoot different issues with VPNs so your end users can always count on a secure network connection no matter where they are.

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