If it’s your first time applying to work as an IT engineer for an MSP (managed service provider), you’re probably wondering what to expect if you get hired.
Our founder Eric Muth here at Support Adventure, has a wealth of knowledge about MSP environments. He worked as a freelance remote IT technician for MSPs before starting his staffing company for MSPs.
He has seen it all in the MSP space, from both the perspective of the technician and that of the MSP that hires them.
After extracting the lessons from some of his experiences, we can now share what to expect working for an MSP.
By the way, we are hiring! Click here to apply!
Before we move ahead… Do you even know what an MSP is?
It’s okay if you don’t!
Many people who apply to work with us have actually never heard of an MSP, or have little knowledge about them.
A managed service provider, also known by the acronym MSP, is a company that provides outsourced IT services, typically to businesses on a fixed contract basis.
Instead of a company creating an IT department and recruiting technicians for their team, they simply hire an MSP who will do the following:
- Manage all IT issues and fixes.
- Manage a help desk that takes incoming support incidents.
- Manage projects that depend on IT knowledge.
- Develop the IT infrastructure for the company.
MSPs make it so that the client’s company doesn’t have to worry about that section of the business internally. Many businesses feel clueless when it comes to computer fixes, which is why they like to pass off this responsibility to an MSP.
Why it is Best to work for an MSP
The benefit of working for an MSPs, compared to a fee-for-service IT business (also known as a break-fix IT), is that the MSP can sign-up clients on a fixed rate contract.
For example, an MSP can provide support for a company that has 50 workstations for $50 for each user, totaling $2500 a month. That $2500 is recurring monthly income, which allows the MSP to have a stable budget to hire staff and evolve the business. On the contrary, break-fix IT business charge for the service, which can lead to lower income during a quiet month.
Here are some more benefits of the MSP compared to a break-fix service:
|MSP||Break-Fix or Repair Shop|
|Generates more elite clients.||Clients tend to be smaller.|
|Creates long-term customer relationships.||Creates more one-off customers.|
|Charges monthly fees.||Charges per incident.|
|Easier to do scalable upsells like VIP support and afterhours.||Limited to smaller upsell options, like adding a software or paying extra for a warranty.|
MSPs benefit from having long-term relationships with multiple clients that have numerous staff members.
You can think of MSPs like an insurance policy in that customers pay a monthly fee for what might go wrong. Although, many MSPs actually make more money off of projects more so than helpdesk support. But they all need to have a reliable help desk nevertheless.
Working for a small MSP
Depending on when you get hired during an MSPs journey, you can have a different experience.
If the MSP is small, and the owner doubles as an onsite senior tech with one other low level tech, chances are you will have a close relationship with that owner.
You may even be dependent on the owner as they will know everything about the customers, but will have little documentation in that regard. Whenever you don’t know what to do or need help with something as small as a password, you will have to contact the owner.
As this type of MSP adds more people, working for it can get more complicated for the following reasons:
- If the owner is running to different onsite locations, knee-deep in installing servers and such, they might be unavailable to help you.
- The model of constantly escalating instead of healthy delegation will be tiresome to everyone.
- The constant communication can create delays and bottlenecking with tickets that need resolving.
Once the MSP reaches five or ten people, things definitely become more strenuous and chaotic as its growth has outpaced the structure that accommodates two or three, not 5-10!
Why Smaller MSPs often have a lackluster structure
The reason MSPs fail to have a solid structure with more delegation and less communication is a result of the double-edged sword of the founder’s best traits.
Founders are often:
- Great at figuring things out.
- Effective at putting out fires.
- Innovative when coming up with fixes on the fly.
- Fast-acting problem solvers.
That all sounds great, right?
But when it comes to growing their business, they often think they need more people with the same qualities. In reality, they need new people who compliment their weaknesses and those of their top engineers. They need techs who are:
- Comfortable communicating with clients.
- Interested and excited about managing and leading a community.
- Capable of empathizing with the motivations of clients.
- Able to thrive in an environment of teamwork and collaboration.
- Cognizant of the objectives of the team, not just themself as an individual.
- Understanding the culture and values of the company as a whole.
If you work for an MSP that is experiencing growing pains, you might be subjected to:
- Dealing with too much work.
- Waiting for senior techs to get back to you for escalations.
- Cranky founders or introverted senior techs who resent having to help you.
- The chain of communication being so overwhelmed, that you feel like you are never making progress on all your tickets.
Ask the tough questions during the MSP interview
If you want to avoid getting hired by an MSP going through growing pains, you need to ask the revealing questions during your interview.
- How would you rate your documentation on a scale from 1 to 10?
- How do you audit your documentation and make sure that it’s in order?
- What’s your escalation policy?
- Do you have a checklist of what my daily tasks are?
- Do you have a dispatcher who handles all the tickets and the assignment of them?
- Do you have a technician ring group that cherry picks tickets off the board?
- Do I have to answer calls when I am working?
- Who is responsible for documentation?
- How are tickets assigned to me?
- Will I only be assigned work within my abilities?
- How can I escalate a ticket I cannot resolve to someone who can?
Red flag responses to those questions would be:
- Technicians must answer the phones.
- You choose tickets by selecting the ones you want to do.
- There is a competition among technicians for how many tickets they can complete.
- The escalation policy is to leave a ticket assigned to yourself. Don’t assign it to someone else rather, reach out to a senior tech through the chat and wait for a response.
- We don’t really have documentation.
- We don’t have a checklist of your daily tasks.
You have more power than you think. If you want to be happy at the MSP you are working for, you need to learn about the structure, or lack thereof, that they have put in place.
Ideally, you can work for an MSP that has already advanced past some of these growing pains. If they have 15 technicians or more, chances are they have been there, done that!
They should already have a structure that prevents:
- Clients from getting nervous from waiting and/or bad expectations.
- Technicians going crazy with work overload and disorganization.
- A disorganized ticketing system bombarding staff with random issues at random times.
- A technician ring group by hiring a dispatcher.
When joining any MSP, particularly a smaller one, you must do your due diligence during the interview.
Working for an MSP requires being able to work in a challenging, complex environment
If you have never worked for an MSP, then get ready because it requires a diverse skill set.
You need the ability to learn things quickly… quickly as in, two minutes! This is because you will receive a ticket to solve a problem with a software you have never heard of before. And in two minutes, you need to be able to research that software and start fixing the issue pronto.
As long as you have a strong intuition and knowledge of how technologies work, you should be able to successfully troubleshoot things on the fly.
Also, researching on the fly isn’t rocket science. Your best friends will be:
- Knowledge based articles on websites and blogs.
- Written experiences and fixes from other people on forums like Stack Exchange.
You must be agile in order to provide solutions. People who don’t have that ability don’t do well in the MSP environment, even if they have a great deal of technical learning.
You can have all the computer science learning in the world and have received accolades from your professors.
It doesn’t matter.
The MSP environment is a whole other beast. You have to be able to take in information quickly, and have a natural sense for how to solve problems.
If you are the type of person who needs instructions, you might want to rethink applying.
Research technologies that MSPs rely on to prepare for the environment
If you want to get a head start on impressing MSPs, look into the softwares they use and get familiar with them.
Feel free to find out which ones you aren’t familiar with and get a sense for how to operate them by:
- Poking around panels of the software.
- Getting a feel for the user interface.
- Researching what they might do if projected updates have been announced.
- Attempting to set-up accounts.
- Troubleshooting problems.
MSP work is very hands-on. It’s more impressive to managers if you have experience with a software as opposed to reciting information you have learned about it.
This is why we give an Office 365 test during our training and testing program.
We have candidates go to the Microsoft Office website, sign up for an Office Enterprise E3 trial, and set it up from scratch. We provide certain specs regarding shared mailboxes and permissions. If the candidate can set it up, we will be impressed.
Being passionate about helping people is something you can’t teach
Whether it’s having an intrinsic interest in troubleshooting computers or helping people, you have to truly enjoy the day-to-day tasks of the job at an MSP.
MSPs are in the business of customer service, so you need to like people. Have empathy for their problems. Be patient when speaking with a flustered client or the person who likes 30 seconds of small talk. If they prefer business talk, be patient with that too.
The person on the other end of the phone wants to reach a likeable character who is trustworthy.
Remember, you are their savior because you’re helping them fix a stressful issue. So tell some jokes. Show your personality. Have some charisma and help them get their heart rate down from freaking out so much. They will love your service.
But if you know you are an antisocial person, whose resistance to answering calls comes through on the phone with your annoyed tone of voice, maybe MSP stuff isn’t for you.
Perhaps you should be a developer where communication with clients is minimal. But we have to reemphasize: MSPs are in the business of customer service.
Long story short…
The biggest things to expect working for an MSP are that you must like learning new things and dealing with people.