What are the prospects for an IT pro looking for a job in insurance when the candidate has little or no experience in that industry?
It’s likely to be a rewarding search, according to Kevin Reeves, corporate IT recruiter for State Farm Insurance. “Right now, it’s a candidate’s market,” he says. “Supply is low and demand is high.”
Still, the economic slowdown of 2008 appears to have eased the pace of IT hiring in the insurance industry, at least from the point of view of external recruiters. “In 2007, we saw a big boom in insurance [when companies] were spending a lot to get into Web 2.0,” says Chad Macy, a regional managing director for staffing firm Technisource. “We’re seeing a gradual slowing across the board in 2008.”
Here’s a look at how IT careers can pan out in the insurance industry, a sector still in the midst of a historic migration from mainframe dominance.
Core IT Skills Needed
A key starting point is that most IT folks don’t need to know much about the complex business of insurance.
“In IT, there are roles that are the same no matter where you go,” Macy says. “Very few who work in infrastructure need insurance knowledge. But systems architects need to know the ramifications of their designs on the business.”
Recruiters look at insurance experience, yet don’t expect it for most IT positions. “We don’t specifically target insurance knowledge, but it’s a huge plus,” Reeves says. “We’re all about people who know how to code and develop.”
The insurance industry is hiring across a broad range of IT specialties at many levels, including PC technicians, database administrators, instructional designers, mainframe and Java programmers, systems analysts and designers, project managers and business analysts, middle managers and information-systems executives.
Mainframe Data, Applications Still Critical to Insurance
Though it has lagged other industries, insurance is finally bringing its business online. “In the insurance industry, there’s a push to take your customers to the Web,” Macy says.
“Newcomers came out in the e-commerce environment, and they’re giving the old-line insurers a run for their money,” explains Carl Deal, senior vice president of professional services for North America at staffing firm Ajilon Consulting. “The whole focus now is on the customer experience.”
The move to 21st-century information technology is a major undertaking. “Insurers are taking these huge legacy data marts and [migrating] them to the Web,” Deal says. “We keep hearing over and over that COBOL is dead, and we keep getting surprised” by the continuing demand for these skills, he says.
New Opportunities in Web Technologies
This is where the Java jockeys jump in. “These trends create opportunities in Web interface design, networking and so on,” Deal says.
Reeves says the big push right now is for object-oriented systems analysts. “We’ve hired 50 or 60 of these specialists in the last year,” he says.
Overall, State Farm employs nearly 8,000 IT professionals, including 2,000 contract workers. “We’re looking for Java and J2EE background, good people in data and testing, and technical analysts with networking or security backgrounds,” Reeves says.
Hiring, Pay Have Their Own Wrinkles
IT pros accustomed to the hiring process in other industries may need to rethink their approach when seeking a job in insurance.
“You may be interviewing with a guy who wrote the company’s 20-year-old software application,” Deal says. “It’s a consensus environment. The cultural component may be more important than the technology.”
Pay for IT talent varies widely in the insurance industry. “Some clients don’t have the budget to find the top talent,” Macy says. “But with a mission-critical project, insurance company offers may be above average.”
Says Deal: “Insurance companies are starting to recognize the value of technology and look at what other industries pay IT people.”