This summer we asked four Council interns to survey interns at member brokerage firms. We wanted some real feedback on how college students view the industry and how their perceptions have changed since working in it. After analyzing their survey data for trends and following up with multiple phone interviews, they wrote this article to convey their findings. —Editor
For many of us, beach trips and barbecues define our summers. But for thousands of young adults, summer is also internship season. Every year, companies around the country offer summer positions to college students who are looking to gain experience in a potential future career. Companies benefit from finding rising talent and engaging them in their business, which can lead to full-time employment once they graduate. But getting these interns in the door isn’t always easy, especially for an industry that is so often misunderstood.
Companies such as Google, J.P. Morgan and Nike have the advantage of a name-brand reputation and other vast resources to recruit highly qualified interns. Many college-age students don’t understand the insurance brokerage industry, which often leads them to overlook the opportunities that a brokerage provides. Because of this, recruiting summer interns at brokerage firms often comes down to relying on personal connections or sifting through piles of résumés. These aren’t always the best ways of finding top-notch interns, so taking a new approach to recruiting is vital.
“There’s not a lot of people in college who are going to say, ‘I’m going to study insurance’ or ‘I’m going be an insurance agent,’” says Noah Exlerben, a student at Michigan State who interned with Sterling Insurance Group’s sales department over the summer.
Ironically, once students are exposed to all the industry has to offer, many of them can envision insurance as a potential career. This summer, in a survey of nearly 100 interns at brokerages across the country, 92% answered “yes” or “possibly” when asked if they could see themselves having a career in the insurance industry or a full-time job at the firm of their internship.
In One Ear, Out the Other
The experience of an internship can be instrumental in shaping graduates’ opinion of the industry. About 75% of interns in our survey said their view of the brokerage industry had changed since starting their internship. But how do you shape that view before those internship decisions are made?
“I think there’s a disconnect between the younger generation and the insurance industry,” says Evan Barclay, a student at the University of Toledo and an accounting intern at Hylant this summer. The brokerage industry, he says, “gets written off as this old-fashioned, boring or unnecessary service, which obviously it’s not.”
To Barclay, counteracting this perception requires different ways to explain the business of insurance. He suggests going so far as to change and simplify terminology within the industry, and he says trying to show a younger side of brokerage will help gain the attention of more young people. “Hearing about policies and claims,” he says, “goes in one ear and out the other.”
Changing common perceptions is not an easy task, but embracing trends in technology and media can help to make that message clear.
“When it comes to social media, I don’t see anything about insurance,” says Kyle Andrew Campbell, a student at the University of Virginia who worked as a sales intern at Marsh and McLennan this past summer. “When I turn on the TV, I’ll see an insurance commercial. But if I’m watching a YouTube video, or on Twitter, or on Facebook or Instagram, I don’t see any social media outlets or advertisements concerning insurance. A social media effort to show exactly what the insurance industry is about would be very beneficial.”
Campbell also says focusing on the tangible benefits the insurance industry provides would greatly improve the common perception of the industry. “When it comes to changing that mindset that insurance is a necessary evil,” he says, “it could be something like an informative advertisement that explains that insurance is the reason we can sleep at night. It’s the reason that we don’t have to worry when we go to the doctor’s office. When we drive our cars, if we get hit, yes, it stinks. But we have someone watching our back who is going to help us through this. I think that’s the one part as individuals or as an industry that we don’t stress enough.”
Sales or Nothing
Brokerages are big, dynamic organizations with myriad opportunities that could appeal to a wide range of interests, but that variety isn’t always apparent.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions about insurance is that it’s sales or nothing,” says Kaylin Renfro, a student at California State University, Chico, and one of InterWest’s summer interns who worked mainly in the sales department.
Interns are looking to gain experience in a field that can become a career. As our research demonstrates, marketing the variety of opportunities within brokerage firms could show students there’s much more to a brokerage than strictly sales and account management. Offering internship opportunities in human resources, marketing and IT, for example, could greatly increase the intern recruiting pool.
Allowing interns to rotate through different departments can also increase their interest in the firm through exposure to different aspects of the industry. Even if they don’t find every department interesting, a rotation will likely help them identify their strongest interests.
“If you have an internship that’s going to expose you to everything, you might not enjoy all of it,” Renfro says. “I did not particularly love workers comp, but I’m thankful that I was exposed to it, and being exposed to all of it really showed me the area where I caught on a little quicker. For me, that was employee benefits. I kind of just understood it faster than the other areas, and it also gave me a direction about the area that I was going to be happy in.”
And for those who are considering the sales path, there’s still opportunity to shift perceptions of what this career is all about. “I think building a book is super exciting,” Exlerben says. “Being able to look back 20 years down the line and say, ‘Hey, I did that. I have all of these relationships, and I’ve successfully maintained all of this business.’ That’s what excites me.”
As Exlerben shows, even known careers can be seen in different ways. He was drawn to the interpersonal aspect of the sales role. Highlighting that aspect of the job could spark new interest among interns considering this path.
Back to School
Figuring out exactly where to market to potential interns can be just as difficult as figuring out what to market to them. Many college students find internships through personal connections, but recruiting interns through these connections can sometimes be limiting. To access a broader base of students, it may be worth meeting them on their turf.
“If you’re trying to increase the workforce for the insurance brokerage industry, you’re going to need to really heavily recruit on campus,” Barclay says. “That’s what everyone else is doing, and there’s some real competition there.
Every other industry is pushing on college campuses by having tables, connecting with students and creating events, and that’s how they’re getting their pool of interns and their eventual pool of full-time offers.”
Participating in job fairs, setting up informational tables in the student center and hosting events on campus are some of the best ways to reach potential interns in an environment they’re comfortable in. About 36% of interns surveyed indicated they prefer to search for internships at university job fairs, while 39% said they usually use personal connections. About the same percentage of college students look for jobs through their school as those who look through personal connections, so colleges provide a huge pool of potential talent.
Recruiting at schools also allows firms to better target what kind of interns they would like to fill the position. A firm looking for a marketing intern can actively recruit at a school known for its stellar marketing program. This approach enables firms to fill more specialized intern roles and thus attract to the brokerage industry interns with a variety of skills. The companies that get the best interns often are the ones that distinguish their campus recruiting strategy from the rest of the crowd.
“At my college, they do a mock interview process,” says Lauren Czeshinski, a student at Loras College who has interned with Cottingham & Butler for two summers. As a first-year student, she participated “just for the heck of it.”
Among the companies taking part in the mock interview process was Cottingham & Butler. “At the end of it, my team wound up winning,” Czeshinski says, “and the feedback I got from them was, ‘Hey, we don’t usually hire freshmen, but we’d love to hear back from you in the future.’”
So Czeshinski kept in touch with the Cottingham & Butler recruiter. “And when it came time to interview and apply,” she says, “I ended up applying, and I started my sophomore summer.”
Czeshinski wound up sticking with Cottingham & Butler for an entire year, as their office was close to her school and she had time to work during the academic year. Last summer she returned for her second full-time summer internship with the company. Not only did this strategy help Cottingham & Butler stand out alongside other major companies recruiting on campus, it also helped establish close relationships with potential interns and develop their interest in the industry.
There are so many positive aspects of the insurance brokerage industry that can be used to attract qualified interns. Increasing recruiting efforts will help bring in young talent, and it’s not inconceivable that last summer’s intern could be next summer’s top young producer.
Cella is a junior at Tulane University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnson is a junior at Temple University. email@example.com
Schoonhoven is a senior at California Baptist University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Stiller is a senior at Elon University. email@example.com