Mary Newgard
Mary Newgard

The Fundamental Truths About Insurance Agency Hiring

September 6, 2017

Image result for game of telephoneDoing More Harm Than Good 
One Insurance Agency’s Story About Backchannel References // Insurance Agency Hiring

“I think we made a big mistake”  were the first words spoken to me by an insurance agency executive when recounting the story of a failed reference check.  It was an innocent idea by which the whole mess got started.  She was introduced to a new potential employee.  One of her ex-employees just so happened to work at the same firm as the applicant. Trusting the quality of the intel, they placed a call to their former colleague. 
“All the feedback was positive, so we decided to set up an interview. Everything seemed great…..until other people found out.”

You can imagine where the rest of the story goes from here.  The former employee told the candidate about the call they received.  An uncomfortable situation ensued and it could ultimately cost the agency a chance at hiring a terrific insurance professional. 

Where Did the Hiring Process Go Wrong? 
The insurance agency forgot some fundamental truths about the job interviewing process.

  1. Insurance is a small industry. Even in a big city (where our story took place) everyone talks. Everyone knows everyone.  This is six degrees of Kevin Bacon sort of stuff that you can’t take for granted.

What you should do instead?
Conduct references, particularly ones closest to the current employer, near the end of the interview process.

  1. Confidentiality is your biggest ally. Not all applicants are active job seekers. Passive candidates may not have entertained a new job in years. They risk being exposed and a stable position to interview. They are most comfortable if you explicitly state that your process is extremely confidential. 

Related imageWhat you should do instead?
Ask for permission to contact references. It’s okay if the candidate says no.  Don’t assume they are hiding something.  It could be the reference wouldn’t be confidential, available or appropriate for the context of this opportunity.

  1. Are you looking for reasons to say no? It only takes one bad TripAdvisor review to negate 100 positive ones. References aren’t about supporting a conclusion you’ve already come to.  Don’t let one person’s comments control your hiring preference.

What should you do instead?
Trust your interviewing instincts.  Keep all past employees and hiring experiences separate from assessing a new individual.  Obsessive, risky behavior with reference checking becomes less about the candidate and more about your company’s insecurities.

  1. Everybody hurts. I was never a big R.E.M. fan and now I’ve got this song stuck in my Image result for rem everybody hurtshead!  Backchannel reference leaks will not only seriously damage a person’s current employment but your company’s reputation, too. In this story, the insurance agency may experience far reaching repercussions with future prospects who are unwilling to apply because the company has garnered a reckless reputation.

What should you do instead?
Weigh the pros and cons.  Backchannel references are different from traditional checks.  You can still require references as a part of your process, but get the information on an application and through the proper vetting resources once an offer is presented.

The aforementioned agency’s process is still unfolding, and the total collateral damage remains to be seen.  What I know for certain is that the agency has unnecessarily compromised itself. Never ease up on treating candidate confidentiality with the utmost care and discretion.  Remember, you can’t un-see a resume, and you can’t un-hear a reference check.


Mary Newgard, CPC, AU
515-987-0242 x454 


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