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Help Desk Specialist Career Guide

What is a help desk specialist?

A help desk specialist is an integral part of an organization’s IT team, charged with promptly addressing technical problems experienced by an employee. Their work enables computer operations within a business to run smoothly, contributing to overall productivity. They serve as the first level of support for common IT problems and inquiries, helping organizations maintain a well-functioning system. Without them, resolving these issues would be time-consuming and costly for the non-technical staff.

The necessity of these specialists is evident as technology sits at the heart of many modern business functions. Their job enables employees in various departments to focus on their primary duties without being sidetracked by technical glitches, leading to a more efficient workflow and better job performance. Their specialized knowledge of IT systems and software troubleshooting ultimately enhances a company’s infrastructure’s performance, stability, and scalability.

Duties and responsibilities

A help desk specialist role involves a variety of duties that keep the company’s IT systems functioning optimally. They are primarily responsible for receiving and responding to inquiries and complaints related to hardware and software problems. The specialist works to diagnose the issue and provide appropriate solutions. They also provide guidance and help fix issues remotely where possible, making use of various diagnostic tools.

Aside from troubleshooting, they also perform regular system checks, helping to prevent potential issues before they happen. They handle password resets and other user account-related problems. Additionally, these professionals assist in setting up, installing, and upgrading new software programs and computer equipment. Documentation and record-keeping of issues and resolution steps for future use are also an integral part of the job.

Work environment

The work environment of a help desk specialist is typically a corporate setting in either the public or private sector, where they operate from a dedicated service desk. This setting typically requires them to work in front of a computer for long periods, processing requests and resolving issues. They also may need to periodically visit users’ workstations for hands-on assistance, particularly when handling hardware problems. Some specialists may work remotely, especially if their organization has an extensive or international network that requires 24/7 system monitoring.

Typical work hours

Help desk specialists usually adhere to standard business hours: Monday to Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM or 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. However, the timing may vary depending on the company and its IT needs. They might be required to work in staggered shifts if continuous technical support is needed around the clock – particularly in a company with international business operations, the specialist may have non-traditional hours to support the varying time zones.

There’s also a possibility of working extra hours or being on call during weekends or holidays, particularly relevant during system upgrades and installations where continuous monitoring is needed to ensure a successful process and immediate resolution of any unexpected problems. While most hours are standard, flexibility can be a significant element of their job.

How to become a help desk specialist

This career guide section outlines the steps to become a help desk specialist, including attaining post-secondary education, gaining practical experience, and obtaining industry-recognized certifications.

Step 1: Earn a high school diploma

Aspiring specialists begin by completing high school or obtaining a general education degree. This foundational education provides a basis for understanding basic math, English, and computer lessons, which are essential for later stages.

Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science, or a related field is usually a requirement. Prospective candidates get exposed to practical and theoretical aspects of computer systems, hardware, software applications, and network systems. Such training helps them handle technical queries and diagnostic tasks.

Step 3: Complete an internship or gain entry-level experience

Internships while studying or immediately after graduation provide real-world experience and a clear understanding of the responsibilities in this role. Strengths gained here include problem-solving, customer service, and hands-on technical skills. Work experience in tech support or customer service roles can also be useful.

Step 4: Get certified

Industry certifications like the CompTIA A+, Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), or Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) serve to validate your skills, and they are often preferred or required by employers. These courses often focus on areas such as networking, operating systems, and troubleshooting.

Step 5: Prepare a professional resume and cover letter

When transitioning into the workforce, create a professional resume highlighting your education, certifications, skills, and relevant work experience. The cover letter should express your interest in the specific role and how your skills make you an attractive candidate.

Step 6: Apply for jobs

Begin your job search by applying for positions that match your skills and qualifications. Make use of online job listing websites, company websites, and recruitment agencies. Also, consider networking and working with a staffing firm as part of your job-hunt strategy.

Step 7: Prepare for interviews

After successfully securing interviews, prioritize preparation. Understand the role thoroughly, research the company, rehearse common interview questions, and be ready to demonstrate your technical knowledge. Showing your customer service skills can be equally important as your technical skills when interviewing for this role.

Step 8: Accept a job offer

After successful interviews, you may receive one or more job offers. Take the time to evaluate each one carefully – consider factors such as salary, benefits, company culture, and opportunities for growth before accepting.

How much do help desk specialists make?

Help desk specialist salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Having specialized certifications and knowledge of specific software or systems will greatly influence their compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Software Publishers – $62,890
  • Securities and Commodity Contracts – $62,020
  • Other Information Services – $58,830
  • Data Processing and Hosting – $58,210
  • Scientific Research and Development Services – $57,680

Highest paying states

  • California – $58,870
  • Massachusetts – $57,230
  • New Jersey – $56,780
  • New York – $55,990
  • Virginia – $55,270

Browse help desk specialist salary data by market

Types of help desk specialists

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for help desk specialists. This section provides a detailed look at the different options available.

Level 1 specialist

Level 1 help desk specialists are usually the first line of support for users encountering technical issues. They handle basic problems and service requests such as password resets, software installations, and hardware troubleshooting. If they cannot resolve an issue, they escalate it to a higher-level specialist.

Level 2 specialist

Level 2 help desk specialists handle more complex issues that a Level 1 specialist cannot resolve, which often involves more in-depth troubleshooting, diagnosing network issues, or resolving more complex software problems. They may also assist in training Level 1 specialists and creating documentation.

Level 3 specialist

Level 3 help desk specialists handle the most complex issues, often involving server problems, advanced network troubleshooting, and issues that require in-depth system knowledge. They typically have a strong understanding of the organization’s IT infrastructure and may also have specialized knowledge of particular systems or software.

IT support specialist

These specialists provide general IT support, which can include regular help desk tasks, plus installing and maintaining hardware and software, assisting with network maintenance, and working on IT projects.

Network support specialist

Network support specialists concentrate on issues related to an organization’s network infrastructure. They troubleshoot connectivity problems, monitor network performance, and assist with configuration and maintenance.

Application support specialist

Application support specialists focus on providing support for specific software applications. Their duties include troubleshooting application-specific issues, providing user training, and working with software vendors or developers to resolve issues.

Top skills for help desk specialists

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a help desk specialist.

Problem-solving skills

Being adept at solving problems is vital in this role. You’ll often need to identify and determine solutions for technical issues ranging from hardware malfunctions and software issues to network anomalies.

Knowledge of current technology and software

Staying up-to-date with the latest technological advancements is another key to success in this role. Familiar with a broad range of systems, software, and hardware will empower you to tackle a wide array of technical issues.

Excellent communication skills

When communicating complex concepts to those who don’t have the same level of technical knowledge, clear and simple language is essential. This skill will help you to relate with diverse users, understand their specific problems, and explain solutions.

Patience and composure

A composed and patient demeanor is important when dealing with frustrated end users who aren’t proficient with technology. It’s crucial to stay patient and composed even under stressful circumstances, as losing your cool might lead to further frustrations for both sides.

Organizational abilities

Being organized aids these professionals in managing multiple requests, tracking the statuses of different issues, and staying on top of follow-ups.

Help desk specialist career path options

As a help desk specialist, there are numerous paths to further your career and expand your skill set. Initially, demonstrating excellent performance in your current role might position you for a promotion to a senior help desk position or a team leader. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to oversee more complex tasks, provide mentorship to junior staff, and be responsible for making key decisions.

A common path many professionals embark on is venturing into system or network administration, where the roles become more demanding and rewarding both financially and professionally. Another option is transitioning into project or IT management, where you can translate your problem-solving skills into overseeing larger projects and teams.

If you are passionate about a particular technology area like cybersecurity or database management, you can pursue additional training. With the necessary qualifications, you can step into more specialized roles, such as a cybersecurity analyst or database administrator.

Technological advancements, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI), are having a significant impact on job trends. Machine learning, for instance, introduces automated troubleshooting solutions, implying that specialists must adapt their skills to harness these technologies effectively. Part of the role now includes evaluating and implementing AI tools to streamline processes, improve customer satisfaction, and reduce turnaround time.

Similarly, the rising trend of remote work also influences the nature of this job. With many companies shifting to remote work environments, there’s an increased need for tech support professionals who can efficiently troubleshoot software and hardware issues remotely. This change demands specialists to be adept at using remote management tools and maintaining a high level of data security.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for computer support specialists, including help desk specialists, are projected to grow 6 percent through 2031, which is average for all occupations. Support professionals will continue to be needed as organizations upgrade their computer equipment and software, especially in a steadily growing market for IT services.

Help desk specialist career tips

Master relevant technologies

With technology advancing at an unprecedented pace, it is important to stay on top of developments in the tech industry, specifically those relevant to your employer’s operations. These could be anything from software applications, hardware equipment, network systems, or security protocols. A deep understanding of these technologies would enable you to respond more quickly and accurately to help desk requests. For example, knowing how to navigate enterprise software, reset network devices, and troubleshoot common hardware problems can give you an edge in this role.

Enhance communication skills

You’ll often be the first point of contact for employees or customers experiencing tech issues. To successfully resolve these issues, strong communication skills are crucial, including being patient and perceptive in understanding the problem from the user’s viewpoint and the ability to explain complex technical concepts in a manner that non-tech-savvy individuals can comprehend.

Improve problem-solving abilities

Much of the work revolves around problem-solving, with each call essentially a challenge that needs a solution. Improving problem-solving abilities can involve anything from finding the best way to deal with recurring technical issues to discovering new solutions for unique technical problems. Whether developing a step-by-step troubleshooting guide or identifying a permanent fix for a software bug, your ability to provide effective solutions will determine your success on the job.

Adhere to help desk best practices

There are many standard procedures and best practices that help desk specialists should adhere to, such as maintaining a positive demeanor, following a systematic troubleshooting process, and creating detailed documentation of each incident. Implementing and following these best practices can dramatically improve your performance.

Build a professional network

Building a professional network is also highly beneficial. Getting to know people in the industry can open up opportunities for mentorships, collaborations, and career advancements. Joining these professional associations can aid in that:

  • The Association of Technicians and Help Desk Professionals (ATHDP)
  • Help Desk Institute (HDI)
  • Information Technology Service Management Forum (ITSMF)

Commit to continuous learning

With technology ever-evolving, a commitment to continuous learning is a must. Some possible ways to keep learning include:

  • Take industry-related courses
  • Attain relevant certifications
  • Attend tech seminars or workshops

Where the help desk specialist jobs are

Top employers

  • IBM
  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • American Express
  • Deloitte

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • Pennsylvania
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • UpWork


What are the education requirements for a help desk specialist?

A high school diploma or GED is generally required for this position. However, many employers prefer candidates with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field. Certifications in specific software or hardware platforms may also be valuable.

What skills are essential for a help desk specialist?

First and foremost, strong problem-solving abilities to diagnose technical issues. Excellent communication skills are also necessary to explain solutions in a user-friendly, clear manner. Basic knowledge of software, hardware, and networks is required. Being customer-service-oriented is valuable as you’ll be helping users who may be frustrated or lack technical knowledge.

What is a typical workday like for a help desk specialist?

A typical workday involves resolving technical issues related to hardware, software, and systems. You will need to answer user inquiries, diagnose technical issues, provide solutions, and track help desk requests. Some days require educating users on new tools or systems. Other tasks include maintaining system performance by performing system monitoring and analysis.

What are the long-term prospects for a help desk specialist?

This position provides a solid foundation for careers in information technology. With experience, you can move into roles such as network administrator, systems analyst, or IT manager. Continuing education, gaining additional certifications, and keeping up with technology advancements can further enhance career prospects.

What is the most challenging part of being a help desk specialist?

Dealing with frustrated users can be challenging. Sometimes, users might not be technically competent, making it difficult to diagnose issues or explain solutions. The ability to stay patient, professional, and positive in such situations contributes significantly to success in this role. Additionally, as technology evolves rapidly, keeping up-to-date with the latest changes and updates requires constant effort.

Is a career as a help desk specialist stressful?

Like any job, it can be stressful at times. The pressure to resolve issues quickly, dealing with multiple requests simultaneously, and handling difficult customers can contribute to stress. However, many specialists find satisfaction in problem-solving and helping people, balancing out the stress

What is the job outlook for help desk specialists?

The outlook for this field is positive, considering the increasing reliance on technology in almost every industry. Businesses often need help desk specialists to ensure their IT systems run smoothly. While automation is a concern in some fields, the need for human judgment, especially when dealing with more complex IT issues, should keep the demand for these professionals stable.

What type of personality is best suited for a help desk specialist role?

If you enjoy solving problems, have a patient demeanor, and possess strong communication skills, you should do well in this role. This job often requires interaction with different staff members across an organization, so being personable and able to work well in a team can be advantageous. Above all, the ability to remain calm under pressure and a dedication to customer service are key attributes for success in this role.

What sort of work environment do help desk specialists work in?

Help desk specialists typically work in an office setting, often in a dedicated area for the IT team. Some may work in computer labs or server rooms. Your work will mostly be computer-based. In some cases, remote work might be possible. The work environment is typically professional, but the atmosphere can vary depending on the company culture.