Networking 101 – Or “Why I Rarely Eat Lunch Alone”

coffee networking

I hear it all the time…insurance is a relationship business.

It’s really true. Agents and brokers have relationships with their clients, underwriters have relationships with their agents, finance folks have relationships with their actuaries, product folks have relationships with their regulators…the list is really endless.

Despite all of these opportunities, many people in our business don’t do a good job of developing and maintaining their relationships.

Food, The Universal Language

I make a point to schedule lunch meetings on a regular basis with my internal customers (employees and coworkers) and my external customers (agents, regulators and yes, even competitors). Lunch meetings are easy to schedule, since everyone has to eat, and most of us enjoy combining it with interesting conversation. The folks I break bread with have often become more than just colleagues, but also friends. Conversations are casual but often drift into business issues, and now I have a good list of people to call when I need some help on a professional challenge.

I highly recommend that folks considering a career in the insurance industry (or any other industry for that matter) start networking over lunch or coffee breaks, as soon as possible. I promise that there are tons of professionals in the industry that genuinely want to help others on a variety of levels, including career development.

How do you start?

With an email. Make it short and sweet. Something like:

Hello Ms. Smith. I’m writing to ask a favor. I’m a college freshman at the University of XXX and I’m considering a career in insurance when I graduate. I’d like to learn more about the industry (and/or the person’s profession – actuarial sciences, underwriting, etc.) from an experienced professional, and wonder if I could impose on you for an informational interview over a cup of coffee? No strings here – I’m not asking you for a job – but I am hoping to start to build some contacts in the industry, for when I’m ready for the big job search.

You can tailor the message in your own words. An email is better than a call because it gives the person time to consider the request, check out your LinkedIn profile, etc.

Now a Few Rules:

  1. You pay…or at least offer to pay. I assure you that most professionals will not actually let a student pay for coffee or lunch, but a sincere offer to pay will be appreciated.
  2. Be honest. Avoid hounding them for a job and try not to talk too much about yourself. Ask questions about the person’s job and really listen to what they say. Don’t take notes during the conversation, but jot some notes in private after the discussion.
  3. Close with a thank you and ask if it’s okay that you stay in touch with the person, and maybe get together again in a year or so.
  4. Ask if there are other contacts in the industry that your new friend would recommend you contact and/or introduce you to.
  5. Send a thank you note – hand-written, not email – and you’ll stand out as a sincere professional, simply by doing something that has become a rarity these days. And don’t worry too much about your penmanship…the thought is more important.

So give it a try…and then I’ll urge you to do it at least once per semester. People in our business like to help other people, because we’ve all been in your shoes at the start of our careers.

If you want some help on where and how to start (who should I contact? how do I get their email address? etc.), send me an email, and I’ll help.

And if you’re in Minnesota (or someplace that I travel), I may even buy you a cup of coffee…or lunch!


Mike Happe
Senior Vice President
SFM Mutual