Graduating into Insurance

Yazmin photoWe recently had the pleasure of introducing Yazmin Lauren Doughty Gachette, the student ambassador from the fast-growing insurance company Catlin, to our students at Queen Mary. Afterwards, we spoke to Yazmin about how she is progressing from a politics degree at Queen Mary into insurance.

How did you get the job? Well, as a politics student I knew I didn’t have a lot of City experience, so I made sure I got an internship.  In the summer at the end of my second year I did more than one. Including a week at PwC as well as an internship at Catlin. I also had some work experience in a building society.  Out of all of these, I think the internship with Catlin made the biggest difference because over eight weeks I got to learn a lot about how the company works and how the insurance business works.

What did you do on the internship? The first week is an intensive course on the insurance market – lots of good lectures that explain how it all works.  The rest of the time I was working in the stream I’d applied for, Human Resources. During my time at Catlin, I worked on various projects that involved working with people from across the business, both within the UK and globally. I also had an on going project that involved me researching the company intranet and making proposals to the senior HR team about how it could be improved; many of the suggestions are now being considered for implementation. I also worked with my line manager to research, and then gain, Catlin its Living Wage Accreditation, which was extremely rewarding. Across the streams, the interns had various projects to deliver on varying scales. One finance intern had to conduct a video conference to senior managers across the globe and explain a section of the half-year financial report.

What difference did the internship make?  Well I think understanding the business was important.  Beyond this developing confidence around a professional environment was key.  Things you never learn on a course: how to organise a meeting, book rooms, send out invitations, making sure the room is ‘prepped’ and, of course, talking to senior people. I really got to understand the company as well – what is important to them and what makes them different.

What tips do you have for applicants? I think the main thing for any application is to be clear in your head why you want to apply for that role, company and field. They’ll know that you’ve probably applied to more than one internship/graduate programme, which could be for different roles and sectors. Usually, the first few questions for any assessment centre or telephone interview (sometimes both) are: Why Catlin? Why Insurance? Why Underwriting? You should be able to answer these concisely without rambling.

  • To really understand the company, follow news stories for both the sector and the company. Sector changes could include market conditions (without being too technical, but just very generally, e.g. the economy is not yet back to pre-2008 levels, or, with the recent airline crashes, 2014 has been a tough year for the aviation insurance industry – you just need an awareness). It could also include new legislation (once again not being too technical), that will affect how the company operates (could be recent EU legislation or changes to the budget)! You could subscribe to Insurance Day for general sector knowledge – not too sure on their price but I think there is a free trial.
  • Company wise, follow their charity events. Catlin is very big on their Catlin Seaview Survey project, which conducts scientific research about coral reefs. The company also support local schools in East London like St Paul’s Way Trust, so have an awareness of the work they do there. Follow key changes to the board – if the day before your telephone interview or assessment centre there is a major board change (for example), it would be good to be aware of this. Follow new offices opening. I found that a good way to do this is to type in the company into Google and then click ‘news’; that way you can get a range of sources which have reported on a range of issues to do with the company.
  • Many companies have ‘values’, so be sure you understand what they are and what they mean to the company. Have clear examples of how you have demonstrated these values – don’t make all your examples from university, try and have some from part-time work or friendship groups or volunteering for example. This is really how they judge if you will fit in to the company culture. After some of my assessment centres, I got feedback that though I displayed good qualities they felt I wouldn’t fit in with their culture. I think this is most likely to be as a result of my answers to the values questions.
  • With underwriting, you have to show that you are confident and approachable because you need to attract business (brokers) and build rapport easily. Different companies like to have this demonstrated in different ways. I know Catlin doesn’t like this to come across in an arrogant way.
  • Get a feel for the sector by researching other insurance companies – such as Hiscox, Aon, Beazley, Ascot, Liberty, Argo and Kiln – so you understand what makes Catlin different. Research LLoyd’s of London, too (the ‘marketplace’ in which all of the above syndicates underwrite business):

Yazmin, you have also had experience of lots of different assessment centres. What are your tips from these experiences?  It is true that I applied for lots of internships and went to lots of assessment centres – between seven and ten before I got accepted. This included lots in the finance sector … companies such as Schroders, PWC, HSBC, M & G Investments as well as Catlin.

I have to say at first my experience was really daunting.  The first one took place in a strange city to me, Birmingham, and I had to spend a night in a hotel which had a great view of where the assessment centre was going to be taking place the next day! That didn’t do my nerves any good.  The main thing about this first, pretty disastrous, experience was it demonstrated the need to prepare on company and sector knowledge. I knew about the company values, but I hadn’t got enough knowledge of the company – their share price, what was happening in their Shanghai office, for example, and I couldn’t place this news in a bigger context – at that time scandals like LiBOR were rocking the sector.

Another one went awry because I didn’t read instructions properly.  A written exercise was meant to read like a narrative report and I submitted a bullet-pointed briefing paper. I know others also made basic mistakes – one applicant told me she hadn’t thought to turn over the page to get the full instructions.

The M&G one was interesting – it worked better because I got through to the next round after my written exercise, I have to say I was surprised!  I had to pick a company and write about what a company is doing to adapt to the modern world. You were given time but no research facilities such as the internet.  I wrote a piece about Apple.  I didn’t think it was that good, but it got me through to the next round.

I got a lot better at assessment centres – SHL provide material for most of them so you can get a good idea how they go with practice.  The other tip I have is about the group exercises. I think it is pretty important to make sure you speak up fairly soon in the group exercise, but you don’t have to completely dominate the group.  What they are looking for is people who can interact well and listen as well as get their point across.  In one assessment centre we all had to make a case for a particular course of action.  It would not have gone well if I had got attached to my recommendation being chosen. It’s all about negotiation and working together.

Useful Links

The website for the summer internship programme is here: – the essential links to Insurance careers

Discover Risk The Chartered Insurance Institute site with jobs, news and case studies


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