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On-boarding New Production Talent: The Interview

By David Connolly

This article focuses on establishing an effective process to interview and qualify new production talent.

Independent agencies suffer greatly from our inability to find, qualify and successfully groom new producers. Historically, in small to mid size agencies, most hiring decisions are made by agency owners or sales managers who are producers themselves. We tend to hire people we know and or like. We hire people who we perceive to be friendly, outgoing and attractive and we tend to make quick hiring decisions without appropriate due diligence. In the hiring process, I have noticed a particular blind spot, or skill set deficit. Most of us are terrible at interviewing candidates. I believe it’s because we don’t have or follow an effective process.  This must change.

At iQ Consulting, we work very closely with our clients and become an extension of their leadership and management team. We are heavily involved in interviewing and qualifying potential new production talent for our clients. I have an engineering background, so I am a very process driven.

I know that effective processes create consistent, predictable and replicable results.

Most Fortune 500 companies understand this and have established thorough vetting processes to screen candidates. I’m not suggesting that we have the financial or intellectual capital to mirror Fortune 500 companies. But we can learn from their approach and establish hiring processes that reduce lost investment dollars on failed producers, while simultaneously creating significant gains in organic growth through successful hiring decisions.

Producers are the most challenging and potentially disruptive and costly hiring decision we make. Take a look at the processes I use and suggest for helping to screen candidates and see if any or all makes sense for you and your agency.

Step 1: Interview #1

The first interview should be conducted by the sales manger if possible. This is a short, ½ hour intro meeting. A first impression, get to know you, get to see you interview. This interview is a first hurdle that is designed to weed out candidates who do not measure up to our requirements.

What we are looking for during the interview:

  • Intelligence.
  • Likeability.
  • Poise.
  • Grooming.
  • Social skills.

The first interview questions should be information gathering questions, to get a feel for who the person is in front of you. They should be open ended and general in nature:

Take notes: Others who interview after you will want your questions and your notes.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about your up bringing.
  • Tell me about your college life, work, experience.
  • What are your passions?
  • What are your strengths, and weaknesses?
  • Likes and dislikes?
  • Biggest challenges, biggest disappointments, biggest successes?
  • Impactful life experiences?
  • What are you looking to accomplish, what are your life goals?
  • How does this job meet those goals?

 

What we want to measure:

  • Posture/poise.
  • Vocabulary.
  • Quick mind mouth connection; ability to formulate solid, quick responses.
  • Wit and sense of humor.
  • Ability to share personal information and tell stories in an engaging and interesting manner.
  • Tone, pace, body language, eye contact.
  • Natural ability to mirror and match the interviewer.

The questions this interview must answer for the interviewer are:

  1. Do I like this person?
  2. Do I trust this person?
  3. Would I do business with this person?
  4. Would I want to work with this person?

 

Step 2: Testing

Following the 1st interview, if the candidate meets or exceeds the expectations set by the interviewer, based upon the baseline we have created, the candidate is invited back for testing.

This call back is for testing only. No personal contact etc. Just the test. We want to test, evaluate and determine if a 2nd interview is warranted.

I like two tests and I use both to evaluate a candidate properly. I have to plug in my disclaimer here: this is not an endorsement of these companies or their products, nor is it a guarantee that these tests will predict a winner. These are just the test I like and use.

SPQ Gold

SPQ Gold is designed to analyze and evaluate call reluctance. It measures 12 call reluctance types on one scale, the “Brake” score, and is interpreted as an overall estimate of the effort which could have been available to support sales prospecting but is instead diverted into non-productive coping behaviors intended to reduce emotional discomfort associated with prospecting for new business. If producer candidates show high call reluctance results, it is a clear indicator that they will avoid prospecting and self promotion. If they can’t or won’t prospect, they won’t succeed. www.salescallreluctance.com

PDP Works: Pro Scan

Pro Scan reports measure who a person feels they are, who they feel they need to be, and how they come across to others. Most importantly, it measures energy boosts and energy drains, which is a strong predictor of what people like to do and what they excel at, what gives them energy resources, and what they dislike doing which creates energy drain. It also gives insight into how they will interact with others and their decision making style. www.pdpworks.com

  • How a person functions most naturally.
  • The role a person feels they need to play.
  • How a person predictably comes across to others.
  • Energy resources.
  • Satisfaction index.
  • Stress levels.
  • Energy drain.
  • Decision-making style.

Both tests are reasonably priced and for an additional fee offer personal professional insight and evaluation on test results. I suggest using these only for candidates you are seriously considering for employment. If the candidate tests well, they are invited back for a 2nd interview.

 

Step 3: Interview #2

The 2nd interview should be conducted by human resources or other agency managers. This can be a multiple person interview. This interview begins to ask questions designed to illicit specific responses. All participants should have a copy of the questions asked in the first interview and the notes from the first interview. Questions must be divided among interviewers so that no interviewer can take control of the interview and different personality styles are involved.

What we are looking for:

In addition to the qualities we evaluated in the first interview, we are looking for:

  • The ability to mirror and match with different personality styles.
  • The ability to field difficult questions.
  • The ability to take control of the conversation.
  • The ability to articulate what they do and how they interact with prospects and customers.
  • The ability to talk about processes, successes, failures, and money.
  • The ability to ask intelligent questions.
  • The ability to develop rapport and clear understanding.
  • The ability to have a substantial and focused conversation about selling.
  • The ability to show empathy.

 

These are how and what questions and are not open ended. In the book The Challenger Sale authors Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson provide an interview guide with excellent questions along with a guide for indicators and red flags. These questions can and should be altered to fit the “insurance industry” but will be applicable to anyone who has BTB experience. For recent graduates we will have to “wing it” a bit if they have no practical experience, but you can ask them their opinion on “the best approach or what they think.”

Candidate questions: Last, it is important to allow an expanded conversation to address the candidate’s questions. This is a critical juncture. Just because the candidate can answer interview questions doesn’t mean they can use questions to build rapport and get the information they need as a producer. Also, by this time he/she should be asking specific questions about the job, the pay and the career opportunity this job represents.

What we are looking for from the candidate:

  • The ability to get the interviewers to share personal information.
  • The ability to build rapport through questions.
  • Use of open ended questions and closed questions — interview techniques.
  • Clear, concise communication.
  • The ability to use stories or share past experience.
  • The candidate’s level of curiosity.
  • The candidate’s sense of humor.
  • The ability to discuss money — easily.
  • Questions that ask us about success and challenges.
  • Questions that ask us to describe the job/role.
  • Questions that ask about company culture.
  • Questions that show an ability to ask for help.

Following this interview, the 1st and 2nd interviewers should meet, review the resume, review the test scores and talk about the candidate. If all are in favor of hiring, the candidate is invited back.

Step 4: Interview #3 — Producers out of Office

Prior to the final interview, the candidate and their significant other are invited out to dinner with a successful producer and their spouse to connect and answer questions about the job. The goal is to see how the producer acts in public, treats service staff, treats their spouse and for our producer and their spouse to answer questions that the candidate and spouse have about the job, the commitment, the hours, the money, etc. It is critical that the producer is found to be kind and polite and professional, and that their spouse understands the job and supports the producer in taking the job. Once the producer passes this interview they are invited to meet the principal, offer pending.

Step 5: Interview #4 — Agency Principal

Interview #4 is conducted by the agency principals and is designed to ensure that the candidate is the type and quality of person the owners want in the agency. The principal should take the producer for a tour and talk about the history of the firm, his/her vision for the firm and the role the producer will play. The principal will answer any questions and offer advice on success to the producer. If the principal is in agreement with hiring, the producer is made an offer.

At iQ Consulting we believe that having an effective process for vetting potential production candidates offers the best insurance policy to protect you from making costly, failed, hiring decisions. It’s not a guarantee, but it is a process that when used effectively can net significant gains in profitability for your agency.

iQ Consulting is a Minneapolis based consultancy dedicated to Agency Performance and Organic Growth Acceleration through producer development. For over a decade, iQ has worked with many of the top agencies and brokerage firms in the U.S. and Canada to improve performance and establish effective sales cultures. David delivers seminars, keynotes and workshops for the insurance industry throughout North America. iQ partners with insurance companies and industry groups to deliver iQ’s No Plateau and ASAP Producer Success Academies which educate producers on success skills and improving performance through real world training and coaching. For more information on iQ Consulting visit www.iqsalescoach.com. Follow David’s “Your Sales iQ Blog” at http://www.insurancejournal.com/blogs/salesiq/. Contact David directly at david@iqsalescoach.com and 612-414-5618.