Working the help desk is one of the most ubiquitous tech jobs in America. While many specialists enjoy assisting people through their problems, the position does come with its share of (occasionally hilarious) horror stories. It’s understandable—and honorable!—if you want to make the help desk your career; but for those who want to use their tenure as a springboard to another technology job, challenges and opportunities await.
Actual salaries for help-desk specialists vary wildly. Some report barely making more than minimum wage; others can earn more than $50,000 per year. As with other tech jobs, pay is dependent on everything from company and city to skill-set. Your paycheck will rise if you ascend to a higher “tier” of tech support specialization, or to management; but it can often take quite some time to advance to that level.
The good news is, you can use your help-desk experience to lock down another tech job that plays to your interests (and possibly pays more money). But as anyone who’s made the transition can tell you, it’s not always seamless or quick.
Boost Your Skills
Some tech-support positions come with quite a bit of on-the-job training. Others give you only a few hours of instruction on a particular platform before throwing you into the proverbial shark tank. Depending on the company, your managers may just want you to follow a script, log tickets, and kick the most complex and unsolvable problems to a specialist experienced with particular technologies or issues.
Whatever the nuances of your role, use it as an opportunity to boost your troubleshooting knowledge. Knowing how and why systems work is vital to whatever you decide to do next. If your company offers more training, take it; and when solving issues, take a few moments—if only in the post-incident analysis—to consider alternate pathways to a solution. Your hardest cases will become useful stories in your next job interview, in terms of demonstrating your creativity and skill.
The help desk gives you a chance to work on your people skills. It’s a stressful job, and you often encounter upset or angry people. While such situations are emotionally draining, they also offer a crash course of sorts in dealing with human behavior. Learning how to empathize, and communicate complex concepts using simple terminology, can only help you later. (Just remember to “de-stress” as often as possible.)
Once you’ve learned everything possible from the help desk with regard to skills, you can think about advancing into another role.
Climbing the Ladder
Some people sign onto a help-desk job because they think it will provide a fast track to another tech role at the same company. If the job you want is radically different than the help-desk work you’re doing now, however, you could have a hard time convincing managers to give you a shot at the new role.
What to do? Find a mentor. Having an advocate will potentially accelerate your career much faster than blindly applying to internal job postings. This mentor can speak to other managers and generally play advocate. If the company offers a formal mentorship program, see if you can participate; if not, find a senior tech pro whose job and skills match what you want to do. Offer to take them to lunch, or out for coffee; take the time to build a solid relationship before you make the “ask” in terms of a new position.
When applying for a position, it’s great to emphasize your help-desk experience, especially your knowledge of the company’s internal processes and systems. Don’t neglect your other experiences, though: depending on the role you want, make sure you have the necessary certifications and education.
Working for a smaller company may also accelerate your climb up the ladder. Larger firms sometimes isolate their help-desk employees in silos, and make it very difficult for people in those roles to jump to other teams or divisions. At small or mid-sized firms, on the other hand, you have more face-time with decision-makers, and a bit more flexibility when it comes to taking on additional projects or demonstrating your broader technical aptitudes.
Jumping to Management
If you want to stick with the help-desk, but move to a more managerial position, you’re going to need to demonstrate not only problem-solving skills, but also your dedication to ensuring a great customer experience. Although many companies like to make internal promotions to help-desk manager, you’re going to need to compete against some dedicated colleagues in order to land the role; in order to stand out, you must show that you really care about the core issues affecting customers.
In light of that, make sure you can do the following; an executive or interviewer may ask you questions along these lines if you apply for a management position:
- Demonstrate problem-solving ability
- How to solve tough or strange customer-derive issues
- Passion for customer service
- How to improve the company’s help-desk system
If you have answers to all of those (hopefully backed up by stories), you have a solid shot.
While it’s no guarantee of advancement, displaying a healthy sense of passion and motivation is key if you want a shot at leaving the help desk for a different technical career. Most of all, maintain a sense of optimism; escaping the help desk may take time, but it is definitely possible.