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Next Wave
Owning Your Development

It’s up to you to make time for professional development.
  • Carly Burnham
  • June 2019
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Carly Burnham

The responsibility for professional development increasingly is led by the individual.

Carly Burnham

“You'll never get bored; there is always something new to learn.” That's one of the most common things I've heard since joining the insurance industry. And it's true. Insurance is a dynamic ecosystem that touches all aspects of individuals' lives and businesses' processes. As our clients' needs and risks change, we adapt.

But in order to do so effectively, we must continually update our own skill sets and knowledge. That means taking ownership of our professional development.

Though some employers make an effort to guide individuals in their career development, the responsibility for professional development increasingly is led by the individual.

Whether your company gives you time to focus on development or you have to carve out time on your own, it is incumbent on each of us to develop plans that fit our interests and our style of learning to stay current.

Here are a few tactics that have worked for me:

Schedule the time. I block off the first 30 minutes of my day for educating myself.

This can be as informal as reading some articles or as formal as studying for a designation.

Setting the time aside in the morning means I don't lose track of the day and neglect this important task. But if you're even less of a morning person than I am, commit to whatever time slot works best for you.

Consume company material. As a fresh underwriter, I read policy forms for 15 minutes of my allotted time. When I was selling, I reviewed our marketing materials. It's important to know your company, so learning about other divisions and their work would also be applicable. Understanding the company you work for and the role you're in will help you to improve on day-to-day skills.

Consume external material. While it's important to know about the products you work on and the advantages your company holds, it's also important to know your competition.

Visit competitors' websites and read their marketing materials. Read trade magazines, attend networking events, go to conferences. And don't just focus on insurance material when searching for external sources of education. If you're in personal lines, look to understand consumer trends. If you're in commercial lines, look to understand the workings of the industries you're targeting.

Be goal driven, but not laser focused. If you're working to acquire a designation or complete a degree, by all means it is best to devote your time to that goal. But a curious mind that explores topics that aren't immediately related to your day-to-day work is also valuable. The most interesting innovations often come from disparate sources.

If you're an underwriter but you have a passion for coaching your daughter's basketball team, learn all you can about that. You might bring some communication strategies back to the office or form some new opinions about insuring organizations that work with students. You never know what ideas will emerge when you're learning about things that truly interest you.

Whether you are new to the insurance industry or have been around awhile, there is always something new to learn.

If you're a people leader, talk to your employees about how they best learn and what they're doing to gain knowledge and skills. Insurance depends on each of us knowing as much as we can about the work we do and sharing that knowledge. Besides all that, learning is fun!

Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at and can be reached at

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