11/24/2010

Parlay You

Use the skills you develop in one career mode to pursue a new and exciting path in another.

By Elise Farnham, CPCU, ARM, AIM, CPIW

The Insurance Information Institute has estimated that claims jobs in the U.S. have dropped by more than 14% over the course of the economic recession that began in 2008. Some of those positions will never return. Additionally, many seasoned pros are making plans for a graceful exit from full-time work, but the slam their retirement accounts have taken makes a wind-down more likely than a bon voyage. It's time to look at career options.

Even with the dour economic and hiring outlook, there is a chance for career progression, and there are both full- and part-time positions available—if you know how to parlay the skills you have to pursue a new track.

Perhaps it's time to take a lesson from Madonna—sometimes referred to as the "Mother of Re-invention." Her last new life was rolled out in her 2008 Reinvention Tour, in which she masterfully used the familiar to introduce the new. Is there anything to learn from her example? Certainly! You don't have to be a pop-art diva to take from her strategy. You, too, can re-brand yourself and find new opportunities.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
When considering a career or job change, the first step is to assess your current competencies and skills. At this phase, it is vitally important to be brutally honest with yourself. One approach is to think about what you do now. Are you mentoring and coaching newer or less experienced employees? If so, perhaps your skill lies in the ability to help other people succeed, which could lead to a position as a career coach. Does your job involve teaching others about new concepts? Maybe a position as an instructor or educator would fit your skills. Or, if you've been a workers' compensation adjuster—which means you know medical terms and conditions—a position in medical or disability management or the healthcare field could be an option.

If your current position requires math and algebraic skills, such as a business income loss specialist might possess, look for a way to transfer those skills and use them in a new job. Perhaps look for openings for auditors or a similar financial position.

Can't decide what it is you do all day long? Keep a personal journal. Over time, you will see trends develop, or you will find frequent entries about certain aspects of the work you currently perform. Use these trends as clues to determine your current skill set.

Look at your past performance reviews. Your boss or supervisor may have seen a skill that you had discounted but that was valuable to your team. You can even ask your colleagues the question, "What do I do best?" Be prepared for answers that may be entirely different from what you thought. Remember, they are seeing you from their perspectives. They may also base their feedback on successful outcomes that your skills produced—successful outcomes that your modesty or self-effacement may have caused you to overlook.

Look for resources to help you with this phase because it is the most important step in the process. State unemployment offices have excellent seminars and resources to assist applicants in assessing job skills. Recruiters are also very good resources. Find a personal coach who will objectively analyze what you have to offer employers today. Remember, the money you pay a personal coach is an investment in yourself!
The final step in the assessment phase is to examine whether you want to continue working for an organization (large? or small?) or, instead, would like to strike out on your own. At this point, just determine your preference. As you go through the reinvention process, you may conclude that, yes, you would like to work for an organization, but no one is hiring. Self-employment may be the only answer. So at this stage, you need to consider your comfort level. Circumstances may direct the approach you will have to take to pursue your reinvented self, but you don't just have to ride the tide. Be equipped with knowledge of yourself so you don't end up in a job you dislike.

Once you have objectively assessed your experience and skills, the next step is to decide what you enjoy doing. A good place to start when entering this phase of the process is to look at what you do in your off-hours. Do you prefer to be alone enjoying quiet pursuits? If so, working in a large corporation with a frantic work pace might not be the place for you. Do you enjoy people, and are you invigorated when you are surrounded by friends and colleagues? A sales position that requires convention attendance and client meetings could be the ticket for you. This is another area in which a personal journal is helpful. Many of us while away our off-hours without thinking about how we are spending our time. The personal journal will make your activities glaringly obvious.

Were you an art major in college? Maybe specializing in fine arts loss adjustment would be a worthwhile career change. Auto appraisers often turn to the auto industry for their next big opportunity. With that kind of niche skill, you could be a big winner in risk management at an auto manufacturer or car show promoter or find intriguing work with a special investigations unit or legal firm. Similarly, property loss adjusters have spent their careers working with construction in some form or another and may look for a renovation- or construction-related position within or outside the insurance industry as a possibility. The important thing to remember is to find something that you enjoy. Thomas Edison said it best: "I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun."

Scoping Out the Market
Now that you have assessed your skills and determined what you enjoy doing, it's time to look for possibilities. The first step in this phase is to determine where you want to do this work. Do you hate to travel? Then you'll need to find something local. Do you intend to retire someplace other than where you currently live? Then start thinking about that new place and the opportunities you can find there. Again, make the tough calls. It is entirely possible that the place you want to be has no opportunities that fit your skills and your desires. Be honest and flexible.

If you've decided that working for an organization is your preference, check out the companies in your chosen location. The local chamber of commerce can be a big help when searching for types of industries. Do you want to stay in the insurance industry but try a different type of job? Then network with local associations by attending their meetings and getting to know some people. The majority of jobs today are filled by individuals who learned about the openings via their network, so build your network! You need to reach out through online professional groups, like LinkedIn, or those sponsored by industry organizations, such as the CPCU Society or the Registered Professional Adjusters Society.
Don't forget about the opportunities that catastrophic events create. Claims professionals often make the mistake of thinking that all catastrophe adjusters must have a property background. Not so. Consider the large numbers of casualty adjusters who are needed to handle loss adjustment and title transfer or appraise damaged vehicles following a significant flood event. Catastrophe work usually requires time spent away from home; however, the work is temporary, and your absence will not last for a lengthy amount of time.

If you've decided to start your own business, consult with other entrepreneurs. Find out how they got their start, what sort of financial backing was necessary, how they developed their client base, how and where they prospected for business, how they juggle marketing and production, and what Web presence works. Do your homework, and your business will have a much better chance of succeeding.

Finally, be prepared for your plans to change. Your career path isn't static, so you shouldn't be cemented in place. You might stay at the same organization and just alter your trajectory, but it's entirely possible that you will end up in a place you never thought you would go. Your reinvention may create a whole new you!
Elise M. Farnham, CPCU, ARM, AIM, CPIW, is head of Illumine Consulting, which provides continuing education and claims management consulting.


Elise M. Farnham, CPCU, ARM, AIM, CPIW, is an international speaker, industry consultant and president of Illumine Consulting.

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