5 Strategies to Advance Your Career as an Hourly Employee

In 2019 we added a video companion to this article:


So you went to school for 5 years, got your college degree and found yourself working an hourly job even with degree in hand? That sucks! But don’t despair, it’s happened to many, many of us. There are certainly advantages to being a non-exempt (hourly) employee, such as overtime and holiday pay and the ability to truly leave your work at the door when you’re done for the day. However, a lot of the hourly roles out there present challenges for those who are looking to grow and develop professionally.

Both Tony and Carly spent time in such roles as they started their insurance careers, in hourly claims and customer service/sales respectively. Regulations for hourly employees grew out of a good idea: protecting employees from being forced to work unpaid overtime. But, the environment is such now that employees may be held back by the rules that were originally put in place to protect them. We are not naive enough to think that we can change the regulations, but we hope we can at least give you some strategies to continue growing your career even while you’re temporarily in an hourly role.

Many entry-level roles in the insurance industry are in service center positions. These are almost always staffed by non-exempt employees. Many of the employees in the service centers would like to learn about the broader industry beyond their typically specialized niche, but they are advised that they may only be in the office during their scheduled hours, because the company is trying to avoid being sued for overtime if the employee is in the office for other activities. This becomes really problematic when companies do not build in development time for the staff, and we all know that after decades of corporate cost-cutting there’s very little fat left in most employee’s schedules, and you’re expected to largely develop yourself on your own time. It becomes even more frustrating when employees who want to grow their career are advised that they need to job shadow to learn about potential opportunities or attend meetings for Associate Resource Groups or “Lunch and Learns” to make connections outside of their department, but they should only pursue these opportunities during work hours, and they can only leave their desk during approved development time which may not be available during the meetings. We have both been there and figured out ways to survive and thrive, and we thought we would share some strategies that we used to stay motivated and grow our careers even with these pressures:


1. Pursue Industry Designations:

It’s no secret that we are both supporters, more like fanatics, of industry designations. We believe that these are one of the fastest ways to increase your knowledge about the industry and to get your resume noticed. We have seen time and again how friends and coworkers have used AU, AIC and especially CPCU as the perfect way to get to a better role. In addition, you can study for these on your own time, when it’s convenient for you. You really can’t go wrong by getting more education!


2. Utilize Tuition Reimbursement Programs:

A longer commitment than a designation, but equally valuable, the pursuit of a degree shows your commitment to developing yourself. Tuition reimbursement programs can significantly reduce your out of pocket costs. Most large companies offer $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement. The smart way to use that money is by starting a degree in the Fall, take as many classes as you can in your first semester. Then take it easy during the second year, making sure to use the entire $5,250 but also being careful not to have to borrow much more than that, don’t take more classes than needed. Then finish the program on the third year. Effectively, by pushing a degree from 2-3 years you can take advantage of $15,750 of tuition reimbursement instead of $10,500. This will minimize the amount of student loans you’ll take and believe us, you’ll be VERY happy you did.


3. Apply for Company Sponsored Development Programs:

When Carly was still in the service center, Nationwide offered a program called the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) that accepted a select number of applicants each year and was seen as an important rite of passage for future leaders. Since the program had such a strong reputation throughout the company, her department supported participation, even when it meant time away from the phone which was otherwise VERY restricted. Programs that will introduce you to others outside the company and allow you to show your work ethic are valuable in that you can make connections and learn about different departments. Funny story, Tony couldn’t get into ELP the prior year, although he ended up participating in it after he moved from the Des Moines to the Sacramento office. Seek out programs like these that you might be able to qualify for and apply for them all, they will be much more likely to make time for an internal program than if you asked for 2.5 days off to go to a CIC class.


4. Network After Hours:

If possible, attend Chamber of Commerce or Young Professional Group meetings where you may meet others within your company. Even if you don’t meet people from your company, you’ll be able to network with other motivated professionals. Find the local CPCU Society and ask them if they accept student members who are still working on their designation, chances are they’ll be thrilled to have you involved. Also, try to join a Toastmasters group, chances are there are several in your area that meet after hours or on the weekends and that you can attend without interfering with work hours.


5. Take Advantage of a Non-Traditional Schedule:

Working a later shift or an earlier one may allow you to schedule job shadows or attend meetings outside of your work hours if your company is not so strict about keeping you completely out of the office outside your scheduled hours. Tony took made the proverbial lemonade out of the lemons his career gave him by studying for CPCU and MBA in the most productive morning hours before his 10:30 am to 7:00 pm shift when he was in claims. This allowed him to finish the program very fast which got him noticed and immediately opened the door for a higher level, salaried role.

In general, we recommend being creative about how to further your own development. Remember that while you are currently in a position where you are to be paid for all hours that you are working, professional development is truly an investment in your future. Once you find ways to put some time in to developing yourself, you may find opportunities in the industry or in your company that you never thought possible.

About Antonio Canas

Tony started in insurance in 2009 and immediately became a designation addict and shortly thereafter a proud insurance nerd. He has worked in claims, underwriting, finance and sales management, at 4 carriers, 6 cities and 5 states. Tony is passionate about insurance, technology and especially helping the insurance industry figure out how to retain and engage the younger generation of insurance professionals. Tony is a co-founder of InsNerds.com and a passionate speaker.

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