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Strengthening the Front Line

Take charge of your career

Assess your capabilities; then implement a measurable plan toward achieving your goals

By Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

A poor man visits a church day after day standing before a statue of a great saint, praying, begging and pleading, "Dear Saint, please, please, please grant me the good fortune to win the lottery." His plea goes on for months. Finally, the frustrated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, "My son, please, please, please—the least you can do is buy a ticket."

How many times have you wished for something to happen, yet failed to take the necessary steps to make it so? In the academic world, it's very clear what prerequisites are needed to become a doctor, a chef, or a tenured professor. We understand what's required to buy a house—a down payment, steady income, and an affordable mortgage. Unfortunately in the business world, the criteria needed to advance personally and professionally are not always as evident. Successful people know that in order to have a long, satisfying, and worthwhile career, they cannot let ambiguity and uncertainty get in the way of laying out a strategy for career success. Each person is responsible for creating his or her own personal development plan. Here are seven steps to take charge of your career.

1. Identify your goals. What is it you currently do or want to do that will bring you satisfaction and reward? What is it that you look forward to doing in your job? Meeting with clients? Negotiating and placing business? Responsibility for the sales and service of a book of small commercial business? Assisting sales people in taking care of policyholders? Researching and investigating coverage and policy questions? Educating and training others to do what you do so well? Handling the agency's online social presence, Web site, and e-newsletter?

Katie is one CSR who took charge of her career. When I met Katie, she was a personal lines CSR in an agency that employed 20 people. The agency did not have a full-time IT person. One of the owners handled technology software issues as needed, and the hardware issues were handled by an outside consultant. No one was responsible for staff training or proper and productive system use. Because Katie loved and grasped anything technology-related, she was the favored go-to person in her office for software application questions. She always wanted to learn more and volunteered to go the agency system's user group meetings. She taught classes to her coworkers on better utilizing the system. She took classes on her own time and with her own money to gain further knowledge. Without any formal sanction, Katie had identified her goals and executed a plan.

The agency owners recognized what Katie was bringing to the table. She wrote her own job description and became the agency's formal IT person. She also served as a personal lines backup CSR when coworkers were out for an extended time. Katie created a win-win for herself and her agency.

2. Identify areas in your work to develop and improve. Use the list shown in the first column of the box on page xx. Once you've pinpointed what you like to do, work to be the best in those areas.

Reviewing the list, can you identify the areas that Katie chose to work on? Given your goals, what areas should you focus on bettering?

3. Create a spreadsheet with seven columns to organize your career plan. 

(See box on page xx)

4. Rank your current and target proficiencies on a scale of 0-3. Zero is no proficiency and three is the highest. In the development opportunities column, identify and make notes in the areas where you could improve knowledge and performance. After these three columns are completed, you'll have a snapshot of where you are and where to focus your time, energy and resources to develop your career.

5. Next, complete the resources to achieve target column. 

Resources can be people or learning opportunities. Think of people who can help you move forward in your plan. Before reaching out, check LinkedIn and Web sites to get career and background information. Demonstrate initiative by doing your homework. Prepare succinct, well-informed questions to lead a conversation and get valuable information. 

Do research to find classes, online courses, projects, volunteer work and expanded job responsibilities that will enable you to advance your expertise and professionalism. Katie became active in the local user group, thus adding to her knowledge. She then developed her presentation skills by training her coworkers.

6. Prioritize your goals. Narrow your development list to three key areas that will best support your goals. Katie increased knowledge, worked on presentation skills, and learned effective time management to balance her various responsibilities during her transition from CSR to heading up her agency's IT department.

7. The last two columns are action plans and time frame. This is where your goals, resources, and priorities come together. Make learning a priority. Katie took evening classes to become more proficient in Microsoft Office products. She learned by attending user group meetings. She volunteered to educate her coworkers. Perhaps there is a designation to work towards to confirm your commitment and expertise.

Career advancement takes effort, time, and stepping out of your comfort zone. With an effective and organized game plan outlining goals, skills to develop, available resources, and priorities, you've bought your winning ticket!

The author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC, helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside and Great Service Sells. For information on her products and services, visit


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