Becoming a Help Desk Analyst: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of a help desk analyst career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a help desk analyst is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Help Desk Analyst Career

Help desk analysts, who may also be called computer or technical support specialists, provide technology help in person, over the telephone and via email. Keep reading to examine the pros and cons and decide if a help desk analyst career is a good fit for you.

Pros of a Help Desk Analyst Career
Pay is fairly good, especially considering that a college degree is not always required (median annual wage of $48,000 for computer support specialists in May 2014)*
Over 123,000 new computer support specialist jobs should be added between 2012 and 2022*
Help desk analysts can work for businesses in a variety of industries (healthcare, education, finance, etc.)*
Help desk analysts may be able to telecommute*

Cons of a Help Desk Analyst Career
Help desk analysts are often required to work nights and/or weekends*
Working as a help desk analyst can be stressful, since customers may be irate and deadlines may be short**
This career may require ongoing training and certification to learn new technologies, operating systems and software*
Some help desk analyst jobs may be outsourced to other countries*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and **Princeton Review.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Career Options

Help desk analysts answer calls and respond to emails from customers looking for answers to their hardware or software problems. Some analysts may make site visits to solve problems in person. As a help desk analyst, your job would be to listen to customers describe their technical problems and ask them follow-up questions. Then, you'd be required to quickly identify a solution and guide the customer through the steps necessary to solve the problem. When you're able to help a customer solve a difficult problem successfully, this job can be rewarding; however, tough problems and angry clients can make it stressful.

As a help desk analyst, you may deal exclusively with internal or external customers, or with a combination of both. Some higher-level help desk analyst jobs allow you to troubleshoot complex technical problems in a specific area; however, if you have less technical knowledge, you'll most likely start out by helping customers with routine issues. Large companies in most major industries (telecommunications, manufacturing, etc.) employ help desk analysts, and many analysts are employed directly by specialized IT firms.

Career Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of jobs for computer support specialists should increase by 17% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than average compared to growth rates for other occupations. The median annual wage for computer support specialists was $48,000 as of May 2014. That translates into a median hourly wage of about $23.

Job Requirements

The required skills and education you'll need to become a help desk analyst vary widely depending on the type of position you're seeking. The majority of help desk analyst jobs require some postsecondary education in a computer-related field, although a degree isn't always necessary. The BLS reports that, in addition to meeting basic qualification requirements, help desk analysts may need to successfully complete on-the-job training that lasts 3 months or more.

Essential Skills

Employers usually require help desk analysts to have specific technical skills in addition to or in lieu of a college degree. Although the necessary skills vary widely from job to job, some examples of skills that may be required include the ability to troubleshoot Windows operating systems and Microsoft Office applications, as well as knowledge of network configurations. In addition, help desk analysts must generally be able to demonstrate the following attributes:

  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to deal with customers in a friendly, professional manner
  • Solid problem-solving skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Some employers look for candidates with proven experience, excellent customer service skills and specialized technical knowledge or certifications. The following are some sample postings for jobs that real employers were hiring for in March 2012:

  • An IT services company in Colorado sought a help desk analyst with experience supporting computer hardware, networks and software over the phone. The employer preferred applicants with CompTIA A+ certification, as well as experience with Microsoft desktop applications and servers.
  • A Denver IT services firm advertised for a help desk analyst with experience troubleshooting problems remotely and using a trouble ticket management system. Knowledge of Microsoft Office, Windows XP, Windows 7 and Internet applications was required. At least 1-2 years of experience and an associate degree or 2-4 years' experience and a high school diploma were required.
  • An IT services company in Phoenix was looking to hire a help desk analyst with 1 year of work experience and excellent customer service skills. The employer preferred candidates with associate or bachelor's degrees, as well as A+ and Windows XP certifications.
  • A Chicago law firm advertised for a help desk analyst with a bachelor's degree in business or computer science, as well as 3 years of experience in user support. The position required experience troubleshooting mobile devices, Microsoft Office products and legal applications.

How to Stand Out

While a degree is required for some help desk analyst jobs, obtaining an associate or bachelor's degree can help you stand out for certain positions. The BLS reports that career prospects should be best for candidates who combine a bachelor's degree with strong technical skills. Preferred skills vary from job to job, but they may include familiarity with server administration, network security, backup software and mobile solutions. Since individual employer requirements vary, finding out what skills are preferred by your target employers can help you determine what you need to learn in order to stand out.

Get Certified

Some employers require industry certifications, and they are preferred qualifications for many other jobs. For example, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) offers the A+ certification, which covers hardware and software troubleshooting, as well as basic networking and information security. CompTIA also offers the Network+ credential, which is awarded to those who can demonstrate solid knowledge of wired and wireless networking installation, configuration and troubleshooting. Most major hardware and software manufacturers, such as Microsoft, Dell and HP, also offer certifications relating to their products. Before obtaining any of these certifications, it's important to find out what's most helpful for your particular career path of interest.

Alternative Career Paths

PC Technician

If handling support calls via phone and email is not appealing to you, you have other options. For example, if you're interested in repairing computers, but you want a more hands-on job, you might consider becoming a PC technician. PC technicians physically install and maintain computer equipment, and they often travel to clients' locations to work. Usually, a high school diploma and technical expertise are the minimum requirements for this career, but you may also need a college degree or specific certifications for some jobs.

According to Salary.com, the median annual pay for PC technicians with 0-3 years' experience was about $41,000 as of June 2012, and the median annual pay for those with 4-6 years' experience was approximately $55,000. Although data is not available specifically for PC technicians, the BLS reported that the number of jobs for repairers of computers, ATMs and office equipment would only increase by about 7% between 2010 and 2020, so job prospects may not be as good as those for help desk analysts.

Network Administrator

If you're looking for better pay and higher projected job growth, you might consider a network administration career. You'll monitor networks for problems, configure devices and software, install network hardware and manage network security. According to the BLS, some help desk analysts advance to this position after gaining work experience. Network administrators usually need experience managing specific types of servers and devices, as well as a bachelor's degree. The BLS expects faster-than-average job growth for network administrators between 2010 and 2020, at 28%. As of May 2011, the median annual wage for network administrators was $71,000.

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