By Jacob Mihelich
Last summer I chose a nontraditional path for an accounting major and interned as a personal automobile underwriter at Auto-Owners Insurance in Lansing, Michigan. This experience was both challenging and eye-opening for me; not only did underwriting expose me to a new industry, but it also taught me the value of soft skills. I approached Auto-Owners Insurance at the Fall Career Fair last year hoping to land an internship in their accounting department. After talking with the recruiter about open opportunities and my mom’s position as an underwriter at another company, she suggested that I apply for the underwriting internship. Insurance has always been interesting to me, so I gave it a shot.
Although I was hired as a temporary employee for the summer, I was treated as a new hire, receiving a full-time employee’s training and the freedom to make underwriting decisions. I had a wonderful trainer and training group that I spent five weeks with. The six of us took a light-hearted approach to learn the material, but there was certainly a lot to understand. Underwriting is a detailed process that takes many factors into account to ensure that each insurance policy is properly written to ensure adequate risk, rating, and eligibility. Learning this skill was very involved, but Betsy was sure to keep things interesting with conversation and even bubbles in our training area for when we needed a break.
Once I completed the training, I moved down to the underwriting floor, where I would spend the rest of my summer. I was paired with a rotating mentor who sat with me for an hour each day for a month to review my work before I released it. Throughout this time, I was slowly allowed to release my work for processing without it being reviewed.
Oftentimes, the agents I worked with had been doing their jobs for longer than I have been alive, but I had the final call on if a policy was written correctly. Since I was essentially auditing the agent’s work, it was inevitable that I would need to make a correction from time to time or ask for additional information. When I made a decision to adjust policy or ask for more information, I needed to ensure it was necessary, as it affected both the agent and insured. I did my research and asked for help from experienced underwriters when I was in doubt. Once my decision was made, finding the best way to explain my position then became the challenging part, as I had to strive to be confident in my decision while also remaining open to the agent’s viewpoint and the circumstances. Although I did my homework, I too made mistakes. I quickly admitted my error, apologized sincerely, and corrected the issue. I realized that everyone is bound to make mistakes, so it’s about how we rebound that matters.
My teammates were always willing to help and support me. I also got to know the other underwriting interns in my building. We’d take short breaks to have breakfast pizza to celebrate the team or for a birthday card to get passed around for everyone to sign. We also hosted larger celebrations throughout the summer like a salsa competition and a barbecue. When I reflect on my experience, learning the type of people I want to work with was one of the most important parts of my internship experience. When you get to work with friendly people, everything else is better, too. I couldn’t have asked for a better intern experience than the one I received at Auto-Owners. I learned so much about how auto insurance works—a useful skill for anyone. I also improved my soft skills and confidence. For anyone who is considering an internship that doesn’t quite fit their path, I say, go for it!
An internship is a great way to try something new. Why spend the rest of your life wondering what may have been?