We caught up with Katie Sullivan, a Business and Sociology graduate from Aston University, who joined the Allianz Management Trainee Scheme. She tells us about her background, her time at Allianz, and gives us some unique insight into the application process along with some great hints and tips.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
I grew up in a village in North Cardiff and spent my educational years in the Welsh educational system, so I did every lesson in Welsh! I then left home in 2014 to go to Aston University in Birmingham to study Business and Sociology. As for many, this was the first move away from home and my first experience of education in English. At this point, my first language was Welsh and so getting used to being taught in English was a big change.
I spent most of my younger years playing sport and after trying most sports, netball is what stuck. I played for many different teams throughout my school years - school, county and club teams. Having gone through the Welsh netball development system for many years, I was chosen to play for Wales in sixth form and I gained 3 caps playing against the home nations in Malta at Netball Europe. I went on to play netball at university and had the opportunity in second year to Chair the club.
I chose a 4 year degree at Aston University, my third year being a placement year in industry. I spent this year at Enterprise Rent a Car as a management trainee. This gave me an opportunity to try a variety of roles and shaped my view of the ‘adult world of work.’ This year gave me an insight into what kind of graduate role I was seeking and helped me decide on my likes and dislikes of a job. During my final year back in Birmingham I spent time looking for a graduate role and this is when I came across the Allianz Management Trainee Scheme.
What inspired you to apply for this role and this company?
Not knowing what you want to do after graduating from university is common amongst most people, and especially for people like myself who study such a broad degree like business. Therefore, I was seeking a role that gave me some variety to try and find an area of business that best suited my skills. I was inspired to apply for the role because it offers 4 rotations around different departments of the business which gives you the opportunity to build a network of people and develop new skills whilst finding out what you like and dislike.
Insurance had never been an industry I thought about. Many people view the industry as tainted by old, white men with beards. After working for Allianz for almost a year now, I can tell you that this is definitely not the case. Allianz is a well-respected company across the globe, who know how to treat their employees to increase efficiency, whilst also understanding that most of us work to live, not live to work.
What was the single most important thing you learnt in your first week of your role?
My first realisation was that this is a real job in a real company and I won't receive my state pension until 2066! The most important thing I learnt from this is that you must find a role that you enjoy, especially one that fosters your skills and allows you to be you.
During your first week you will have the opportunity to meet new people and find out about their roles while also having a pass to be able to ask all the questions in the world.
My 3 tips for your first few weeks would be to socialise with people in the office, ask lots of questions and don't be scared about making mistakes.
What is your role and how long have you been at Allianz?
I have been at Allianz for 11 months now, having started in September after my final year. My first rotation on the scheme was in the Bristol office in the Motor Trade Underwriting Team. It's safe to say I knew nothing about insurance or underwriting on my first day, so I had lots to learn. I spent my first month understanding how an insurance company works and what on earth a motor trade insurance policy was. By Christmas, I was happily writing motor trade business and trading with brokers on a daily basis. The learning curve is massive!
After spending 9 months in the Bristol motor trade team it was time to move on to my next placement, which meant a move to our other Bristol location out at Aztec West Business Park to undertake my Sales & Marketing placement within Allianz Legal Protection (ALP).
The new role required a change of mind-set as there were no set processes to my role and no immediate team, which took a bit of getting used to. My current role is project-based, which differs massively from my underwriting role. I sit with the senior management team here at ALP, which gives me great insight into their different roles and how running a business under the Allianz umbrella works. I have 3 major roles occupying my days at the moment: firstly, I am part of a project team that works to revitalise the Before The Event Insurance product. Secondly, I am managing an implementation project, which gives me the opportunity to collaborate across all functions of the business. Thirdly, I get involved in marketing exercises, such as making information packs for other areas of the business to understand ALP's operations and benefits and filming a submission for the upcoming Personal Injury Awards. This keeps me busy most days and allows me to understand so many different areas. I also get the opportunity as part of the Sales and Distribution team to go on client visits with the business development manager to see how ALP works for our customers.
What would a 'normal' day look like for someone in your role?
My day varies a lot depending on which project I am looking at; however, I do aim to spend the entire time doing a mix of things rather than just one. Some days I spend out of the office with the business developers meeting with clients; other days I spend racking my brains over Excel spreadsheets or making PowerPoint presentations. I like the variety that this role allows and I can fill my day however I wish to, as long as deadlines are met. Throughout the day I also get the chance to collaborate with people in the office, whether that be in informal meetings about development or formal board meetings where all senior managers for ALP sit in a room and discuss each area of the business from sales to finance. As an Allianz graduate you'll be exposed to things you would never normally dream of attending. For example, I attend the ALP monthly trading board meeting which gives me exposure to not only senior managers who sit here in ALP in Bristol but also the Director of Personal & Speciality lines here at Allianz. This allows you to build your brand and gain exposure to areas outside of your direct role.
What do you find most interesting with the sector/industry you're in?
Having had no knowledge of the industry before starting at Allianz (other than the fact that I have to insure my car every year), it was a steep learning curve. As everything I was learning was so new, I found most things very interesting. To me, learning new skills is always interesting even if you decide down the road that you don't enjoy it. It was interesting to learn how the non-direct insurance stream works as this is something I had never experienced before. In my new role at ALP, the legal insurance market is forever changing with the government introducing new statutes and reforms regularly. It is fascinating to see how it affects all the different parties in the stream from us as insurers to the solicitors and the clients.
Insurance as an industry is changing from being dominated by males to now having a much more equal footing. This brings with it a whole host of different challenges around wellbeing, flexible working and diversity. What many people don't realise is that, to work in the insurance industry, you don't have to sit and write insurance all day or sit on the end of a phone as a claims handler. There is a wide variety of other opportunities - whether that be in sales, marketing, operations or finance. When you work in these other departments, it doesn't generally feel like you work for an insurance company; rather it is a company where you are helping to deliver a product to a customer. Realistically, that product could be anything from insurance to chocolate bars.
What was the application process like? What was the hardest part and what did you enjoy the most?
The application process has 4 different stages:
- Online application - 3 questions: why insurance, why Allianz and why the role you're applying for. Make sure to let your character come out in the application form and make yourself stand out in a professional way. Thousands of graduates apply to Allianz each year and so making yourself that bit different will go a long way.
- Online testing - these tests are not designed to catch you out but are there to highlight your strengths, skills and way of thinking. This will show Allianz if you're right for this sector and the demands of the role. Don't let them scare you - even if you don't think you've done very well in one area, you will have shone in another.
- Video Interview - this is designed to bring your personal side out during the application process. There won't be anyone on the other side; rather you will listen to a pre-recorded question and have an allotted time to record a response. It can feel strange sitting in your university bedroom talking to a screen, but this is a perfect opportunity to let your personality come out. Practice makes perfect so make sure to have some general answers prepared and have lots of examples to hand and draw these examples from different aspects such as university work, group work, extra-curricular activities and part time employment.
- Assessment Centre - this is the final stage and you'll spend the day meeting people from across the business while undertaking different activities to showcase your skills.
The hardest part for me was the online testing as although you can practice and prepare, under the time pressure of the test, my mind seemed to go blank. However, the part I enjoyed the most was the assessment centre. Although I was very nervous at the beginning of the day, everybody made me feel very welcome and were willing us to do well. Make sure to keep your energy levels up all day as different people will be assessing you at different times so you are making first impressions all day. You'll also get the opportunity to meet current graduates which provides a good insight into working at Allianz and life as a graduate.
What is the company culture like?
The overall Allianz company culture revolves around looking after their employees and delivering the best service to our customers. However, culture differs slightly between offices due to the nature of the location and people working there. From my experience, the culture differs depending on the location; I worked in 2 offices in Bristol and the culture was different even between these. I found that many people in management positions within the local offices have either been graduates themselves or have had graduates in their teams for many years. This means that they understand the pressures of being a graduate, especially on the Management Trainee Scheme as you tend to be moving location twice or three times within 2 years, which can be stressful. However, the culture I have come across is you get out what you put in. Everyone here at Allianz is willing you along and wanting the best for your time in that placement but you won't get something for nothing. Show them your hard work, determination, curiosity and willingness to learn and they'll give you the opportunities to learn and grow your knowledge.
How important is diversity to you and what is Allianz doing in this space at the moment?
Diversity and Inclusion is something that is at the forefront of a lot of company's minds at the moment. To me, diversity allows us to develop as people by learning from different types of people that you wouldn't usually come across in your little bubble. Likelihood is that before university you were surrounded by quite like minded people, who came from the same area, the same culture and the same school. University and then work will give you the exposure to diversity that can spark lots of questions. Don't be afraid to ask these questions, because the truth is that the person you're asking has probably never thought about that either.
Allianz encourages diversity and inclusion through projects such as the All Ability Network. It also encourages hiring managers to listen to webinars about diversity and how they can foster this within their teams. Allianz offer a platform called 'Allianz and me', where we hear from people from across the business with different disabilities and their experience of working at Allianz. This allows people to learn and to develop their understanding of how different people flourish in the workplace.
Have you had the opportunity to get involved in any activities outside work?
Outside of my day to day role during my 9 months in Underwriting, I spent time organising social events for the office. This included running a week of Halloween activities to raise money for our corporate charity partner and organising a financial results party for the office. There are many different things you can get involved in outside of your day to day role if you seek the opportunities yourself.
During my time in ALP I have been involved in some HR activities, assisting with the running of the summer intern inductions and careers day. This allows us to explore other avenues within the business and gives us the opportunity to develop skills such as leadership, presenting and collaboration.
I also sit on the fireside chat committee, which is a committee that run fireside chats during the year. A fireside chat is an event that happens bi-monthly, where we select a senior person within Allianz who has excelled through their career with Allianz and often have started out on the graduate scheme too. This allows people to see what career options there are and what stepping stones you can take to get there. It also gives people the opportunity to ask questions and get in touch with these people following these chats to find out more and seek opportunities within their area.
As graduates we also get involved in activities such as networking events held by the graduate committee, which helps us build our network and learn about different areas of the business.
Has anything surprised you since you started?
The biggest surprise for me has been the amount of opportunities available outside of the traditional insurance roles such as underwriting or claims. There are so many different projects going on at the same time at Allianz, meaning there is opportunity to get involved in a whole host of different types of work. After attending the networking events I was able to learn about so many different role that I never knew even existed.
Something else that surprised me was that not everyone was a white, male, aged 50. As a result of the graduate network at Allianz there are people of all ages and there is much more of a gender balance than I expected.
Do you feel that university prepared you for what is expected of you in your role?
University gave me masses of life experience, from moving away from home, managing my own time and workload, doing my washing and cooking for myself. This prepares you for adult life, but does it prepare you for a job? The biggest part of university that prepared me for my current job was probably my placement year. I learnt about responsibility and accountability as well as the importance of building your network and your name. At university you are a number in a list of thousands of others who are all doing the same thing. As a graduate at Allianz, everybody's opportunities differ and this makes people stand out for different reasons. People take different avenues at work and even if you put two graduates in the same office in the same job their experience would differ.
However, university prepares you for learning new things very quickly, budgeting your pay cheque and using all your skills to get you further. Even if I'm working on a very specific project I am using a whole host of skills such as technological skills, communication skills, leaderships skills and effective learning skills. At university you pick up these skills in small doses without even realising. From doing a group task and naturally taking on a leadership role to cramming for an exam last minute, you develop how to effectively revise and learn what you need in the time that you have. Realisation of these skills only becomes apparent when you're thrown into a project and are asked to project manage it. Firstly, you'll think, I've never project managed anything in my life, I'm definitely not qualified for that. But then when breaking down the responsibilities that you have into categories, such as effectively managing the people involved in the project by ensuring they are doing what they should be doing to keeping track of the progress of the project at each meeting. These skills you've learnt bit by bit at university all come together and you realise you actually know a little bit about quite a lot. You don't need to know a great deal about a lot of things unless you want to be an expert in that area, which you will not become during your 6 month placement in that area.
Even if you don't think university is preparing you for a job, it is in the background without you realising. Take every opportunity given to learn something new and you'll definitely call upon that skill at some point later in life.
Finally, do you have any tips for anyone who'd like to apply for similar role at Allianz?
If you don't know what area you'd like to work in then the Allianz Management Trainee Scheme could be one for you. You'll have the opportunity to develop skills across 4 different areas; underwriting, claims, sales & marketing and operation. The key word in the job title is management, the scheme is preparing you for a management role should you want to pursue that avenue, but if you decide management isn't for you, you will have built such a network of people and skills along the way you can almost fall into any role available.
My tip would be to see if the role interests you, and even if it only sparks a little curiosity at the moment, still apply - what's the worst that can happen? When I applied I didn't know a huge amount about Allianz and the way they work but by doing the different stages of the application process you quickly learn what it would be like to work for them.
Even though the Allianz Management Trainee Scheme is structured to the 4 areas, this doesn't mean that you have to work in any of those areas after the scheme. You may have met someone along the way whose role really interests you, so make sure to keep that network and go knocking on their door once you're ready to apply for a role off the scheme.
Although the scheme gives you the opportunities to move around the business and build a network, it is through your own hard work and determination that you come out the other side with new skills, people and ideas.
To find out more about Allianz and view their opportunities, click here.