Insurance Post

Reading between the lines

Looking and applying for a new job can prove a lengthy process. Martin Delahoyde says a detailed reading of advertisements can quickly put applicants in a stronger position

Job advertisements are more than a quick way of comparing your salary to that of your peers. For anyone looking to move, job adverts are the first line of research and a vital tool in ensuring you do not waste your time and effort on unsuitable positions.

To make the most of this potential for research, it is vital to read between the lines of a job advertisement, which is ultimately designed to promote the company and position available.

Traditionally, job seekers are primarily interested in salary. However, work/life balance issues have become increasingly important to many people and job adverts often contain the first indications of a company's commitment to these additional benefits.

Example analysis

It may sound obvious, but first of all consider the position. In this example (right) the specification is commercial underwriting, not personal.

This kind of basic filtering is vital to stop busy candidates wasting their time. The use of more precise search terms is also crucial if you are searching for positions via the internet.

Another seemingly obvious point is to check the location of the roles being offered. In the example below, it is "North of England".

For your dream job, a move or commute of 50 miles a day may be no problem but if you intend to stay in London, jobs in Manchester will be of little relevance. Again, internet search engines can help filter viable opportunities on a geographical basis.

The first paragraph in a job advertisement is designed to tell you either about the role or the company. As you read through the details offered, think and consider if this is the type of position and organisation you are looking for. Is it similar to the place you are leaving or does it sound totally different?

In this example, the company is described as a "leading underwriter".

And the company type can be one of the key parameters within a job specification.

Does your experience match that of the company looking to recruit? Are you currently an occasional client of such a firm and, therefore, well placed to improve the client service perspective?

The regionally specific detail given "Manchester and network of offices covering the North of England, the Midlands and Wales", not only gives the industry-aware candidate clues to the company's identity but also suggests the possibility of movement around the UK, and perhaps flexibility in location.

Next comes the phrase "dedicated to providing the best possible service to both Brokers and Underwriters". Assertions of a company's mission or core values are important to note. They dictate company priorities and give insights into their atmosphere and culture. Customer service priorities indicate a great deal of communication and transparency with clients, and stating a focus on client base growth means an emphasis on new business or increasing penetration.

The second paragraph in this example relates the company to the role, though in larger advertisements may go into greater company detail. In either case such paragraphs provide the first level of your research into the company.

The third paragraph generally contains the person specification, revealing the ideal candidate the client seeks.

Finally comes the 'pay off' paragraph, outlining the rewards offered.

But beware of reading this first to find out how much is on offer because no remuneration will compensate for a bad choice.

- The key phrase is "established aggressive targets for 2004/2005".

This is the justification for the recruitment and shows that it will probably be measured against these new targets. Therefore, candidates who can hit the ground running with minimal induction will be at a distinct advantage.

It is also worth considering if you are happy working in such a measurement-orientated environment, or if you are looking to leave this behind? The line "recruiting ambitious underwriters at various levels" indicates that there are many openings here - so a lack of seniority may not be a problem to secure an interview. The specification of "ambitious" suggests the company wants candidates eager to make their mark, but combined with the reference to "aggressive targets" suggests it is specifically looking for candidates motivated by money and financial remuneration. Indicating vertical markets as "manufacturing and property" is important as it suggests the classes of insurance you would be writing. Do you have experience of these sectors and are you aware of the issues within them?

- The flexibility of location described here is an increasing trend and can make the logistics of moving to a new position easier. The reporting structure detailed gives an indication both of role seniority and, in this case, a large underwriting team as it mentions a departmental head.

Furthermore, reference to a "work/life balance" suggests a forward-thinking employer and flexible employment hours. This is worth considering against other benefits such as salary if you have other family-type commitments.

And the phrase "provision of staff training and prospects for career progression" should also be noted. Such long-term considerations are a key component of any benefits package and they can drastically increase your marketability as a candidate in the future.

- "4 years commercial underwriting experience in similar or related markets. Expertise in renewal portfolios and the ability to handle new business are essential. Progression towards ACII is desirable" is almost a tick-list of required skills and attributes - these should be matched to your experience. If you have a lot of relevant attributes and experience, highlight it in your application or covering letter. The length of experience is usually quite flexible and is relevant to results delivered - three years' experience but an excellent track record is better than four years' experience with poorer results. The skills and experience mentioned are less flexible - ask yourself if you have this type of experience.

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