Interview: Allianz Insurance

Little bit of a change in course on this post – though having tried my hand at global lager markets, it shouldn’t be a surprise.  I thought for a change in scenery I would investigate a career into the extravagant and often headline-grabbing world of insurance.  Why ever would you do such a thing you ask?  Think of the dinner parties, the conversation massacres that might come of it!

I know, I know.  But everyone and their mother wants to be a banker.  Even when everyone and their mother hates bankers.  I don’t like following the trend.  That’s why when all my friends left school to become engineers, I rationalized that the world didn’t need anymore engineers, and that I’d have a much more exciting career with a non-numerical arts degree in business and finance.  Because the world would definitely need plenty of those come 2010!

So why insurance?  Well I came across an article in the FT discussing how the industry was struggling to convey to students that life in the insurance business was a lot more exciting that made out to be.  It got to talking about the often overlooked commercial side, dealing with the assessment of complex risks in areas such as aviation, shipping and property, as well as dealing with the claims following huge natural disasters.  But what narrowed my focus was what it had to say about the underwriting profession.  This is a role at the forefront of the industry, the bread and butter.  The adjectives “entrepreneurial” and “lively” jumped off the page.  Surely they couldn’t say that if it weren’t true.  Upon further investigation, I discovered that after 10 years, salaries ranged from £100k to £300k.  I can live with that.  One read through the Lloyd’s of London wiki page and I became very interested.  So I tested the waters with an application.

Upon speaking to a representative of Allianz at the Manchester Careers Fair, I thought that would be a good place to start.  They were friendly, open, and interested in me.  But most importantly, they weren’t just hyping a brand.  The rep replied to my followup email, even passed along my name to the recruiting department, so I couldn’t not apply. [If only we were allowed to tell the truth when asked why we were applying to that particular company].

So anyways, I was subsequently invited to sit the usual numeracy and verbal assessments.  I can’t remember what they were like.  But very standard.  And if they were by SHL, I had seen plenty of the same questions before.  Come on SHL, how hard is a little originality?  If you applied to my company, I’d make you pass Super Mario Brothers 3 in one sitting.  Now that’s a test of true skill.

Not too long afterwards I was invited for a 1v1 interview in Birmingham.  Upon arriving they were surprised to hear that I had to travel so far.

“You mean you don’t live in XXXX?” My CV in hand, pointing to my degree.

No, I live where it says at the top, where my address is.  Pointing to the top of my CV.

“Oh wow, that happens all the time it seems, candidates not living where they got their degree.  We could have arranged an interview for you at an office much closer.”

“No worries!”  I love commuting.

[Note to self: Underwriting requires a serious attention to detail, but really, not that much].

We sit down in a boardroom and Beth breaks down how the 45-minute interview will proceed.  I was a bit worried when she said that it would largely consist of questions about the role of an Underwriter and the company in general.  Worried because I had done next to no research on it.  Okay, maybe not nada, but everything I read about Underwriting could be summed up in about three bullet points.  The rest of the interview would be general competency questions.

I guess this is where I list out the questions asked.  I didn’t really fumble on any of them, but I recall repeating my answers quite a bit.  There was one though that I plain and simply said I don’t know to.  She didn’t seem to mind.

-What do you think Underwriters do?

-What skills do you think an Underwriter needs?

-Explain a time when you needed these skills.

-Why have you decided to pursue a career in insurance?

-Why have you decided to pursue a career in Underwriting?

-Why have you decided to apply to Allianz?

-What do you think you will learn in your three year graduate scheme?

-What challenges do you expect you will need to overcome upon joining us?

-Where do you want to be with your career in the long term?

-What are Allianz’s strengths?

-How do you pronounce Allianz?  [Hah!  But no.  For the record though, it’s Ah-lee-ahnz].

-Describe Allianz’s UK operations. (Uuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh, I don’t know).

-Name some of our competitors (Only remembered three so dropped a name I saw in a magazine in the lobby: “Aon – I think that’s how you pronounce it”.  I was then informed that Aon was not a competitor, but a broker, more of a partner if anything.  Whoops).

-And of course, Who else have you applied to?

-Tell me about a time when you worked in a team.  What obstacles did you need to overcome?

-Explain a role you had where you needed a business focus.  What was the most important skill you took from this?

-Tell me about a time when you sought to develop/challenge yourself.  What did you learn about yourself from this?

-Do you have any questions for me?

So this is my time to highlight my knowledge of the industry, right?  How does one do that exactly?  If I needed to ask a question about something, I really wouldn’t be that knowledgeable, would I?  And odds are, whatever headline-grabbing industry development I choose to inquire about, is not within the person they’ve chosen to interview me’s area of expertise.  So I should ask more about the graduate programme, right?  Well no because they already asked me what I thought I’d gain from it, implying I knew everything about it.  The website literally only had 250 words to say about it.  And a lot of it was huffpuff.  See for yourself here.

-I mentioned the “Medical Loss Ratio” law recently signed through in the US regarding the Obama healthcare reforms.  How do you think this will affect Allianz’s operations there?

-What challenges/growth prospects do Allianz face in the UK market?  I mentioned the rise of niche market insurance companies providing cover to patients with AIDS/HIV and other health conditions, is Allianz moving into this territory?

-How will the Solvency II measures affect business in the UK?

I wasn’t really getting any interesting responses to these and started feeling like a yuppy graduate, so toned it down.

-Where could I be in five years with Allianz?

-What opportunities are there for travel?

-How soon could I start to specialize in a particular field of insurance?

“Thank you kindly for having me in today, I look forward to hearing from you.”

Overall, the interview was about as exciting as a career in insurance sounds.  For an industry deeply concerned about its image, the interviewer did nothing to dispel these misconceptions.  In fact, when I brought up the exciting things I had read about and aspired to be apart of, she was quick to make me aware that the graduate scheme didn’t touch on these areas.  Or at least I think that’s what she said.  Her body language and tone certainly suggested my aspirations were a long way off.  I think I’ll send off a couple more insurance applications as I’m still quite interested in it.  This was perhaps just a bad example.

Outcome: Unsuccessful

12 thoughts on “Interview: Allianz Insurance”

  1. Priya_rose said…
    Hi TNG
    I had read ur post before going for my interview at capital iq……fast forward 2 months…today i read this post n guess what….i am placed at a life insurance company as a trainee in underwriting n risk mngt….i also think that insurance has more to offer….
    13 December 2010 08:16

    Priya_rose said…
    ps: i got placed on the same date, 10 dec 2010
    13 December 2010 08:17

    Hey Priya,

    Sorry I deleted your post. You have a very good eye/memory and somehow remembered my real name that I accidently wikileaked in that earlier post. Don’t need employers putting me on their hate-list; although I can’t think of a reason why they would!

    Anyways, that’s great news! I hope it’s what you were looking for. Very interesting coincidence. Too bad I didn’t get it as well 😛

    Off to a final round this week for a finance scheme. I am not letting my past mistakes and bad habits get the better of me this time!

  2. I don’t understand how someone of your obvious intelligence has failed to get a job so far, and my department is so full of morons! I really don’t!

  3. TNG, I too have no idea how you don’t have a job yet. Do you become a mumbling mess when it gets to crunch time? I had a job offer 4 weeks after I started applying for jobs and from the way you come across on this blog I can’t see how your results are not the same!

    I do like your blog though and I come back from time to time to see what you’ve written. It helped me with one of my interviews!

  4. Very appreciative of the comments fellow Anonymouses. I try not to blame external things for my failings, but there are always possibilities. I also try not to criticize my own shortcomings, but there’s always improvement to be made. I think I come across very well on paper, but when the time comes to present myself in person, maybe I don’t do a great job in communicating myself effectively.

    Something’s got to give. Can’t say I’m not trying!

    Thanks for reading.

  5. I totally get what you mean TNG. Being successful in an interview is pretty much a skill on it own which can only be improved on through experience. Especially in the recruitment climate we are in with loooads and looads of graduates and only a few roles out available, we are basically at the mercy of the big cap companies.

    All i can say is keep being persistent always look for ways to improve on your last performance. It may be that you still havent applied to place best suited for you yet. Something similar happend to me as a i got turned down for an unpaid internship at a boutique hedge fund not because i wasn’t good enough but because they decided to put the project on hold. Little did i know that a month later i’ll be getting paid interning at a big cap fund management company…

    Keep up the work TNG. its only a matter of time

  6. Great blog Sir,

    I have an interview next week with Allianz (finance). I’m going through the exact same stuff with regards to bottling it during interviews. The problem is that I know that I would be better than most candidates that get these roles, i just cant seem to get that across in an interview situation. Anyway onwards and upwards.

    Good luck

  7. I just had a telephone interview with Allianz with more or less exactly the same questions.
    I had the same experience as you in terms of why I was interested in the sector. To be honest I thought I did a pretty good job of articulating that interest during the interview and i’d done a fair amount of research into the industry beforehand so I handled most of the questions well.
    I didn’t get through to the assessment centre and they told me that due to high numbers of applicants there would be no feedback. Not much help.
    The big positive is the interview experience, hopefully I can figure out for myself what I didn’t do right and I’ll be able to impress the people from Zurich when I speak to them next week!

    Nice to know I’m not the only capable candidate who got turned away.

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