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4 Keys to Charting Your Career

If you just landed your first job in the insurance business, chances are that you’re focused on that new position, not necessarily on what comes next in your career. You’re probably plenty busy doing what’s necessary right now—learning the new job, adjusting to a new company culture and hustling to prove yourself. You’re giving 100% to succeeding in your new role.

That’s smart, especially considering that most new hires have less than two weeks to prove themselves on the job, according to new research from Fullbridge and Harris Poll. One in four executives say that employers take only two weeks to decide whether an entry-level new hire will be successful. Other executives say that it will take longer, but all agreed that it takes less than three months. With stats like that, it makes sense that long-term career goals take a back seat to making a great first impression.

But while you’re settling into the rhythm of your new gig, you should make time to outline a basic road map for the rest of your career. As your early career moves away from entry-level positions and into more specialized roles with more responsibility, giving some thought to your future goals and plans can have a huge impact on your overall career trajectory.

See also: The Many Paths to a Career in Risk

There’s plenty of traditional advice available for people early in their career. A lot of that information is good, but there’s also more current insight applicable to young professionals. Here’s our breakdown of four ways to chart a course early in your career and figure out what makes you happiest on the job.

1. Don’t job hop—department hop

Young professionals today have a reputation for switching jobs a lot more often than previous generations do. Recent research shows that this characterization is largely unearned. Young people tend to switch jobs more often than older workers, but millennials aren’t switching at a higher rate than young adults of past generations did.

Changing jobs early in your career has its benefits, including a chance to earn more money and exposing yourself to more aspects of the industry. But there are downsides, too. Switching jobs is hard work, and some of it may be unrelated to learning the insurance business. You’ll need to learn to adapt to a new company culture. You may need to relocate. You may have to build your network of work friends and go-to leaders all over again. In short, you’re almost starting from scratch each time you switch organizations.

Many young professionals have found a happy medium in department hopping. With the right organization, young insurance pros can gain hands-on experience in a variety of insurance disciplines through shorter stints in different departments. This gives you an opportunity to talk to different managers about salary ranges and your career priorities, and you can learn more about the industry without starting over at a new organization. If you’re interested in switching departments, take a look at Lifehacker’s advice for having that conversation with your boss.

2. Don’t find just a mentor—find a sponsor

There’s no doubt that finding a mentor early in your career is extremely important. Many of the insurance professionals profiled on The Community cite finding a mentor as one of the most essential components of their early-career success. Mentors play a key role in career growth, but the Harvard Business Review argues that there’s another supporter you need in your corner: a sponsor.
While mentors take a comprehensive look at your career (and often your personal life), a sponsor is someone within your current organization who can act as your advocate. It should be an executive or another leader who offers career guidance “by making important introductions to senior leaders, expanding the perception of what you can offer the organization and offering powerful backing to help you soar and protection when you stumble,” according to author Sylvia Ann Hewlett.

3. Don’t just network—learn more about the industry

So much of the focus on early career development is on networking. Make no mistake—growing your professional network is important. But for young professionals, pure networking events like happy hours and meet-ups aren’t the most efficient way to meet other insurance pros and find new opportunities.

Early in your career, there are plenty of ways to learn about the industry that also offer networking as a key secondary benefit. Look into industry designations. (AINS is a great way to get a comprehensive look at the insurance industry to figure out which elements of the business interest you most.) Or you can register for an industry conference and bring a stack of business cards. You also have a much better chance of getting your employer to chip in for these kinds of experiences.

As you work to gain greater industry insight and expertise, forging relationships with other soon-to-be designees or conference participants will come naturally. And those relationships will be rooted in the pursuit of industry knowledge and career interests rather than personal ambition and cocktail-party chatter.

See also: Work/Life Balance … Your Tightrope to a Rewarding Career  

4. Don’t just think about goals—write them down

One last small piece of advice for charting your career: once you determine some concrete goals, write them down. Recent research from Dominican University of California found that individuals who write down their goals and share them with others are far more likely to achieve them than people who didn’t write them down or tell others about them.

Writing down your goals and sharing them—perhaps with your sponsor or growing professional network—go a long way toward making you accountable for achieving them. As you advance in your career and take advantage of new opportunities in a quickly changing industry, make sure to refer to your written goals and update them regularly.

Have you found success charting your career goals? Let us hear your best tip in the comments section below.

A 4-Step Plan on Personal Development

Research documenting the benefits of lifelong learning for individuals and organizations is overwhelming. An EvoLLLution report spelled out these benefits in a survey of employers:

  • 96% said continuing education has a positive impact on job performance.
  • 78% said it factors into promotion and advancement on the job.
  • 87% said it affects compensation and salary.

You may need to ask your manager for investment in your professional development, but there is a good chance the conversation won’t be uncomfortable. Plenty of organizations place a high value on lifelong learning and have programs in place to support employees who want to grow their knowledge base— especially within our industry.

As you craft a pitch to pursue an insurance designation or another form of professional development, here’s our four-step guide to help you get started:

Step 1 – See what your company offers

At organizations that understand the value of continuing education, you may actually find yourself a step behind if you don’t take advantage of professional development opportunities. Check with human resources for a specific process for pursuing education before you approach your boss. You may find that HR has a learning and development program you hadn’t known about.

See also: How to Develop an Innovation Perspective  

Don’t forget about continuing education credits. Too often these credit hours are an afterthought that are more about checking a box before an imminent deadline than real professional growth—but they don’t have to be. There are lots of ways to make the time spent earning those credits worthwhile. If you’re required to complete continuing education, make part of your pitch explaining why the professional development you’re interested in will help to grow your skillset, being sure to mention that it will also count toward fulfilling your CE credit requirements.

Step 2 – Start small

It’s unreasonable to expect your organization to pay for an MBA after just a week on the job. Start pursuing professional development by asking for something that won’t require big changes or a significant financial commitment from your organization. Request approval to subscribe to a trade publication, to sign up for a webinar or to attend a local conference.

Professional development is a career-long process. As such, you should incorporate education into discussions with your supervisor as you’re discussing career goals, aligning education goals with your career objectives. For example, if you want to gain a strong foundation in general insurance concepts, talk about AINS as a way to build that knowledge base.

Step 3 – Prepare your pitch

Once you’ve successfully received buy-in for a few smaller investments in continuing education, you can plan a discussion for more significant professional development. Your conversation should be professional and compelling. A couple of tips:

  • Rehearse—Structure your pitch to be as convincing as possible and practice it until you’re able to present your case with confidence and passion.
  • Ask for approval with confidence—You know this professional development will benefit you and the organization. Work off the assumption that your boss agrees.
  • Choose the right time—In some organizations, a performance review is the right time to bring up professional development, but that’s not always the case. Choosing the right time and circumstances may increase your chances of gaining approval for the request.

Step 4 – Spell out the benefits

Professional development should go both ways—it should benefit the professional and the organization. Explain how a selected professional development opportunity will improve your skills and improve the organization.

Try to do this as specifically as possible: Instead of saying, “AINS will broaden my general insurance knowledge,” consider, instead, “AINS will allow me to be more knowledgeable on coverage options and how we differ from our competitors when I talk to customers.”

See also: Getting Back in Step With People’s Needs  

Here’s one particularly effective way to increase the benefits your organization will see from your professional development: offer to share your new knowledge with co-workers. Host a few lunches summarizing this knowledge or simply pass along articles, white papers or other materials. You won’t be able to share all of your knowledge, but your efforts will show your boss that you’re committed to maximizing the value your organization will get from your newfound know-how.

What tips have you used to get your boss to buy into your passion for lifelong learning? Tell us below!

Bad-Faith Claims: 4 Ways to Avoid Them

An allegation of bad faith in claims handling can have far-reaching effects, including drawn-out legal battles resulting in potentially sizable settlements and damage to the organization’s reputation. But bad-faith claims are not always the result of an organization’s deliberate attempt to avoid paying a claim. Rather, they’re often the result of an oversight or miscommunication.

It’s this latter category that claims professionals should focus on. If an insurer is intentionally underpaying its customers or denying claims without valid reason, best practices are not going to improve the situation. But taking a step back and looking at the claims process at an organizational level is an effective way to identify gaps in knowledge or processes that can and do lead to bad-faith claims.

Before looking at some specific best practices for avoiding bad-faith claims, it’s worth reviewing the seven primary elements of good-faith claims handling, straight from The Institutes’ Associate in Claims (AIC) designation course materials

  • Thorough, timely and unbiased investigation
  • Complete and accurate documentation
  • Fair evaluation
  • Good-faith negotiation
  • Regular and prompt communication
  • Competent legal advice
  • Effective claims management

Using these seven keys as a baseline, organizations can further improve the claims process and reduce the risk of bad-faith claims by focusing on the following four best practices:

See also: Should Bad Faith Matter in Work Comp?

1. Exercise due diligence when investigating claims.

Claims representatives and their insurers’ special investigative units have a lot of experience detecting and investigating fraudulent claims and are trained to watch for specific triggers and red flags. However, a suspicious claim is not always a fraudulent one, and claims representatives must still conduct a fair and balanced investigation. Although this may be difficult, waiting until a definite determination is made is the most prudent way to go.

Even if a claim appears to be fraudulent, it still requires the same level of due diligence throughout the investigation–interviewing witnesses, inspecting property damage, reviewing medical records, etc. Proper documentation goes hand in hand with proper investigation techniques. Claims professionals should encourage the claimant to submit all relevant documentation or evidence, even if the claim seems fraudulent. This documentation may help clear up any uncertainties. And the investigation must be timely as well as thorough. Often, the timeline for an investigation is mandated by regulations or the specific terms and conditions of the policy. Sticking to this schedule is crucial to meeting requirements and maintaining your reputation with the insured. More and more, claimants expect timely updates with faster resolutions. It’s hard to blame them–people want payment for their medical bills or repairs to their homes. Insurers need to stick to the timeline they promised.

2. Rely on a solid claims system.

A good claims system that documents a claim’s progress is one of the best ways to protect your organization should bad-faith claims allegations arise. Claims representatives usually have a lot on their plates; a formal yet easy-to-use framework makes it easier to comply with regulations and the specifics of individual policies.

A robust claims system also helps maintain consistency. A lot of different people may access a claim or contribute to it, such as supervisors, auditors, underwriters and attorneys. Online systems that prevent anyone from changing information once it’s been entered help guarantee that everyone who touches the claim is up to date and on the same page.

3. Make use of experts and mentors to stay informed.

Having a strong support network is essential to anchoring the claims process. Any time a claims representative is unsure of how to proceed when processing a claim, she should know exactly where to go to get an answer and get the claim moving again. That includes an up-to-date claims manual with set procedures and a chain of command with decision makers who can resolve uncertainties during the claims process. Sharing this information should be a top priority during onboarding for claims professionals.

Continuing education is also key. Webinars, designations and state-specific resources detailing evolving regulations and case law are essential. Individual claims representatives should work to expand their knowledge in areas they frequently handle. If you primarily adjust residential claims, become an expert in that field, then use that knowledge to mentor other employees or act as the go-to source of knowledge on that topic.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, your state’s insurance department and insurance commissioner, your insurer’s legal and training departments and your direct supervisor are all good sources of information on regulatory standards. States have different laws and court rulings regarding bad-faith claims, and insurers have their own company-specific standards, as well. For larger organizations or individuals in the field who cover a large territory, it may be necessary to keep up with several states’ standards. One possible source: Unity Policyholders, which provided a survey and an overview of bad-faith laws and remedies for all 50 states in 2014.

See also: Power of ‘Claims Advocacy’ 

4. Have the right attitude.

Claims representatives can often facilitate the claims process simply by listening. Never lose sight of the fact that you may talk to people on some of the worst days of their lives. Sometimes, a person will call, upset and frustrated, and start talking about legal representation. It may be best to listen; it doesn’t mean that you’ll pay the claim or agree to everything they want, but you can offer some compassion and avoid becoming aggressive in turn.

Rarely will all parties agree during the claims process. The key is finding a balance between established procedures that rely on best practices while also leaving enough room in the process to treat each claim uniquely and provide a personal touch for customers.

Interested in learning more about good-faith claims handling? Take a look at The Institutes’ Good-Faith Claims Handling course. For broader claims knowledge, learn about The Institutes’ AIC and Associate in Claims Management (AIC-M) designation programs.