How to Become an Insurance Agent

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A high school diploma and insurance classes are the basic requirements to become an insurance agent. Most companies provide on-the-job training, and you must pass licensing exams from your state and understand the common types of policies, such as health, life, property and liability insurance. A college degree can be helpful, especially for gaining promotions, but a willingness to learn is the basic requirement for a career as an insurance agent.

On-the-Job Training

  • Insurance companies typically teach new hires how to work with clients and how the agencies do business. Often they assign a new agent to work alongside an experienced salesperson as a shadow. Some insurance companies offer formal classes or online instruction for new personnel.

    Internships and co-ops are available for college students and graduates at some insurance companies. The idea is that if these work out well, the companies will then hire the interns as permanent employees.

Meeting Licensing Requirements

  • In most states, you must complete a specific course of study before taking licensing exams. In some states, you take different classes depending on the type of insurance you wish to sell. For example, Georgia requires taking a class on property or accident insurance, while in Pennsylvania, agents must complete 24 hours of general insurance study to become licensed.

    You typically must fulfill additional state requirements, such as a background check and fee payment, before passing exams to receive your license.

The College Advantage

  • A college degree or college coursework, while not mandatory, can improve your prospects for advancement. Classes in business, economics, sales and public speaking are helpful, and provide the skills you'll need for management jobs.

    Some colleges offer an insurance major within the business department, including classes in liability and property insurance. Classes in the major may also cover risk management, pension planning, policy coverage, pricing and workers' compensation.

Continuing Education and Certifications

  • Insurance companies typically encourage sales agents to continue their education. For example, companies may provide instruction on new products, coaching on sales methods and Web seminars. Most states also require continuing education for licensing. Qualifying topics may include ethics, consumer protections and insurance policies.

    Optional certifications are available from the American College of Financial Services and The Institutes. The classes required for these certifications may count as continuing education to renew your license.

    Some insurance agents take additional licensing exams to sell securities. These exams are available from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA.

Desirable Personal Characteristics

  • An outgoing personality, self-confidence and sales skills are essential for a career as an insurance agent. You need the ability to take initiative to contact customers "cold" and convince them to purchase policies. You must be a careful listener to meet customers' needs, and an able communicator to explain the advantages of different types of policies. Deciding what policy is right for each customer also requires analytical skills.

Prospects and Pay

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 10 percent increase in jobs for insurance agents between 2012 and 2022 -- about the same as the expected 11 percent increase for all jobs. The BLS notes that additional positions will open up because some agents quit when they can't meet their earnings expectations.

    Many agents receive at least part of their pay as commissions or bonuses. Agents' wages averaged $63,730 annually in 2014, according to the BLS.

    The BLS expects the best prospects for insurance agents with superior sales skills who are licensed to sell both insurance and financial products. Fluency in a second language is also a plus.

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