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Casting a Wider Net | Canadian Insurance

Casting a Wider Net

Where to recruit career changers--and how to make sure they are the right fit for your firm

As the insurance industry faces a hiring crunch, the search for talent needs to extend beyond those currently working in the industry. Finding potential candidates to fill the gaps requires casting a wider net and sourcing from a variety of industries to fill a number of different roles.

At the same time, the majority of hirings these days are for roles requiring insurance experience (see “Slim Pickings” in the March 2012 issue of Canadian Insurance Top Broker). Common practice in the industry has been to source new recruits—whether for entry-level positions or those requiring some experience—through employee referrals. But when the industry does not have enough new employees to meet the demand and poaching from other employers is not a solution, then seeking candidates from elsewhere becomes an even bigger necessity.

Through working with human resources representatives across the country, the Insurance Institute’s Career Connections’ team has observed a marked increase over the last three years in industry employers actively and strategically recruiting from other sectors to find the skills needed to fill available roles.

“We realized the importance of casting a wider net to get the skill sets we were looking for from different industries and verticals, and accordingly put some strategies in place to attract professionals from other fields to the insurance industry,” says Sangita Chaubal, CHRP, talent acquisition specialist at Desjardins General Insurance Group. “I would say we have been quite successful in opening the doors to non-insurance professionals making a career change to insurance.”

Jennifer Perry, CHRP, CPM, vice president of talent management at HUB International Insurance Brokers, says that when serving industry verticals, it’s often easier to go to the source to find the right candidates. “Technical insurance knowledge can be learned by those interested and curious about the technical aspects of our industry. It’s much more difficult for us to train someone in our client’s specialty business (engineering, law, manufacturing, etc.).”

Where to Look

Call Centres, Sales & Marketing. Firms looking to fill roles in claims departments or for CSRs are advised to consider candidates with lots of phone experience. “We have hired from call centres in telecommunications, customer service, financial services for bilingual as well as Anglophone positions,” says Chaubal.

Similarly, many of these candidates are also suited to more sales-oriented positions. “We have had great success with those who have worked in sales driven positions, or strong marketing backgrounds and hiring them on as preferred client brokers, personal insurance brokers, and small commercial account executives,” says David Kenney, corporate recruiter, HR shared services at Aon Canada.

Hospitality. Candidates with work experience in bars, restaurants and hotels come equipped with a service orientation that is readily adaptable to the insurance industry. According to Perry, “the hospitality industry has been a great source of candidates for us. Typically the talent in that industry is extremely client focused and able to solve client issues while balancing client needs, wants, and desires with those of the organization.” Hospitality workers are also flexible. “In our world, we have many branches where shift work is part of the job,” sh adds. “Talent with a hospitality background are used to something other than Monday-to-Friday, 9am–5pm. Many of our clients have insurance needs outside the standard corporate work week and it’s important for us to have great people available to them.”

Specialized Industries/Experience. Claims roles can also be filled by those with medical experience and other professional designations. “We have also hired foreign-trained medical professionals for accident benefit adjusters (entry level), recent graduates with medical or biology, kinesiology for adjuster positions, property appraisal professionals in the property department,” says Desjardin’s Chaubal.

Industry-specific experience is also useful to brokerages with niche practice areas.

“We are always looking at a candidate’s full experience, obviously looking for those with direct experience in the certain lines of business we need to fill,” says Kenney. “If someone has a background working in specific roles (e.g. accounting/finance and engineering), or specific fields (e.g. construction, marine, airline), they would have a greater understanding of the industry and a broader skill set that will assist them in the insurance role. Again, the insurance technical skills can be taught, the licenses can be done after being hired on, but the personality of the candidate and their skill set from previous work experience goes a long way in many of our roles.”

Candidate Checklist

Employees with previous experience in another sector can bring a lot to the table in terms of perspectives, skills, training, education, industry or sector understanding, as well as new ideas and knowledge transfer. But they still need to possess the essential qualities that allow people to succeed in the insurance industry.

Based on our interviews with insurance industry hiring managers, we have compiled the following list of traits and transferable skills they look for in potential candidates making a career change into insurance:

  1. Excellent customer service and client relationship management skills.
  2. Interest, curiosity and a motivation to learn.
  3. Ability to truly understand the needs of the client based on their personal or business situation. Insurance people need to be empathetic and able to put themselves into the client’s shoes.
  4. Integrity. In our industry, it’s important to be committed to doing the right thing each and every time. This is a personal trait, not a learned skill.
  5. Problem solving skills, sound and timely decision making and maturity.
  6. The ability to apply concepts effectively and be innovative.
  7. Attention to detail, accuracy, good computer skills and time management skills.
  8. Business acumen and savvyness as applied to both the insurance business and a client’s needs.
  9. For brokers, the ability to bridge between the role of a broker, the brokerage’s business and the needs of clients. This can be enhanced by extensive knowledge of the client’s industry from previous experience in that sector.
  10. The ability to understand and respect each role in our industry (company, broker, adjuster, claims, actuary, etc.) and how they all work together in partnership to bring the best to clients.


One of the biggest issues in hiring career changers is compensation. “We may not be able to pay them what they were making as an expert in their field immediately upon joining us,” explains Perry. “We have to balance the value they bring to the organization and the investment we’re making. It’s part of the fun to find that balance and work with the candidate to set them up for long term success.”

Commitment is another factor. “We’ve learned that career changers have to be committed to learning our industry and having a respect for how it works and what we do,” continues Perry. “It’s not an easy change where you just show up and collect a pay cheque. Without a true motivation to learn, it’s very challenging for someone to make the change. It’s easy to say, but not easy to do if you’re not truly committed.”

Then there are the intangible elements. “Candidates could all come from the exact same background, the same education, the same experience, but all be completely different,” says Kenney. “When speaking with people, always keep in mind that while they have the industry knowledge (or transferrable experience), making sure they would be a good fit within the branch, their direct team and positive client interaction are all key factors in moving ahead with people. In every aspect of Insurance, there is client interaction whether it be face to face or over the phone, and finding people who have that understanding, or already have that ingrained personality are the ones we want working for us.”


“There will always be challenges in recruiting, as there are so many factors that could be considered potential roadblocks—industry competitors, location of small branches, economy, have all played a hand in times when it becomes a little more difficult to find a good candidate,” continues Kenney. “However, with creative initiatives and patience on everyone’s part, the right person will eventually be placed into a role that will not only benefit themselves, but also your organization.”

For more information about the Insurance Institute’s Career Connections program, visit


Copyright 2012 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2012 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.