Study Highlights All-Time Strangest IT Requests

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IT professionals need more than technical skills and certifications to interact with end users and do their jobs effectively. They apparently also need a good sense of humor.

After all, how else are they expected to maintain their composure when asked questions such as these over and over again: “My computer is telling me to press any key to continue; where is the ‘any’ key?” “How do I get my computer’s coffee-cup holder to come out again?” and “Where can I get software to track UFOs?”

A recent survey conducted by Robert Half Technology reveals some of the strangest requests received by IT support staff in the United States.

“I’ve talked to endless managers, and they all have their funny anecdotes about strange questions — questions that have nothing to do with IT sometimes,” said John Estes, vice president of strategic alliances at Robert Half Technology.

Examples of these range from “How long does it take to bake a potato in a microwave?” to “My daughter is locked in the bathroom; can you pick the lock?”

Wacky IT support requests — which occur more frequently than one would imagine — not only break the monotony of the day and serve as fodder for watercooler conversation, they also underscore some of the critical skills needed for help-desk professionals, Estes said. To communicate effectively and have a good rapport with end users who have varying levels of IT knowledge, support staff must develop first-rate people skills.

“Patience, understanding [and] empathy — those are some of the soft skills that [are] really tough to [teach],” Estes said. “You can train people on Windows Server 2008 or Vista or whatever, but to train people on empathy is rather difficult.”

Whether they’re working on the phone, the network or helping someone hands-on at a desk, IT support professionals are invaluable to their organizations, Estes said.

“They’ve got to have that understanding, that empathy because not everybody’s as technical as [they are], and they need to be able to take that technical subject and put it in layman’s terms and make people feel more comfortable — not make them think that was a dumb question,” Estes explained.

But since people skills typically aren’t a measurable bottom-line entity, help-desk professionals rarely get thanked for their services. Nevertheless, it’s important to reward them occasionally for a job well done, Estes said.

“[Help-desk professionals] are somewhat underappreciated and taken for granted, especially those at the Level 1 line [who] probably don’t get paid very highly,” he said. “It’s good to pat them on the back every once in a while.”

– Deanna Hartley,

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Deanna Hartley


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