MAKING THE LEAP
Ten tips to guide young professionals toward becoming insurance professionals
In 2015, I began my quest to bring more content to our young professional readers by starting the “Young Professionals” feature story. At that time I had no idea that by doing so I’d be able to travel to various organizations’ conferences and young professional group meetings to learn the concerns of the industry and network with young talent.
At the 2016 EDGE Conference, co-sponsored by the Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois Young Agents Committee and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors Illinois Young Advisors Team, I attended a session that I felt would be appropriate for the Young Professionals section.
Nicole Broch, PLCS, CISR, CIC, a former independent insurance agent for over ten years and current insurance education and professional development instructor, shared tips on how to leap the cusp from being a young professional to becoming an insurance professional, and offered advice for those who can help support the jump.
“I was an agent, and I love insurance,” says Nicole. “I love talking the language and discussing coverages with clients and dealing with complex issues having to do with insurance. I like to teach agents about the things they can do to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and within their agencies.
“I’m a young professional, but how do I get to being an insurance professional? How can I get there, and who can help me?”
So, exactly how do we get to the
- Dress for the job you want. “The right impression can be made or broken in the first 30 seconds of meeting somebody; presentation counts, even down to wardrobe,” says Nicole. “Dressing for the job you want doesn’t always mean dressing formally; it’s dressing for the situation/business you are in.”
Avoid wardrobe choices that could be described as “too.” Is it too flashy, too tight? If your workplace has a casual dress code, make sure you understand what is considered casual. Are cargo pants or polo shirts acceptable? Mentors and leaders can help by creating a written policy for office-appropriate attire. Make sure the staff knows what is acceptable and what isn’t.
What do we do once we get there?
- Educate to motivate. “The best things about the position we are in as young insurance professionals are the amazing educational opportunities that will add value to our book of business, portfolio, organization and resume,” Nicole says. “Young professionals may not realize the value that educational programs bring to the organization and to themselves.”
Young agents should pursue designations like the CIC, CISR and CPCU, and mentors should invest in their young professionals’ education, giving them financial support if needed. Agents without a designation should join the new hires at conventions, meetings, and classes. Young professionals will be more likely to opt for higher learning if their bosses and mentors have done so or are currently doing so.
- Serve outside yourself. “We don’t need to join boards for the purpose of making business connections; they just happen,” says Nicole. “Don’t volunteer as a way to get business, although that is a great byproduct of doing it.”
Mentors can jump in the trenches and invite their young professionals to join them at meetings of the organizations they serve.
“It’s so important not just to ourselves but to our careers,” adds Nicole. Quoting Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
- Put down the drink. “Some young professionals are bad networkers; I’m a bad networker,” Nicole says. “If everyone were a great networker, everyone would think that everyone is trying to sell them something. We’re not. We’re really just wanting to get to know you. Tell us your story.
“So many of us are uncomfortable with that. We walk into a room and find our closest friend in the corner; sometimes it’s the bartender.”
In today’s social media-run world, companies are searching employees’ accounts like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“Whatever you do, never ever drink and put it on Facebook,” says Nicole. “I’m not saying don’t drink. It just depends on how often we’ll be visiting our friend in the corner.”
Mentors can lead by example and not get inebriated in front of their co-workers. Common sense.
- Tank the text talk and sink the sailor. “I had an amazing servicer who would take care of my clients the way I would want them to be taken care of,” explains Nicole. “She would use the terminology LOL, J. It stood for laugh out loud; the J was an emoji. My mother, who was one of my clients, thought she was saying lots of love and that her abbreviated name was ‘J.’ It didn’t bother my mom, but imagine being on that other end of professional correspondence. If a Millennial is talking with a Baby Boomer and beyond, there may be a misunderstanding.”
The concept of sinking the sailor is simple. “If you drop the F-bomb in a company meeting, it’s probably not going to look good if your client doesn’t like it, and you have no idea if your client has any threshold for it,” says Nicole. “It could come out as trashy or in a way that you don’t want your employer or organization being represented.
“Many Millennials and even Gen Xers didn’t take a business communications course in college, and if we did it’s quite possible that the communication method we learned has changed since then. When I was in college I was still using AOL for messaging and didn’t have a cell phone.”
Mentors can assist their young professionals by helping them develop an elevator speech.
“Imagine you’re on an elevator with a prospect or the CEO of a company and you only have from the first to fifteenth floor to make an introduction,” Nicole says.
Mentors also can teach young professionals how to write business letters and explain proper email etiquette.
- Pick up the …Young professionals should get involved in activities outside of work. Pick up a golf club or racquetball racket or join a softball league. Extracurricular work-related activities provide great networking opportunities.
“Get involved with what your company has to offer,” Nicole advises. “I was at a carrier in the Northern Ohio region that had a skeet shooting range. I had no idea how to shoot but thought ‘why not?’ The networking I gained while I was there was more important than the skill of shooting that I learned.”
Mentors should invite young professionals to company events.
“Lead by example because young professionals want to be involved and we will follow,” adds Nicole.
- Join up. Young professionals have options to join a wide array of organizations—young agent groups, philanthropic organizations, trade associations.
“They have such great value to your resume and your organization and offer so much opportunity,” Nicole says. “Mentors should provide support and information about these groups. Pay membership dues for your employees to join. It might bring value back to your agency in the form of a designation, new skill, or networking opportunity or business connection.”
What happens if we get to the proverbial “there” and it isn’t what we thought it was going to be?
- Network with purpose. “The most important words you will ever need to know while networking are: ‘May I join you?’ ” Nicole explains. “We go in a room, we visit our best friend the bartender, we scan the room and we don’t know anyone, so where do we go? To the table with no one at it. We sip on our drink and pretend to look busy on our phone. We now have become uninviting to anyone else.”
One time, while attending a meeting for her husband’s company, Nicole persuaded her husband, who was heading toward an empty table, to sit at one with people. Nicole asked a seated couple if they could join them. After chatting and making small talk, Nicole learned they were chatting with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
“If you sit at an empty table and look busy, you will find that your table will probably stay empty and you will not accomplish the networking that was available,” Nicole says.
Mentors should teach young professionals how to network and invite them to attend more meetings in order to practice.
- Polish your resume. “I’m not telling you to try to leave your organization, but if you are not a good fit where you are anymore, you know it and they know it; there is a point where it doesn’t make sense,” Nicole says.
Mentors can provide young professionals the tools they need to advance. “You have to be cautious if you have a young professional in a situation where he or she doesn’t think it’s working out,” Nicole says. “If a young professional lacks skills or acts bored, clients know it, and an unmotivated young professional can become toxic.”
- Pay it forward. According to Nicole, “One of the best things we can do to help us leap that cusp between young professional and insurance professional is to become a mentor in our own right. Sometimes it’s as easy as paying forward what we’ve learned.”
Young professionals crave the next step in their careers.
“If you take the time to mentor us and provide us what we need to reach that next level, you can change our lives,” Nicole concludes. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have fantastic mentors. It’s allowed me to move from A to B to C and onward. Find a young professional who wants to leap the cusp and find a mentor who wants to lead him or her there. The only way we achieve our goal is by working together.”
By Christopher W. Cook
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