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Brokers and insurers aim to lure fresh faces and top talent to industry

Brokers and insurers aim to lure fresh faces and top talent to industry

Who students, recent graduates and other job candidates know can be just as — sometimes more — important than what they know when it comes to landing a job in the well-connected insurance industry.

Success comes when “you apply what you know to the opportunities that are available to you,” said Matt Salamone, assistant vice president of construction practice at Willis Group Holdings P.L.C. in Radnor, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Salamone, who graduated from Temple University in 2010 with a degree in risk management and insurance, said the university provided students with internship and job opportunities and introduced them to industry professionals, “but if you didn't introduce yourself (to guest speakers) or show interest, then nothing was going to be given to you.”

Denise Watkins, senior vice president and senior underwriter of health care at Endurance Specialty Holdings Ltd. in Pembroke, Bermuda, has been working in the industry for more than 15 years. Ms. Watkins said the “tremendous amount of industry connections” of University of South Carolina faculty helped her secure more than a dozen job interviews going into her senior year, including the job she accepted as a participant in a three-year underwriting and leadership development program at Travelers Cos. Inc. The program familiarized participants with the coverages offered at the company's small, middle-market and national divisions.

Nicole Hughey, Hartford, Connecticut-based director of university relations and talent acquisition at Travelers, said the company puts as much effort into attracting new talent as it does in developing employees.

“For this fall recruiting season, we have over 100 events that we're attending,” Ms. Hughey said, noting that events include career fairs and college classroom visits.

“We do, to be perfectly transparent, have to work a little bit harder (than other industries) because we have to dispel the myths around what it's like to work in insurance,” she said, adding that giving future professionals the opportunity to talk to current or past participants of company's development programs helps prove that “insurance is a lot more interesting than people give it credit for.”

Eric Tolman, vice president of global talent management for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said the brokerage's recent focus on relationship-based recruiting has helped attract new talent.

“We're really targeting” the dozen or so campuses “where we've been successful in the past, or where we have a relationship,” Mr. Tolman said. “At other companies our size, I think you'll find a net that maybe goes to 40, 50 or 60 campuses. They're doing postings and just kind of throwing a broad net to see who they scoop up.”

The brokerage's rotating nine-week sales internship program, which gives participants a look at different parts of the business — from account management to customer problems to sales calls — had about 210 participants last year, which was a record, Mr. Tolman said.

Gallagher has had a number of other development programs in place for future and current employees since the 1960s, but they're constantly evolving, he said.

Similar to the program Ms. Watkins participated in at Travelers, Gallagher offers a three-year associate program for new employees, Mr. Tolman said, adding that participants include former interns, producers, account managers and underwriters.

In addition, Mr. Tolman said Gallagher offers several development programs for midlevel employees and senior leadership, as well as an online learning portal. The portal, launched in February, gives employees access to more than 1,000 tutorials and courses, such as computer skills training and live broadcasts from keynote speakers.

Not everyone who enters the industry starts off in a development program. Jack Barton began his career as an underwriter at Colony Insurance Co. in Richmond, Virginia.

Mr. Barton said developing connections with industry professionals has helped him get every job he's had since graduating from Appalachian State University in 2007, with bachelor's degrees in finance and risk management and insurance. He now works as a risk management analyst for The Walt Disney Co. in Burbank, California.

“I don't know if students can really appreciate (how small the industry is) because you sort of have to learn by example,” Ms. Watkins said.

“Hopefully you're learning by positive example and not by negative example. ... I try to impress that upon young people when I'm talking to them now.”

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