Since I’ve retired, I’ve periodically helped friends, family, and ex-colleagues work on their resumes. This got me reminiscing about my own interview and employment experiences. I’ve decided to blog about some of these. Here’s the first installment in that series.
It was December, six months after I’d graduated, and as with most English Literature majors (particularly ones with a creative writing emphasis), I had no job and was living with my parents. To my credit, I was actively exploring sources of income, preferably ones that would leverage my writing degree. I knew my very first job would be important as it would set the context for all future jobs, so I was being picky. I didn’t want to set myself up with a low initial career trajectory. At least, not any lower than it already was.
One day I saw a newspaper ad that a national insurance company was looking to hire entry-level underwriters. Hey, a writing position! (This shows you how little I knew about insurance back then. I’m not sure I even knew how to spell “insurance.”) I wasn’t excited about this industry, but, hey, it was a writing position!
So I applied.
To my surprise and muted interest, they asked me to come in for an interview. When I arrived, it turned out to be a tiny satellite office and everyone who worked there was gone except for one person: a pompous ass of a beer-bellied middle-aged guy who had never been taught the concept of “inside voice.” I disliked him immediately and hoped he wouldn’t be my manager. He went on to tell me that he hoped we’d work together because he was impressed with my resume. I distinctly remember being puzzled that anyone would be impressed by my resume. Other than my degree from Stanford, it consisted solely of part-time and summer jobs.
After five minutes of completely forgettable chitchat about who he was and his role in the office, he told me that he needed to head out the door because he was off to sign a major, big bucks corporate insurance policy deal. But no worries. All potential employees needed to take a math test as well as a personality test. He would set me up for the tests and when I was done I could just let myself out.
I had been ambivalent about even applying. Now I was pissed. And whatever the hell an underwriter was, I was positive I didn’t want to be one. But since I was here and wanted to make my 30 minute drive to the “interview” somewhat worthwhile, I decided to take the tests. The math test consisted of a bunch of basic arithmetic questions, some “what’s next in the sequence” questions, and a few word problems. I wondered if it was supposed to be timed. If it were, it probably would have been challenging.
The personality test made me laugh out loud. Many of the questions seemed to have obvious answers – obvious if you wanted to work in insurance. Two questions were particularly memorable. One asked something akin to, “Would you rather sit under a tree and read a book of poetry, or would you rather climb the tree?” Although I could usually spot the answer that seemed to be the industry-desired response, I decided to answer the questions the way I really felt. So I filled the circle next to “climbing the tree.” When I got to the question that read, “I believe that most people have, a) not enough insurance, b) just the right amount of insurance, or c) too much insurance,” I chose “c”.
About a week later I got a call from my friend at the insurance company. “Well, I’ve got some good news and bad news. You totally killed the math part of the test. The personality test was a different story. You can get one of three grades. A ‘pass’, which means I could hire you right now. A ‘fail’, which means you could take the test again in three months, or an ‘I’, which means ‘incompatible.’ You don’t really believe in insurance, do you?”
Me: “No. I’m twenty-two.”
By the way: From https://www.investopedia.com:
“Insurance underwriters are professionals who evaluate and analyze the risks of insuring people and assets and establish pricing for accepted insurable risks.”
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