Help Desk Lead: Soft Skills questions, please
November 8, 2013 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I am involved in hiring for a help desk lead position. What are are good interview questions to tease out a technical person's "soft" skills? Beyond "Describe a situation where things didn't go right", or "Tell us how you deal with disagreements".
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic to Human Relations (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"Let's pretend I'm a user and I DEMAND something flat-out impossible. Tell me how you respond."

"A coworker of yours made a big mistake and it directly affected a user. The user doesn't know this and is griping to you about the issue. What do you say?"

"A user needs access to a secure folder, but no one capable of giving explicit permission is around. What do you do?"

"It's 4:59 and you've just finished working on a user's PC and you're PRETTY SURE the issue's fixed, but not 100% sure - what do you do?"
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do a test phone call on speakerphone with a colleague acting as a frustrated customer. The call shouldn't be something overly technical, but something like the suggestion of the last commenter, with a customer needing access to a shared folder when nobody is around to give permission. Even if the soft skills pertain more to relationships between colleagues (and not customer support), how they provide customer support will give you a pretty good indication.
posted by beyond_pink at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are really two parts to finding out if someone can deal with a client facing role:

1) Do they actually understand the technical issues?
2) Can they communicate those issues to the client in a way that accounts for that client's context?

What you're asking about is #2.

Missing either part is a recipe for disaster. You need to make sure they first understanding the technical issue cold, because if they don't they have zero chance of adapting that understanding to the client's specific needs. If every client's needs are the same, then you can skimp on #2 - but that's rarely the case.

What do I mean about client specific context? There's lots of ways to solve any one problem. The right place/time/method used to solve a problem for one client might be absolutely incorrect for another. Angry or unreasonable clients are just one kind of context. Confronting candidates with that one context lets you know how they do in that specific kind of situation - but it gives you no insight into their ability to suss out a client's context on their own.

That ability to interview clients, to find out what are negotiable and non-negotiable parameters and using that feedback to inform how they handle the client in front of them - that's what you want. The angry client test is just skipping to the (hopefully edge case) scenario where the client's non-negotiables and your non-negotiables are at odds.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:12 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work in consulting, and one of the things they hire for here is intellectual curiosity -- the drive to think, understand, assess, solve problems, and ask what if? instead of just going by the book.

"What's a process you'd like to change or modify in your last/current organization?"
"Tell me about a mistake you've made, how you fixed it. And would you fix it the same way now? (This might lead to how they would apply new insight/new technology.)
"What do you enjoy learning about?"
"What's one thing I should never ask you to do?" (And boy howdy, that'll get you some answers!)
posted by mochapickle at 11:13 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is all very helpful, thank you!
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:15 AM on November 8, 2013

What I've done is bring in a non-technical end user who has an actual problem, and ask the candidate to trouble-shoot live. (Helps if it's something that doesn't require knowledge of your company's specific systems, like "Skype keeps crashing for me and I don't know why" or "I don't know how to update to the new version of Chrome.") Then just watch them. It'll be obvious if they have the soft skills you need.

I am a big fan of making the hiring process as similar as possible to the actual work. It's the fastest and easiest way to get a good assessment of what the person would be like doing their real work, every day. Otherwise you're really just testing how well they talk.
posted by Susan PG at 12:03 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

How do you deal with co-workers who are not as competent as desired, or who have poor communication skills?
Please give some examples of frustrating end users, and how you handle them.
Who are your favorite end users, and who are your least favorite (don't name names)?
Describe to me how to _____. (clear the cache and cookies in Chrome, set a right-justified tab in Word, etc.) if somebody says It's easy, just _____, that's a bad sign. You want someone who gives the information calmly and at the user's pace, and who gets that it may not be easy for the caller.
Some people will reveal a lot about themselves while talking about others. Let the candidate talk, when people really get talking, they seem to get more honest.
posted by theora55 at 12:42 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My boss (I do tier 3 support FOR a Help Desk) has a question he likes to ask. We do store support for a retail company, so your situation may be slightly different.

"You have 2 stores that are completely down. They are identical in terms of importance. How do you proceed to help them?"

The answer he likes to hear is "Get store A at least partially running and then move to Store B and get them partially running. Then go back and do clean up to get both stores fully operational" This minimizes the time that a store is 100% unable to ring sales.

Your preferred answer may be different, but you can gauge a lot about the problem solving of the interviewee based on their answer.
posted by Twain Device at 3:26 PM on November 8, 2013

I just had a hellish job interview. I can't remember all the questions, but one I particularly bombed at was the combo of:

"Tell us about a job where you felt like you were at your best and you were excited about working everyday? Now tell us about one where you felt like you couldn't do your best and you weren't excited?"

Another random one was: "Have you ever had an experience where you had to just 'work through' somebody? Tell us about that."

They also asked me to roleplay talking to a client about an exercise they had sent me before the interview. I understand why they did that, but honestly, I felt really silly and I felt like there is so much in my relationship with a real client that I would bring to that interaction, that I really couldn't do it. I was at a loss of what to say. That was the worst part of the interview, easily. For me, I thought it was kind of unfair. But maybe it revealed some awkwardness that was helpful for them. I don't know.

This thread is great for giving me questions to prepare for my next interview. I'm horrible at these vague questions on the spot.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:40 PM on November 8, 2013

AppleTurnover - I can't speak for other interviewers, but I often ask vague questions on purpose. I *want* my candidates to be confident enough to ask me questions, to tell me that I'm not giving them enough information.

Again, other interviewers will be different, but I consider slam dunk hires to be candidates who give me answers that I didn't expect, that are still workable, that are fully backed by the information I've shared on purpose as well as the information they had to pry out of me - because really, that's what the job is all about.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:06 PM on November 8, 2013

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