Insurance Agent Careers — Controlling Your Own Destiny While Caring for People

A young man with beard and glasses goes through the details of an insurance policy.

Jack Ruane III sought a career that focused on human interaction: insurance agent.

Jack Ruane III was an accounting major in college, but when it came time to graduate, he sought a career that offered him a chance for more human interaction: insurance agent.

“I like talking to people, and it’s pretty flexible. A lot of what I do, I can do from anywhere,” said Ruane, a senior sales producer for Allstate in Concordville, Pennsylvania. “I couldn’t have just sat behind a desk all day.”

Ask most people to picture a career in the insurance industry, and they’ll probably think of an independent agent — or producer, as they’re also known. Think Jake from State Farm or any of those other State Farm professionals who appear out of nowhere. They’re the people who sell insurance, and clients look to them to make sure that their policies offer the right protection. This decision-making power is why we call agents Quarterbacks of Coverage.

To be successful, agents need top-notch people skills in addition to a deep knowledge of how insurance works — from home and auto policies to life and health insurance. And great agents need to be ambitious; a big part of the job is tracking down new clients. That means a lot of time on the phone, countless emails, lots of face-to-face conversations, and a schedule that revolves around customers. (While he was speaking with us, Ruane’s office phones were constantly ringing.)

But agents also have flexibility and control over when they work and how much. Since much of the job revolves around sales, the harder you work, the more you stand to earn.

In 2015, U.S. News & World Report listed insurance agent seventh in its “25 Business Jobs to Watch in 2015.” What’s more, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the position to grow by 9 percent in the next 10 years, which is faster than the overall average growth of all careers.

We know what you’re thinking: What about all those customers bypassing insurance agents and just buying coverage online? Research shows that 60 percent of them eventually switch back to working with an agent to get more value.

Insurance agents earned a median salary of $47,860 in 2014. The top 10 percent made almost $120,000 a year. Most agents earned at least some of their pay through commission, sometimes on top of a base salary. Independent brokers who sell products from multiple companies are even more likely to get commission-based earnings. Agents at larger firms often earn bonuses as incentives for exceeding sales goals or bringing in new business.

To be an agent, you don’t necessarily need a college degree; you can get on-the-job training right off the bat. Every state in the U.S. requires a license to sell insurance to groups, companies and individuals. After getting your license, it’s largely up to you to determine how hard you want to work toward advancement — one way to do so is to earn industry certifications and designations.

Ruane’s father is an insurance agent, and Ruane followed in his footsteps. He says that while it is a lot of work to get started as an agent, it’s easier now than ever before because technology has automated a lot of the work and largely taken the cold-calling aspect out of it. Now, people often make inquires online, and agents follow up on those requests.

Ruane also said that insurance agents today are more successful if they’re helpful and truthful — not like the pushy stereotype many people imagine when they think of sales.

“We’re not used cars salesmen,” he said. “As long as you’re honest with people, they’re going to go with you.”