Liberty Mutual is not your grandfather's insurance company (though it's probably older than him).
The Boston-based giant, the fifth-largest property and casualty firm in the country, has a robust campus recruiting program and spends more time looking for candidates in other industries than it does poaching people from its competitors.
FINS sat down with Christine Lahey, Liberty's manager of corporate employment, to discuss its hiring momentum, its new building in Boston and why upcoming grads are interested in joining up.
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Kyle Stock: Can you bring me up to date on recent hiring?
Christine Lahey: I'm happy to say that we're seeing a return to a typical year. Typically we hire about 5,000 a year across the country. Last year, we brought in about 4,000. It made sense though because turnover was pretty low and everyone was kind of hunkering down.
KS: There's been a bit of a resurgence in life insurance.
CL: That's fair to say. The business is fairly strong. Property insurance has been active as well. We just had a hail storm in the Midwest, so that always affects the homeowners business.
KS: What's your hiring mix in terms of senior versus junior candidates?
CL: About 75% of the folks that we hire are experienced in some way shape or form, whether it's a professional or para-professional. About 25% would be college hires right off the campus. For the personal market, they're really the only people who are hiring sales folks in any great numbers. They're hiring typically about 500 a year.
KS: Where are the more experienced folks coming from?
CL: Other insurance companies or other businesses where they have skills that are transferable. We actually don't hire a lot of experienced salespeople from other insurance companies, but we do hire from other industries. We're not looking for B-to-B, we're looking for B-to-C -- something like car sales, where they are dealing with the public. Once you get a little bit higher, we might look for somebody who's got good operational experience, at any company.
KS: How have your search strategies changed since the crisis?
CL: We got 350,000 unsolicited resumes last year, so our search techniques are more about how you to get through all of those resumes, so we actually pick the right candidate. For the most part, we do a lot of searching electronically. We have access to all of the big databases. We use LinkedIn a lot. And there are always a lot of referrals.
KS: A lot of insurance companies are getting into more broad financial advising and wealth management. Does Liberty Mutual have any plans along those lines?
CL: No. I would say that I don't know of any desire to get into that area, but I'm not in strategy, so I don't know what they will cook up.
KS: The company has quite an extensive investment portfolio. Does it hire a lot for those fund-management capabilities?
CL: There are what I would consider a small number of positions that they fill. I would say that our entire investment group is pretty small. It's in the couple hundred people kind of range. It might bring in a dozen a year, but probably not more than that.
KS: So from a net perspective, where will the company be at this year staff-wise?
CL: We are growing organically and there's plans for incremental growth, but not in any one particular area. Over the last couple of years we've grown about 10% in the Boston office. Not through any one program. Because we just keep getting bigger.
In certain incremental pockets there may be a directive to grow 5% or 6%.
KS: What areas?
CL: Chicago. Maybe Charlotte. I think Seattle's OK. Potentially Philadelphia. And Texas is always a big one for us, the Dallas area.
KS: Historically, how much has your Boston office grown?
CL: Our historical average employee growth in the home office is 165 per year for the last five years and 83 per year for the last 15 years. However, that depends on business conditions. We expect to add 600 new jobs over time with our construction of a new building in the home office campus.
KS: Liberty bought Safeco in 2008, how has that marriage gone?
CL: I think that the integration has gone well. It allowed us to redefine our footprint a little on the agency market side of the business. They're at a steady state now. There was a net loss (of employees) with the Safeco acquisition, with some redundancies, but that's not continuing. We didn't have a lot of a footprint in the Northwest and Safeco did, so it just made sense in a lot of ways.
KS: Does Liberty use outside recruiters?
CL: We've actually brought it all in house. But we don't have a centralized structure, it's actually very decentralized.
KS: Say I'm looking for a job with the company in Arizona, how would I got about that?
CL: There's a recruiter who owns that particular area. We're also doing some video interviewing. At some point, there would likely have to be a face-to-face meeting. When we do our searches, we're searching our system, as well all those databases. We have an aggregator that kind of sits on top of all of that infrastructure and looks for the proper candidates.
KS: Is it still a buyer's market for talent?
CL: I see a little loosening. I would say last year, we had our pick. This year, it's still a buyer's market, we just have to work a little harder to bring those folks in.
There are still a lot of applicants. But there are some areas where it's always tough to find people. There are only so many actuaries in the country. Product management is also a hot area. Sales is always a focus for us. It's not difficult finding the quantity of people interested in sales roles, but finding the right person is challenging.
KS: Does the firm focus on promoting from within?
CL: Absolutely. We think: "How do we bring them in and groom them so that in three years they'll be where we want them to be?" It's just really about making a connection with Liberty Mutual from a culture perspective.
KS: How do you do that?
CL: It's a matter of bringing people in and letting them spend a little time with us. You get a feeling of the company as soon as you enter the door.
KS: How about campus recruiting? Are kids interested in the insurance industry?
CL: The college students rank us with financial services; they don't actually rank us as insurance, which is interesting. The worst thing is to be thought of as your grandfather's insurance company and I don't think we are. We've got 26 core campuses where we have people on campus. We're in the classrooms, we're in with the clubs, so they can really get to know us. I think they're getting it. I think it's been the last three or four years that we've really started to differentiate ourselves among insurance companies.
KS: To wrap up, how much did your hiring pace slow last year.
CL: I'm not comfortable giving you the exact figures, but I will tell you there's been about a 2% swing. We were down 2% last year.
KS: And you are back up to average this year?
CL: Well, slowly climbing there.
Write to Kyle Stock