Canadian Underwriter

When to not hire for soft skills

November 4, 2020   by Adam Malik

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A common adage around the insurance industry is to hire for soft skills and teach the technical stuff later. While that’s still mostly true among brokerage leaders taking part in a recent panel, one noted that there are times when you need to hire for those harder skills.

Everyone always puts soft skills at the top of their list for the ideal candidate, said Anthea McFarland, senior vice president of personal insurance at Hub International. “Having said that, there are situations when we do need technical and that’s what the firm is looking for.”

Sometimes, hiring for those hard, technical skills is necessary in order to keep your average experience level in balance, she said during the recent virtual IBAO Convention in a panel discussion entitled Recruiting Approaches to Increase Talent Supply. Brokerage leaders look at the current makeup of their staff and evaluate if they have a number of soft-skill brokers who are young and green compared to more senior experts who might be heading towards retirement. Without replacing those older brokers with experienced and technically knowledgeable ones, the average experience level goes off-kilter.

“So yes, soft skills would be Number 1 — a positive attitude, the ability to learn — but, also, we do look for technical. There are times when we’re looking for those technical skills. If the soft skills are there but they need a little bit of sharpening, we will work with those,” McFarland said.

And she doesn’t like to say her company hires completely based on soft skills. “There are times when technical really does make a difference in experience [and] that speaks volumes.”

She was joined by fellow panellists Johanna Allen, president of Allen Insurance Group and Eric Osborne, president and CEO of Jones DesLauriers Insurance Management. Kim Silva, sales manager at the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan, moderated the discussion.

For Osborne, hiring for attitude is essential. But he also pointed out the importance of McFarland’s comments. “Our product is complicated. It’s technical, it’s challenging to navigate and explain to clients and also to work with insurers on. So the technical component’s important,” he said.

Allen discussed the importance of hiring for soft skills in order to always keep the pipeline of talent flowing.

“We hire for attitude and sales ability, and we train for insurance,” she said. “We don’t always hire for a hole our office — we hire for the hole that will be there someday, focusing on our growth goals.”

And ensuring continuing education is also a key for success, Allen added. “We’re continually offering educational opportunities. Not just formal agency courses, but things that can make your roles easier and less stressful, like client conversation.”

Resiliency is a skill that has moved to the top of Osborne’s list after living and working through COVID-19 on top of a hard market. People are working harder than ever these days, he noted.

“They’re persevering through more and more tough conditions,” he said. “They’re working longer hours, and it takes a good culture and people with really strong attitudes to be able to do that.”


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1 Comment » for When to not hire for soft skills
  1. David Pearce says:

    Thanks for this really great article. Well written and right on with many points. Here is another article about this that you and your readers might find interesting -Does Sales Personality Matter?

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