Your Career Q&A: Prepping to Switch Careers

By Martin Yate Sep 12, 2016
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​This week's column offers advice on how to study up prior to changing careers. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your HR career. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

After more than 20 years in HR and employee benefits, I would like to transition into a benefits insurance agency or property-casualty customer service position in an insurance agency. I have worked in insurance agencies before, but that was 30 years ago. I can't mention it for obvious reasons (age). I have obtained all state licenses to work in an agency. What is the most effective approach for this transition?


Given your background and that you have prepared by getting all the requisite licenses, this sounds like a very achievable goal. In many ways, the services that insurance agencies deliver on a business-to-business or business-to-consumer basis to the community at large are similar to the services you deliver to your employees. Plus, as an HR professional working in employee benefits, you already have the customer communication skills honed.

There are a couple of initiatives that you can work on that will support your goal of a successful career change. First of all, there are some "known unknowns": While you recognize that many of the core skills are very similar, you also realize the services delivered may well have some differences. In your current job, you may already have contacts at agencies and corporations. You should be:

  • Casually mining calls to these contacts for the similarities and differences between the two jobs.
  • Re-connecting with any of these people from the past and asking the same questions.
  • Joining relevant groups on LinkedIn (there are 124) and asking the same questions.
  • Leveraging connections made in your licensing accreditations.

These actions will result in those unknowns becoming known. You'll discover exactly what the similarities are and exactly the differences. Given your professional experience, it's probable that you will clearly understand what any specific learning curve will entail and how long it will take you to get up to speed.

Given this information, you are ready to create a job-targeted resume.

I write in Knock 'em Dead: Resumes, 12th edition (Adams Media, 2016) that what most resume-writers think is important in their resumes is irrelevant because that's your subjective opinion. You are best served with an objective approach. This involves understanding the agencies' needs for your target job so that you can build a resume that sells to those customer needs. We call this target job deconstruction. It involves reviewing half a dozen job postings and prioritizing the responsibilities and the words, phrases and acronyms that describe them. By doing this, you've created an objective template for the story your resume needs to tell.

Property and casualty insurance has its own unique language. Plus, I've never heard of an agency that wasn't backed-up busy, so two huge incentives for these hiring managers are:

Someone who has a license in place, as you do.

Someone who can hit the ground running with the lowest learning curve.

You should also familiarize yourself with the agencies and carriers writing coverage in the town where you want to work and learn about their products before interviewing so you can speak intelligently about them.

Familiarity with carriers and current local market conditions is something that will set you apart. For instance, in Savannah, where I have a home, knowing which agency offers better coverage and has a better A.M. Best rating versus which agency will be more affordable but will exclude coverage on a roof that's over 10 years old is important. As is knowing who the surplus lines players are, because this is a coastal area and flooding is an issue. Every locale has its unique challenges.

These steps will help you create a job-targeted resume, and prepare you for turning those job interviews into job offers because you will know the priorities, fully understand the similarities (so that you can build bridges) and have answers ready for those questions that demand learning-curve answers. Together this will show that you have a strong grasp of the essentials. Go for it!

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 

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