Creating New Industry Leaders, One Internship at a Time


I was 18 years old when I completed my first summer internship in Washington, D.C. I had two amazing mentors: One was a manager, Mr. Crandall; the other was a program analyst, Mrs. Myers. Mrs. Myers knew the nuts and bolts of the office, and she helped me navigate that summer smoothly. She answered all of my questions with amazing patience and made sure I understood the “why” behind the tasks I was assigned. Mr. Crandall encouraged me to give him feedback. His openness to what I had to say still impresses me today. He asked me to review the budget or to visit the field and to report to him from my “stakeholder’s” perspective. I felt valued and respected, despite my lack of business experience.

… innovative perspectives of the interns are reflected in the CSR team and overall business performance. Working with interns is a win/win situation to develop leaders and encourage new people to enter the industry.

At that time, I did not completely understand that, for Mr. Crandall, my opinions were equivalent to a “citizen opinion,” an important perspective given the nature of the project that I worked on. This internship was not in the insurance industry. It was for an environmental materials management project undertaken by the federal government to reduce or eliminate risk to the general public from exposure to potentially hazardous and radioactive materials.

It took me seven years to arrive in the insurance industry, and as with many insurance professionals my arrival was by chance. And then, it took me several more years to connect the dots and realize how valuable internships could be in solving the perpetuation problems facing the insurance and risk management field.

More than two decades later, I see myself in Mrs. Myers’s and Mr. Crandall’s shoes. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as mentor to several interns,   and I’ve realized the importance of dedicating the time that is necessary to collaborate with students.

The benefits that accrue to interns are obvious. What is less obvious are the benefits that accrue to the agency, as the innovative perspectives of the interns are reflected in the CSR team and overall business performance. Working with interns is a win/win situation to develop leaders and encourage new people to enter the industry.

Develop leadership from within

Like Mrs. Myers, customer service representatives know the nitty gritty issues within the agency; they listen to the customer voice, and they know the areas of opportunities. They are problem solvers. And it has been my experience that sometimes they are so good at their jobs that agency owners and managers cannot live without their expertise.

However, this realization rarely translates into an understanding of how capable CSRs are in creating new opportunities for themselves and for the firm. Agencies can harness this resource by empowering CSRs to take the lead in areas where managers and owners do not have the time or may not have the understanding of essential job duties necessary to do so.

Working with interns is a good way for CSRs to develop new management skills, while simultaneously helping students develop into professionals who will improve the perpetuation issues that agencies face today.

Talk to your CSRs. They can easily identify emerging issues the agency is facing. Do you need to implement a new CRM system and need more hands during the testing period? Do you have new clientele from a niche industry and need some pre-research to understand their risks? Do you want to know if you are actually doing a good job in customer service and need someone to conduct a survey for you? Do you think your agency needs more advertising and would like someone to generate new fresh ideas? Do you need better reports to manage expiration lists? And do you need someone to create them?

These are all areas of opportunity for the establishment of an agency internship program. Let your CSRs identify the expected outcomes and draw up a plan. It is important to consider details like: What computer access will the student need? What basic training is necessary? What team members should they work with, and how will that time be structured?

During the internship, the CSR can be the “go to” contact person or mentor for that student. They can be responsible for job shadowing, training, directing the interface with other agency personnel, and for follow-up quality control. They also can lead the intern into presenting final results to management. Planning, delegating, problem solving, and decision-making skills are some of the positive outcomes that the CSR will realize through the experience.

I have found that, when working with interns, it is very important to be open and willing to learn from them. Years of work experience and ingrained habits and thinking can be a detriment when an agency is trying to embrace innovation. It is precisely their lack of experience that makes the intern’s comments, recommendations, and questions absolutely unbiased and filled with possibilities.

Daring to listen to interns and questioning along with them our own processes and systems lets the agency operate in an “always in Beta” mode, constantly asking, “How can we do this better?” It is only by taking the blinders off that we can more quickly transform the industry from a product-centric approach to a customer-centric one, where accessibility, simplicity, transparency, responsiveness, and individualization are the bywords for customer engagement and satisfaction.

Show others new possibilities

The insurance industry is filled with opportunities for the new generation. It is essential that we develop new leaders to replace the Baby Boomers who will be retiring.

Many students enter college without a clear view of what they want to do for a living; however, many do know their likes and dislikes. They know that they like to work with people or analyze numbers. They know that they enjoy community service or want to be a business advisor.

All of these skills and interests have a place in our industry, but the sad fact is that many students do not know it. From account management to customer service, from claims to actuarial science or legal and compliance, the internship opportunity allows students to contextualize their technical education and match their preferences early in their careers. Also, it lets them team up with more experienced people, who can guide them and provide connections into the future.

For me it is personally gratifying—and really exciting—when the agency I work for can provide this new opportunity to a student. Opening doors that allow students to appreciate the contributions they can make to the industry is a rewarding experience, and I am always glad that I had something to do with it.

Pay it forward

In addition to sponsoring internships, CSRs also can be leaders in spreading the word about what the insurance industry is all about and the opportunities it offers. Your agency can participate in educational programs for kids of all ages to teach them about everyday risks and how those risks are connected to the field of risk management and insurance. You can also contact high school career counselors and provide them with information and materials that they can use when advising students who will soon go to college.

Another opportunity is to sponsor a career day and open your agency to students in the local community.

All in all, it is about shifting the equation and motivating more people to enter the insurance industry on purpose, rather than by chance. I am grateful to my first internship mentors and I am also willing to pay it forward.

Article written by Cristina Pedraza-Martinez and originally appeared on

The author

Cristina Pedraza-Martinez is a senior vice president of Popular Insurance, LLC, an insurance agency affiliated with Popular, Inc., in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. She is an attorney and a Certified Insurance Counselor and has been involved in the insurance industry for 15 years. Cristina is also a member of The National Alliance faculty, a former chairman of the CIC Board of Governors, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of The National Alliance Research Academy.