Most employers require agents to have a high school diploma; however, more than one-third of insurance sales agents have a bachelor's degree. Agents must be licensed in the states where they work.
A high school diploma is the typical requirement for insurance sales agents, although more than one-third of insurance sales agents have a bachelor’s degree. Public speaking classes can be useful in improving sales techniques, and often agents will have taken courses in business, finance, or economics. Business knowledge is also helpful for sales agents hoping to advance to a managerial position.
Insurance sales agents learn many of their job duties on the job from other agents. Many employers have new agents shadow an experienced agent. This allows the new agent to learn how to conduct the company’s business and how the agency interacts with clients.
Employers also are increasingly placing greater emphasis on continuing professional education as the variety of financial products sold by insurance sales agents increases. Changes in tax laws, government benefits programs, and other state and federal regulations can affect the insurance needs of clients and the way in which agents conduct business. Agents can enhance their selling skills and broaden their knowledge of insurance and other financial services by taking courses at colleges and universities or by attending conferences and seminars sponsored by insurance organizations.
Insurance sales agents must have a license in each of the states where they work. Separate licenses are required for agents to sell life and health insurance and property and casualty insurance. In most states, licenses are issued only to applicants who complete specified courses and who pass state exams covering insurance fundamentals and state insurance laws. Most state licensing authorities also require agents to take continuing education courses every 2 years, focusing on insurance laws, consumer protection, ethics, and the technical details of various insurance policies.
As the demand for financial products and financial planning services increases, many agents also choose to get licensed and certified to sell securities and other financial products. Doing so, however, requires substantial study and passing an additional exam—either the Series 6 or Series 7 licensing exam, both of which are administered by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). The Series 6 exam is for people who want to sell only mutual funds and variable annuities. The Series 7 exam is the main NASD series license that qualifies agents as general securities sales representatives.
A number of organizations offer certifications that show an agent’s expertise in insurance specialties. These certifications are not required for employment, but they can give job candidates an advantage over other applicants. Certifications can also be a source of continuing education credit. For details on specific designations, contact The American Institute for Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriters and The American College.
Analytical skills. Insurance sales agents must evaluate the characteristics of each client to determine the appropriate insurance policy.
Customer-service skills. Insurance sales agents must be able to communicate effectively with customers by listening to their requests and suggesting suitable policies.
Initiative. Insurance sales agents need to actively seek out new customers to maintain a flow of commissions.
Self-confidence. Insurance sales agents should be confident when making “cold” calls (calls to prospective customers who have not been contacted before). They must speak clearly and persuasively and maintain their composure if rejected.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition