Skills to Consider for Aspiring Help Desk Techs

A couple years ago, I typed up a list of skills for someone who was interested in working at a Help Desk (in somewhat of a help desk/desktop technician role). This is not an exhaustive list, but I thought I should share it here. Things to consider if you are handy in tech support and want to start an IT career:

Active Directory (AD): Know the basics of what it does and what it is used for at the Help Desk.

  • What is an Organizational Unit (OU)?
  • What is group membership, how is it used?
  • How is email forwarding performed, how are are email aliases/addresses managed?
  • What kinds of object types exist in AD?
  • What is a domain controller (DC)? What is its primary function?
  • What is a logon script (you do not need to know how to make or interpret one, but be familiar with what they are used for)?
  • What does it mean to enable, disable, expire, or delete a user?
  • Describe in plain terms what a domain, forest, and trust are (very basic view)


  • What kind of features do Multi-Function Printers (MFPs) offer?
  • Learn about basic network settings: ports, DHCP.
  • What options are available through a driver? Why is it important to understand driver architecture (x86 vs. x64)?
  • What management features are available form a print queue?
  • What can be accomplished through a printer’s web server? How is it accessed?
  • What are the basic hardware elements of a printer and what do they do (NIC, toner, fuser, rollers, etc.)?
  • What is a cold reboot?
  • How would you change the lines per page (focus more on HP models than Kyoceras or Sharps at this point)?


  • What are DHCP/DNS?
  • What is a client?
  • What hardware is involved in networking?
  • What is the difference between a hub, switch, and router?
  • What do these commands accomplish: ping, tracert/traceroute, arp, ipconfig?
  • What is the difference between share and NTFS permissions?
  • What are the common wireless protocols?
  • What are the common network speeds?


  • What is Outlook Anywhere and how is it configured?
  • What are Exchange NDR codes and how can they be used?
  • What tools (basic and advanced) are available in Outlook, Entourage, and Outlook Web Access (OWA)?
  • What are Outlook rules and out of office assistant rules? What is a client rule vs. a server rule?
  • What is spam? Why does spam get marked as spam, and why does it sometimes slip through?
  • What are shared resources and folders in Outlook?

Operating System:

  • What remote control options are available? How are they used? How are they enabled on the client?
  • How are network resources accessed on a Mac? On a PC?
  • What tools and configurations are available in the operating system?
  • What protection and maintenance options are available? How are they used? What is the best tool for which job?
  • What is the registry (basic view)? How is it modified? Why should it be modified as little as possible?
  • What is Group Policy (basic view)?

Customer Service:

  • How do you feel when someone makes you feel stupid, foolish, etc.? Avoid making others feel the same way as much as possible.
  • Can you share bad news in a helpful and compassionate way?
  • Can you empathize without sympathizing?
  • At what point do you give up?
  • When do you go in alone and when do you function as a team?
  • Can you remain calm and courteous regardless of the situation and personal biases?
  • Will you respond to people quickly, completely, without creating more confusion, and with grammatically correct communication?
  • Are you willing to diplomatically raise disagreements with co-workers and your boss in the interest of customer service?
  • Should good customer service result in poor security, system performance, policies, etc.?

And, of course, patience, humility, creativity, curiosity, leadership qualities, generosity, teachability, and the ability to teach others are all important.


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