Smart includes knowing what you don’t know. Stupid includes failing to recognize what you don’t know. As Forrest Gump’s famous “stupid is as stupid does” adage reminds, a person is smart or stupid by their deeds.
This post discusses cognitive abilities – or the smarts to be a successful commercial insurance producer – which we define as “skilled in analytical and critical thinking, in problem solving; learns rapidly; intellectually curious.”
Note two things missing in the definition: (1) a college degree and (2) technical insurance knowledge!
We don’t look for technical insurance knowledge because – knowing what you don’t know – that can be acquired or borrowed from others. Rather, we look for sales people with the cognitive ability to learn the technical side of the insurance business.
Most of our clients expect and require a 4 year college degree. Frankly, it just makes sense today and there’s all upside to a new producer having a 4 year degree. Completing a 4 year degree shows a commitment to sacrificing time and income in the short run for a better payoff in the long run (a parallel to a successful producer building a lucrative book of business!). It shows you can finish something that’s hard and time consuming. It suggests that you have basic cognitive ability. College helps you to develop maturity and a host of life skills. It can even help you to directly acquire useful knowledge for being a producer, for example a business major can credibly offer advice to a CFO. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a college degree helps a producer to stack their credentials and credibility compared to the other trusted advisors – namely the accountant and the lawyer – counseling a business owner.
The bottom line is that we recommend you hire producers with a 4-year college degree but be open to consider someone smart who lacks the degree but is willing to get it. We don’t believe you should particularly care about the major studied, where a person got their degree, or the GPA. For a recent college graduate, you should find out and probably avoid the extremes – a really low GPA or a really high GPA.
A few words about advanced degrees: they are largely unnecessary in this career. In fact, I get concerned that an MBA signals that a person is more focused on a management career and may be a poor fit for the producer career.
Beyond book smarts and formal education, you need to find a person with common sense who can figure stuff out quickly and solve client problems! You need to find a truly curious person who wants to learn and who views their college education as the starting point of a career and life of learning. You need to find a person who is hungry to learn the profession of becoming a commercial insurance broker.
Interview questions that help to assess the cognitive abilities of a new producer candidate:
Describe a situation where you had to learn a lot in a short period of time.
How hard did you need to study in college?
How do you acquire new knowledge in your current job?
Question 1 helps determine the ability to learn quickly. Question 2 may reveal a person breezed through college without much effort (bad or good or both?) or they didn’t need to study that hard (mostly good) or they didn’t take their formal education very seriously (mostly bad). Question 3 is relevant because if they’re light or vague on specifics here, that’s a warning sign that they won’t invest the time and effort in continuous learning in the producer career.
Here’s the key problem solving question that we always ask a producer candidate:
One major problem a new producer faces is the heavy prospecting required to build the foundation of a book of business. How would you approach the prospecting to begin building your book of business? (E.g. your local network or starter prospect pipeline)
The answer to this question is important as a practical matter — because this is what a new producer will do at the beginning of the career – and because it sheds light on the candidate’s thoughtfulness and depth of problem solving analysis.
Beyond interviews, many of our clients invite new producer candidates to present a business plan, make a presentation, participate in a sales meeting, travel with a producer on client calls, or to attend a lunch/dinner meeting. Many of these elements help in the recruiting process and also serve as opportunities to assess the candidate’s smarts to be a successful commercial insurance producer.