Help Desk Representatives
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are approximately 671,800 computer support specialists, including help desk representatives, working in the United States. Potential employers for help desk representatives range from Internet service providers, to very specific niche-market online information services providers, such as LexisNexis, to businesses with an online presence, such as banks, that provide Internet services to its customers, to companies that offer assistance with the products, such as software manufacturers.
Many of the jobs in this industry are located on the East and West coasts, in large metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The Midwest and South represent growing markets as well, with many jobs in Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, and Dallas. The growth of the Internet's popularity has allowed many businesses to establish help desk “call centers” in less expensive metropolitan areas like Baltimore. Employment is also available abroad. The bottom line is that employment in this field is possible in many places across the country and around the world.
One of the best ways to look for a help desk position is to start with a company you know and like. Browse the company's Web site for more information about it, available jobs, and the requirements and application process.
You can also scan the want ads in local newspapers for available positions. You may find that employment agencies are a source for jobs in this field. Employment agencies specializing in temporary work also allow you to try jobs for a short period of time without the commitment required of a full-time employee.
Becoming certified as a help desk representative is an excellent way to gain a competitive edge as you seek your first job, and certification programs will also give you contacts in the field and may assist you with job placement.
Of course, nothing is more effective than communicating directly with computer professionals to find out more about the industry and hear about job openings before they become available to the general public. Attending job fairs and industry conventions are good ways to meet professionals who can give you more information.
Once you have completed an associate's or bachelor's degree, make use of your school's career service office. The office should be aware of job openings when they are posted and give you assistance with applying for jobs.
Advancement opportunities are excellent for help desk representatives. The job is a good starting point for gaining exposure to various technical issues, and for developing technical and people skills.
An employee who succeeds in a help desk position demonstrates technical skill, diplomacy, good communication skills, and sound judgment—all qualities that translate well into advanced positions with more responsibility and higher salaries. Depending on an individual's interests, they might advance to a more sophisticated technical position or veer off into a role in sales, management, or administration. The average tech support person will spend one-and-a-half to two years in the position, which provides plenty of time to learn the ropes, develop skills, and prove their worth. Employees who demonstrate an understanding of the company's products, philosophies, and goals will be the best candidates for advancement. The better help desk representatives know their company, the better the chances that they'll have to be recognized as candidates for promotion.
Tips for Entry
A strong background in computers is essential in this job. Take computer science classes while in school or at a local technical school or community college. Communications and psychology courses are also helpful for understanding people and dealing with customers.
The next time you have a problem with your computer, pay attention to how the help desk representative handles your questions. Take notes on the pros and cons of the customer service you receive.
Get a part-time or summer job at a computer store or in a customer service department within a company. This will give you firsthand experience in dealing with customers and fielding inquiries.