Insurance is a complex industry, and preparing to do your best in the interview is a serious challenge. Whether you’re about to graduate with a business degree or are thinking about moving on from your current insurance-industry employer, you’ve got your work cut out for you no matter what your function -- finance, accounting, legal or IT.
New grads should begin by acknowledging that the insurance business is made up of hundreds of niches, each rife with its own technicalities. “You need to educate yourself on a specialized sector, which will make you more valuable,” says Shane Graham, national practice leader for insurance with search firm Kaye/Bassman International.
It also pays to get the big picture of your prospective employer and its position in the industry. “Look up their SEC filing 10-K at the end of the year to find out how the company is doing,” says Jim Jacobs, principal with search firm Jacobs Executive Advisors.
Beyond that, your interview preparation will vary to a significant degree according to your functional specialty. Here are a few top tips per profession.
Finance and Accounting
If you want to get anywhere as a finance or accounting professional in the insurance world, you’ll surely need strong analytical skills, but you won’t be able to hide behind a green visor. In fact, you likely won’t get far into the interview before the hiring manager hits you with a series of challenging what-if questions -- that’s behavioral interviewing of the financial kind.
“They try to knock you out of your chair verbally to see how you handle pressure,” Graham says. “It’s a screening out, not a screening in.”
To prepare for this, think of the toughest situations you’ve been in and how you brought those scenarios to a successful conclusion, whether the issues were ethical, technical, people-oriented or all three. Do the same for the kinds of conundrums you’d expect to encounter in the role you’re going for at your prospective employer.
This thorough screening isn’t just for managers in finance and accounting; you can also expect a tough interview for staff positions such as claims representative.
Legal and Paralegal
There’s no end to the legal complexities of the insurance business, as this excerpt from a recent paralegal job posting illustrates: “Independently conducts heavy to complex legal research and analyzes law sources such as statutes, recorded judicial decisions, legal articles, treaties, constitutions and legal codes to prepare analyses of legal issues for use by attorney.”
Yes, you’ll have a lot on your plate in the legal department of an insurance firm, whether you’re an attorney, a paralegal or a legal secretary. So read up and be prepared to talk turkey when you go in for the interview.
“They’re going to grab a current event facing that industry and ask how you’ve handled it or would handle it,” says Michael Neece, a job-interview expert and chief strategy officer at Pongo Software LLC.
In one sense, candidates for IT jobs in insurance have it easier than some of their cohorts in other functional areas. That’s because most software development and other IT skills needed are nearly universal. Security analysts, .NET developers and systems analysts are in demand, and to a large extent, their skills apply across functional domains.
“There are insurance-industry-specific software applications, but they’re highly focused and only listed as ‘preferred’ on a job posting,” Neece says.
But more and more, especially at the management level, IT folks are expected to partner with line-of-business managers at insurance companies. A recent posting for an e-business IT management position at an insurance company included these responsibilities: “[Partnering] with business to identify business strategy and supporting architecture, in addition to the design, development and maintenance of multi-tiered Java and mainframe systems.”
Whatever your discipline, keep in mind this strategy for closing your interview from Jacobs: “Think about the three things you want to express at the end of the interview: what you liked most about the interview, what impressed you most about the company and what gets you jazzed about the role you’re interviewing for.”
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