How Independent Insurance Agencies Can Recruit Top Talent

Hiring the perfect person for your agency isn’t impossible; it just takes time. Here’s how to do it.

By Shawn Moynihan

Whether you’re looking to hire a new producer or office staff, recruiting talent is one of the greatest challenges currently faced by independent insurance agencies.

Agency principals who wonder why it’s become even harder in recent years would not be alone. While it’s never been easy for independent agencies to attract good help, the COVID-19 pandemic forced professionals of all kinds to reassess their employment situations. Many agents who were performing well started asking hard questions about whether they were being fairly compensated for their work and appreciated by their organizations.

Those who weren’t being treated well – stuck at home without laptops or other professional support from their agencies or brokerages during lockdown – quickly realized that sometimes the grass is indeed greener on the other side.

In the process, prized talent has become even more valuable – and more expensive. Today, agents of all stripes are looking for some things they didn’t previously: many now expect a hybrid work week. Others expect a certain level of compensation for a determined amount of work ($80K a year, for example, for dialing the phone 22 times a day). Benefits plans are also desirable.

Agencies that offer all three possess a distinct edge in recruiting.

“The Great Resignation has fueled people to take a look at their own situations,” says Diana Gazzolo, Insurance Recruiter for Martin Grant Associates in Newton, Mass., which sources talent throughout the insurance industry. “They’ve found themselves asking, ‘Do I have the best deal?’ Hungry people who weren’t being communicated to, left.

“The key to retaining producers is, if they’re happy, don’t ignore them,” she adds.

If you can find them, that is – and therein lies the challenge.

Define Your Needs

The first step to recruiting independent agents, Gazzolo explains, is understanding that these professionals can be separated into three groups:

  • Trainable entry-level talent;
  • Those of mid-level experience, who book about $100K in revenue per year; and
  • Experienced producers who bring in between $300K and $500K in revenue.

 

Knowing which level of producer talent you can afford for your agency is key, and will determine where you search for them.

Agency principals who have the budget to do so may prefer to invest in a recruiter to find the best agent for their business. (This is an especially effective option for sourcing top-flight talent.) Recruitment firms that specialize in finding independent agents have a variety of relationships to draw upon, and are aware of high-value candidates who might be looking for a new situation. Not all of the best agents in the business are continually employed, but a great many are – and using a recruiter will often prove a wise investment for time-strapped agency principals.

According to Gazzolo, the same amount of work is required by a recruiter to find the right producer candidate for a client, regardless of their skill level; no one is harder to hire than the other. Equal effort is required (approximately 230 to 240 outreaches) to provide the appropriate person for an agency.

Agency owners who would rather search for producer talent on their own need to determine who to pursue, and where to go to find them.

Where to Look

Trainable, entry-level talent, Gazzolo explains, can be found working for businesses such as Enterprise Rent-a-Car, which is known for its training programs; leasing companies, like Xerox, where sales employees are experienced in cold calling; and restoration companies. If you’re able to attract members of this set, Gazzolo says, you’ll still need to pay them a base salary in order to provide them reliable income to live on. Once they prove themselves, they’ll have to be compensated further.

When it comes to finding more experienced producers, agency principals looking to do it on their own rather than using a recruiter can run ads on ZipRecruiter.com and Indeed.com, says Nolan Duda, Sales Manager for IdealTraits, a Michigan based company founded by insurance agency owners that specializes in helping insurance agencies identify and hire top-level talent for their agencies.

Determine which lines of business you want your agency to grow in, and run producer-seeking ads in trade magazines that focus on that market. Is it transportation? Construction? Employment ads that you run in industry-specific trade magazines will help target specific market expertise.

Leveraging your own network is equally important when sourcing agents, says Duda. Often, finding producer talent that might be a good fit for your agency comes down to relationship recruiting. Putting the word out via your local Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce can only help.

Agency owners need to be constantly networking and developing your own pipeline in case the need for a new producer arises, says Gazzolo. For example, “If you meet a young agent at a golf outing who you’re impressed with, get his card.”

Duda agrees that staying on the hunt for good talent year-round is a mindset worth adapting – whether you’re using a recruiter, online job boards, or your local network: “In the long run, always being on the lookout for talent can only help you.”

Gazzolo notes that if you’re looking to poach a top-level producer from another agency, their account managers often have to go with them. These candidates are harder to find, but they’re out there – and can be tempted to move when, for example, their agency is purchased and the new owners are disrupting their process.

Hiring Office Staff: Targeting Gen Z

One deep talent pool for independent agencies looking to hire customer service reps or office staff is Generation Z, which the Pew Research Center defines as those born between 1997-2012 and are relatively new to the adult workforce.

Mark Beal, assistant professor of professional practice, communication at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information and the author of “Gen Z Graduates to Adulthood,” explains that young professionals in this demographic are especially purpose-driven when it comes to the jobs they select. While the insurance industry can fall short in marketing itself as purveyors of a social good, independent agencies have the opportunity to reinforce that message when recruiting.

“Members of Gen Z want to work for companies that have a higher purpose, that contribute to a better society,” says Beal. “They want to feel good about the work they’re doing.”

Beal suggests that agency principals looking for someone to manage their social media channels would do well to employ Gen-Zers, as they are digital natives and are well suited for the task.

These potential hires can be sourced via LinkedIn and through universities, which often have career offices staffed with full-time career advisors whose purpose it is to connect students with jobs. Again, emphasizing the social-good component of the insurance business will make working for your agency more attractive.

Beal adds that once you employ members of this set, some of the keys to keeping them include fostering diversity among your staff; embracing technology that makes your processes more efficient (using outmoded systems will cause them to look elsewhere); providing mental health days; and possessing a genuine interest in them and their career. Provide them stipends to go to a conference, or for training. Help them and empower them as professionals, rather than just giving them a paycheck.

When hiring within this demographic, Gazzolo suggests agency owners do a salary equanimity check through a recruiter or indeed.com to ensure that their personnel are being paid competitively. If you attempt to pay them less than what they’re worth, they’ll know – and they won’t stay with you for long.

To Hire the Best, Stay Patient

While independent-agency talent is no longer ample or cheap, it’s not impossible to find it. It just takes time and patience. Duda says that sometimes, that’s longer than an agency principal wants to spend: “They don’t always have the luxury of being patient.”

His advice? Don’t rush the process. “If you do, you might end up filling the position with a candidate who isn’t right for you,” he says. “Always be on the lookout for new talent, stay patient, and do your due diligence when hiring.”

Gazzolo agrees. “Devote your energies to hiring the best,” she says. “As exhausting as it may sound, don’t take your hand off the throttle as an agency owner during the decision process.”

Once you’re reviewing candidates, know that the inexpensive option isn’t always going to be the best option. “Gauge their personality,” says Duda. “Trust your gut feeling when it comes to hiring, but have all the information available on hand when you make that decision. Just because someone is licensed and has a good resume doesn’t necessarily mean that they can sell insurance at a high level.”

In the end, there’s no one road to take when recruiting for your agency; diversifying your efforts is essential to finding the right person for the job.

“Since the beginning of time, one-third of jobs have been filled through an ad, one-third have been filled through referrals, and one-third through recruiters,” adds Gazzolo. “The best search is all three.”

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