Canadian Underwriter

Tips for accelerating your insurance career

March 17, 2021   by Jason Contant

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If Ernest Mashingaidze has one piece of advice he could share with his early career self, it would be to not fear the mystical creature.

“How many times have people looked at a job application and it says you need 10 years of experience or education, things you might not necessarily have at the time,” said Mashingaidze, a claims adjuster for strategic products at HSB Canada. “What we find now is the job descriptions [are] looking for the best possible candidate — the mystical creature. This person doesn’t exist.”

Mashingaidze was speaking during the Insurance Institute of Canada’s webinar Career Insights: Personal Branding to Elevate Your Career, held earlier this month. Webinar host Trevor Buttrum, manager of Career Connections at the Institute, asked speakers what is one piece of advice or insight they’d share with their “early career self,” and asked what they brought to the table from a career-branding perspective.

Mashingaidze said he passed up many job opportunities in the past because he believed he didn’t have the required number of jobs or education. “But one thing I’ve realized now is [to] just go for it. Just apply for it.”

Don’t wait for tomorrow to apply for that job, Mashingaidze said. For the first auto insurance-related job for which he applied, Mashingaidze said he didn’t have the number of years of experience. But he did have other transferrable skills, such as volunteering at the Institute and taking his Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP) designation courses.

Ernest Mashingaidze, a claims adjuster for strategic products at HSB Canada, speaks during an Insurance Institute of Canada webinar.

He called on new entrants to the industry to find a mentor. Mentors can help answer questions for which you don’t have the answers, he said. “Whenever you come to a crossroad, your mentor will either give you the advice of whether to go left or right.”

When choosing a mentor, choose somebody who’s not necessarily your friend or at the same organization, Mashingaidze recommended. “You want somebody who has no bias in terms of giving you advice and telling you where to go. That’s what I did in terms of choosing my mentor,” he said, adding that his mentor was older than him and more experienced in the industry.

Jessica Coburn is vice president of treaty reinsurance broker at Guy Carpenter and chairwoman of the board of directors at the Young Insurance Professionals of Toronto. She highlighted the importance of “networking with intent.” LinkedIn is a great place to research someone and get a little bit more background before engaging in a conversation, Coburn said.

“Set up your LinkedIn so it describes what you have done [and] make sure it’s complete, whether that’s education or interests,” she said. “Also important is professional headshots. Some newer folks might not have that, but that’s a great investment and a great way to start your personal brand.”

Nathan LaFayette, chief insurance officer with the British Columbia Automobile Association, advises not to rule out lateral moves. “Not everything has to be a promotion,” he said, noting that “one of the most powerful changes” he made in his career was to step backwards from a senior vice president role to a vice president role. While friends and family asked him, “What are you thinking?” LaFayette said he took on different responsibilities, got to learn a new product line, and expanded his insurance knowledge.

For Deb Steeves, a New Brunswick-based personal lines underwriter for the The Co-operators, having a, “Yes, and…” mindset is key. “When an opportunity comes forward, I say, ‘Yes, and how can I help?” she said. “That gets you that depth and breadth of a variety of skills.”

Rather than saying she knows the answer, Steeves also asks if others would like her insight or input from her perspective. “It makes me seem less like a know-it-all and more like a resource.”


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