What a Boss Wants

How to get noticed by management.

June 26, 2012 Photo

So the purse strings have finally started to loosen up, and management has begun hiring adjusters, both trainees and experienced adjusters. The first group of recent hires has started, and you keep asking yourself, “These people don’t know a BOP from a BPP. What were they thinking?”

You are not alone in asking the question. Here are some answers, and I’ll bet they will surprise you.

I polled a number of claims professionals to see what qualities they look for when hiring a trainee and an experienced adjuster. I also asked for the qualities they look for when promoting an adjuster. The answers were far less focused on claims technical expertise than might be expected.

Generally, managers are looking for what is important to the organization from a competency standpoint. If you have a bodily injury caseload, then it is important to have adjusters who are empathetic and knowledgeable about medical conditions and treatment.

But in most cases, the technical knowledge can be taught or gained from experience. The interpersonal skills are far harder to acquire later in life. Managers value interpersonal skills more highly than technical skills because the claims department is an important “touch” point with customers—and because it makes their jobs easier. A manager will often say that the person she values most is the one who makes her job easy.  

When hiring, managers look for attributes that fall into these categories:

  • Communication skills
  • Empathy
  • Ethics and professionalism
  • Critical thinking
  • Career commitment

When looking at both trainees and experienced adjusters, managers want someone who communicates well. Written and verbal communication skills are essential to the claims business. Adjusters must be able to explain complex concepts in a logical and concise manner. Listening is also a big part of what we do. Presentation skills are also a plus, especially if you work with large accounts that require loss-run presentations.

Empathy is also a key quality for adjusters. Wil Kirk, who has been an adjuster for many years, says, “We all commit a dozen negligent acts every day. Our job is to clean up the messes for those unlucky enough to have the negligent act harm someone or something.” Empathy allows us to relate to those we encounter either on the phone or in person. If that isn’t a quality of a would-be adjuster when they walk in the door, it is unlikely that they will be given empathy training. It is also unlikely that they will remain in the adjusting business very long.

Other qualities that we bring to an adjusting career are ethical values and professionalism. While we are often given training on a company’s code of ethics or code of conduct, it is the ethical values we hold internally that really affect what we do every day. A good moral compass will enable an adjuster to maintain an even keel when faced with various temptations. Once again, this is a quality we bring to the job, not one we learn once we are there.

Every day, adjusters are asked to make decisions—lots of them. Most of these decisions will have a financial impact on someone—our employer, the insured, or a claimant—so critical thinking skills are another essential quality for which managers look. Someone who can make good decisions is someone every manager wants. They also want employees who can think on their own, learn from their mistakes, and adapt to unfamiliar situations.

Managers also covet someone committed to claims as a career. It is expensive and time consuming to constantly have to replace personnel. Commitment also means a good work ethic and a desire to learn. It means understanding the distinction between a career and a job. It means being a self-starter.  

From a manager’s perspective, it is not always easy to determine if these qualities exist in an applicant during an interview. A candidate can interview very well and turn out to be someone very different once hired. But there are some “tells” if the interviewer is paying attention.

Suppose you have two candidates, Emily and William. Both have the same number of years of experience in the line of business for which you are hiring, and both are the same age and have similar educations. Both candidates were laid off from their last positions because of a reduction in workforce. Evaluate their answers to the following questions:

“Describe your most satisfying case as a claims person.”

Emily: It was a claim for a large commercial account. I worked closely with the underwriter, the agent, and the loss control representative to arrive at a timely settlement that put the insured back into operation with a minimal loss of business. It was really important to the insured because the majority of his business was relationship-based, and he did not want to lose customers.

William: It was a claim for a large commercial account. I got the insured to accept my estimate of the damages rather than his contractor’s. I closed the claim quickly and saved the company money.

“You were let go as a result of a reduction in workforce at your former employer. Can you describe what the last six months or year was like working there?”

Emily: We all knew that the company was experiencing financial difficulties. It has been hard to get the underwriting results in this market, but we all kept trying very hard because we didn’t want to lose any more policyholders. As more people were let go, we just kept picking up the slack. It was hard, but it was something we wanted to do because we really thought the company was trying very hard to do the right thing.

William: The company had been having financial difficulties for a while. Management kept doing the same thing over and over again. They couldn’t figure out how to do anything new or different. They really messed up the company, and the employees all took the hit for it.

So whom would you hire? Emily’s responses seem to indicate that she is a team player with a real concern for customer service and empathy for the insured. William seems to be less of a team player and more likely to be critical of management’s objectives.

Now take a look at that group of new hires and realize that the reason they were hired may have more to do with their ability to fit into the culture of the organization than their technical expertise. 

In a Nutshell

Overall, here are some traits and keywords you should be considering when hiring or promoting a specific category of adjuster.

Trainee—Communication skills, collaboration skills, curiosity, customer-service attitude, strategic thinking, tenacity, technical insurance degree or college degree, computer skills, sometimes a familiarity with a foreign language, time-management skills, team player, organizational skills, desire to learn, resourceful, conscientious, ambitious, well-mannered, honest, life experience/tough jobs, references, basic math skills, patience, practical knowledge, social skills, ability to multitask, ability to prioritize, realistic expectations.

Experienced—All of the above, plus ability to analyze coverage, writing skills, recognition of the business aspects of claims, negotiation skills, presentation skills, strong work ethic (willing to work the hours required), self-improvement, adaptability, relationship building, confident, efficient.

Promotion—All of the above plus leadership skills, ability to analyze and understand the vision/mission, contributes to developing the business, self-starter, potential, consistent adherence to best practices, team player, technical expertise, good decision-making and judgment, accountable, loyal, someone who has respect of peers.  

Donna J. Popow, JD, CPCU, AIC, is senior director of knowledge resources and ethics counsel for The Institutes. She is responsible for all aspects of claims education, including the AIC designation program and the Introduction to Claims program. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at popow@TheInstitutes.org.

About The Authors
Donna J. Popow

Donna J. Popow, JD, CPCU, AIC, is president of Donna J. Popow LLC, and has more than 25 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance industry. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at (215) 630-0829. popow@cpcuiia.org

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