The following is my experience interviewing for a sales position with Combined Insurance:
As with many of those online resume caches and job search agents, I had my resume listed on Monster and CareerBuilder and was contacted by a regional director from Combined Insurance who had seen it posted. Now, always leery of those annoying pyramid-type "leverage" marketing schemes, I called the number and asked a few questions before I agreed to an interview. The nice Texas woman with her comforting southern accent took my call, answered my preliminary questions, and kindly scheduled a meeting in a legitimate business development outside of Pittsburgh. After a decade in the miserable world of retail management, I was really excited to finally "start my career" in the typical 8-5 M-F business world. Hooray!!
After hitting it off with the regional director, he quickly seated me at a table and had me take a "cognitive ability" test which was reminiscent of my high school SAT test, and those corny online IQ tests. After aceing that test, (you get 12 minutes to answer 50 questions, which is nearly impossible, but they know that. They just want you to answer as many as you can correctly) I was given the lowdown about the company's history, earning potential, services, etc. I was told that after being hired, they'd fly me out to Chicago for a week of intensive training where I'd be tested and earn my liscenses. They also said they were looking for management trainees and I had great potential to make it very high up the ladder. Advancement based on merit and not tenure? Sounds good to me! Possibility to earn six figures in your first three years? That'd be nice! So far so good. They asked me if it would be something I'd be interested in, and on a scale of 1 to 10, I responded "9 and 1/2."
Later that night I received a phone call congratulating me and asking me to come out for my second interview. Somebody pop open the champaign, cuz I'm in like Flynn (or is it Flint?).
Ah yes, now here's where the fun begins. (I thank the agent I shadowed for his honesty, because I had tons of questions and I learned a whole lot about the business from those six hours on the road together.)
I met up with the staff at Panera at 9:30 the following morning while their meeting was already in progress. That took about an hour. I was told by the branch manager I'd be shadowing (I'll refer to him as) "Ron" to learn how a typical day goes. And at the end of the day they'd ask me what I thought and we'd go from there, always remaining courteous and friendly. Ron told me we'd be hitting an area quite a distance from the meeting place. Just how far, now that was a surprise.
I followed Ron in my car for about 60 miles to a very rural part of western Pennsylvania. It felt like a scene out of Deliverance. As we dropped my car off at Wal-Mart, I jumped in his SUV and we drove another 20 miles to our first appointment. Turns out that these "appointments" were merely cold calls with people's names he had received from a database generated from Combined's AON sister companies. (A few years back I had interviewed with Prudential and they wanted me to start by contacting family members and friends, so in comparison, Combined's approach is much more appreciable.) Combined emphasizes "referrals" - after you present and (hopefully) close the sale, you ask if the new policy holder (or denyer) knows anybody who could benefit from their products. What's ingenious here is they have a binder full of names of people in the area who have or had policies with Combined or its sister companies, and during your warm-up you lay that list out in front of the "customer" in order to persuade the "customer" into thinking all his/her neighbors are doing it so why not them too? Referrals are names not on the list.
Anyway, that's the sales part. However, I had learned on one of the appointments that the prospective buyer and his family were both ex-policy holders who had cancelled with Combined years earlier due to a rejection of their claims. Now, because of my ignorance of the case, I did not judge. But it did leave an impression that maybe this is one of those long term disability insurance companies that often deny claims to keep payouts at a minimum. Whatever.
OK. Back to Ron. He joined the company in January and went through all the training, yadda yadda. He confided in me that if it weren't for his wife's full time income, he'd be in big trouble. Here's why: he averages 150 miles a day and he drives a big SUV. He spends over $100 a week on gas. Combined neither reimburses him for his gas nor mileage. He responded that he'll "write it off" on his taxes. But come on, I own my own business and it's not like the IRS pays you back that $100 at the end of the year. (You just enter a lower tax bracket.) So please, don't try to sell me with that one. Also, with the meeting not letting out until close to 11:00 am, that pushed the selling day back and you end up working until 8:00 pm or later. I was told to look forward to 10-12 hour days, but that's how hard you have to work to make over 50 grand a year!
I was told that for every policy you write (sell), you could earn approx 33% in commission. Ron told me, "If I sell $3000 in policies today, I'd be paid about $1000." The way the paychecks worked out was never truly revealed, but there would be residual pay on continuing policies. So the more policies you get, the more you get paid - obviously. But, selling $3000 in a day is very optimistic. $3000 a week is a good week, according to Ron. And, you DON'T RECEIVE A SALARY. It's pretty much all commission after the initial training period ends.
Ron's branch had planned a week-long trip to a little town far north of Pittsburgh where they'd require a four-night hotel stay. Guess what! Combined does not incur that cost either. Yup. You pay it and "write it off!" So, let's see here. During a trip to a new area, you could:
- spend $150 in gas
- spend $200 in hotel room fees ($50/night)
- spend $150 on meals
- accumulate over 600 miles on your vehicle
and let's not forget about the intangibles like time away from your family and low quality of life. (my motto is "work to live, never live to work!") Adjusted over a year's time, that works out to $26,000. Now, you're not going to be out of town every week, but the branch manager did tell me that sales people spend "over $10,000 a year in gas." So, let's see, $50,000 - $10,000 (avg. gas) - $3000 (avg. hotels) - $1500 (avg. meals) = $35,500. Yippeee! A lower tax bracket! Though, I'd rather have that $14,500 back.
After my day with Ron, I drove another 80 miles back to my home and talked with the branch manager on my cell. He asked what I thought and I informed him of my concerns: no salary, no mileage or gas reimbursement, no hotel reimbursement, etc. He asked if I ever had a job making over $50,000 a year. I had not and told him so. He then proceeded to inform me that starting any business costs money, and most businesses don't see a profit their first year. Now, I wasn't aware I would be "starting a business" by accepting a position with Combined. And how can I pay my bills if I'm not "making a profit?" ie: not earning any money? Besides, how can I be staring a business as a bottom-level salesperson?
Then he retorted, "If you're trying to find an insurance job that pays mileage, good luck! If you find one, let me know and I'll tell my sales people to go with them!"
The irony that was obviously lost on him was the fact that I had not applied for this position, I was merely recruited and was intrigued enough to interview for it, to find out about what opportunities were available and what they could offer me. I was not "looking for an insurance job." They found my resume on a website and I bit.
So, what's the point to this story? It's a journal of my experience interviewing with Combined Insurance which I hope to be helpful to anyone who may be contacted by them. If you are right out of college, don't have a family, and have some money saved, this may be a great opportunity for you. It's a lot of traveling, a lot of money, and basically door-to-door sales. But, it would pay off a few years down the line. However, for a guy in his thirties who is settled with a family and needs a job-type job, I advise against this career choice. Family and quality of life is important. If making money is what's most important - and unfortunately in America it usually is - then go for it! Hey, I have insurance and I bought it from someone just like you! Enjoy the residuals from my policy while you're on another week-long stay in Nowheresville, USA. Isn't gas at like $3.05 a gallon now?
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