Recruiting and retention are not two separate functions, but rather an integrated process. The message prospective agents receive before signing their contract needs to match the reality they experience once they join the company. If it does, retention rates will be high. This is especially true of women who very are interested in building long-term relationships with companies and clients.

Among the findings of a 2006 survey of New York Life’s female agents, one stood out: The majority of women who joined the company (66%) were not looking to become agents when a recruiter contacted them. What recruiting tactics worked in getting them to begin their career as a life insurance agent?

A recruiting message that resonates

A major insight revealed by the survey was that despite our high-tech world, recruiting remains a low-tech, high-touch process.

It starts with the manager. Managers still need to use that personal touch: making the phone calls, developing the sources and gathering referrals to present a career to prospective agents. Next is the important role of the recruiter. He or she needs to be honest and realistic when describing what the job as a life insurance agent entails.

The goal is to have the recruiter be so effective that the career will appeal to many prospects who had not initially expressed interest. Agents report that an effective recruiter can establish how well this career suits their personal and professional career wishes. In today’s world, where impersonal Blackberry-to-Blackberry communication often substitutes for face-to-face dialogue, successful recruiting in this industry still requires an emphasis on the personal touch.

Even with the success of high-touch recruiting, recruiters need to supplement their efforts to make it easier for women to find out about the career. Utilizing the Internet can be an effective strategy. A website can be a one-stop shop for potential prospects to learn about the career, and the company.

Another benefit of using a website is that Web usage can be analyzed, which can direct ongoing site development. Include job responsibilities, opportunities for training and education, and outline ways in which the agent is supported in her career. It is crucial that these messages match the ones the recruiter provides in person.

A career helping others attracts

Having a consistent message that matches reality is imperative, but what are the vital pieces of that message? Insights into what persuades women–many of whom were not seeking new careers–to say “yes” to the job of selling life insurance and other financial products provide valuable guidance for messaging.

We consistently find that the appeal of this career is the ability to help others and the flexibility of the career. In the survey, three findings stood out:

? 75% of women agents indicated the opportunity to help people was the primary attraction.

? 70% said the career provides the independence they were seeking, but didn’t know where to find.

? 69% responded they were attracted by the opportunity to set their own hours, which is especially appealing to agents with families.

Highlighting these points in the recruitment process and on the website can aid your recruitment efforts. In addition, successful women agents who really love their jobs are often the best spokespeople to use in recruiting. So incorporate these ‘real life’ stories into all aspects of your recruiting efforts: website, in-person discussions, group seminars, print advertisements, etc.

Many women agents are attracted to a company that offers training and lifelong education. Offering continuing education through a variety of methods–seminars, e-learning, national training, and traditional classroom instruction–gives agents a choice to fit their learning into their lifestyles.

Part of the training should give the agents tools for building a successful career. For example, agents may be taught to create their own marketing programs for the markets they serve. Also, offering agents access to professionals with experience in advanced topics, such as estate planning and business succession planning, as well as expertise in addressing issues faced by women of all ages and lifestyles, will give your company a recruiting advantage.

The ability to move into management may also appeal to certain women. Giving them access to other women in management provides a real motivation for them.

In short, with the recruiting message of a career that provides the ability to help someone, plus flexibility, independence and unlimited income potential–when combined with the support of a highly-rated company that offers lifelong learning, training, professional development and the opportunity for growth–is a message that resonates with women.

All walks of life

With recruiting strategies and messaging in place, the next issue to address is where to find potential recruits. Experience has proven that there is no need to limit recruiting to a select number of profiles. Today’s life insurance agents come from a variety of professions, including nursing, teaching, the military, social work and banking among others.

The survey we conducted revealed that while the largest group of new recruits (12%) comprises agents looking for a new company, no other background was dominant. From a high of 8% to a low of 1%, the range included students, professionals (e.g., lawyers), managers, educators, sales, clerical people and marketing professionals.

Perhaps most telling is that 30% indicated “other,” meaning that people from diverse backgrounds have the skills and temperament to become an agent. These statistics validate that it is the person who has the drive, the passion and the communication skills that is most important.

With so many backgrounds from which to choose, there is no need to focus recruiting efforts on a narrow band of prospects, but instead target specific professions with recruiting messages. For example, an integrated communications campaign to real estate agents who may be considering a more stable sales career may be one successful recruiting tactic.

Correlation to retention

More and more women are finding their way to a career in insurance and financial services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006, women made up 34.4% of personal financial advisors. And the employment outlook for this field is expected to grow faster than average–up to 26%, which greatly outpaces the average employment growth rate of 1.8%.

Most importantly, if new agents’ experience closely matches the recruiting story, you can anticipate that the women who choose a career as a life insurance agent will continue as successful agents for you for years to come.

The most successful recruiters will ensure their promises match agents’ reality. This may be the best time to be a woman in the insurance industry, making a difference in other people’s lives and creating a better one for themselves and their families.

Mary Dean is vice president of the Women’s Market Division at New York Life Insurance Co., New York, N.Y. You can e-mail her at