One of the most common questions I get asked as a former insurance adjuster is, “How do you become an adjuster?” It’s not just family and friends asking, either. Sometimes, insureds asked me after I finished handling their claims.
To help the aspiring adjusters out there, I've put together this guide on how to become an insurance adjuster. You'll find resources for choosing the right career path, getting your adjuster license, finding work as a claims adjuster, and networking to advance your career.
If you're already an adjuster and have more advice to share, we want to hear it! Tell us your best tips for succeeding in this industry in the comments below.
An insurance adjuster taking pictures of roof damage: image source
What are the types of adjusters and career paths?
Different adjusters handle different types of claims, including liability, commercial, residential, daily, aviation, workers compensation, auto, catastrophe (CAT) and many more.
Staff adjusters, who are employed by insurance carriers, handle claims over the phone, while field adjusters physically visit the loss and interview people in person. Depending on your personality, one might be more appealing than the other.
Most insurance adjusters end up choosing between two career paths: staff adjuster or independent adjuster.
Staff adjusters work as year-round employees for insurance carriers and receive a regular paycheck. Independent adjusters are contractors who work for multiple independent adjusting firms, which handle claims for multiple insurance companies. The work can be cyclical, depending on the type of claims you're handling, so it's very common for independent adjusters to not have steady work.
If you need help trying to decide, check out this video by Adjuster Pro about career paths in adjusting.
Is adjusting a good fit for you?
Claims are not dependent on the economy like a lot of other services. As long as there is insurance, there will be claims that need adjusters, making it a very stable career choice.
The staff adjuster field is fairly easy for new adjusters to break into, and the earning potential is great. There are plenty of entry-level positions to choose from and an almost endless number of career advancement paths involving claims. Independent adjusters have a tougher time getting their foot in the door without any claims handling experience.
Adjusting involves helping people in tough situations, making it quite rewarding at times. That said, it's not for everyone. Certain types of adjusting can be quite demanding and stressful.
For example, independent or catastrophe adjusting can be tough physically and mentally. You need to be able to climb ladders and work in unstable conditions. It also requires serious discipline, a good work ethic and lots of self-management.
A catastrophe adjuster typically fronts all of his or her expenses, including equipment, travel, transportation and lodging. Discipline with finances is key: You have to budget your money well to get through the slow periods when you’re not deployed.
If this is a concern for you, PropertyCasualty360.com has a great article about dealing with family strain and emotional trauma as catastrophe adjusters.
Flooded homes after a storm: image source
How much do adjusters make?
Staff adjusters earn salaries ranging from $25,000 to $80,000 per year or more, depending on their experience and ability. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average salary was $63,330 in 2015.
Independent adjusters are paid in different ways, primarily on a fee schedule based on the claim size. The more claims you close and the larger the claims you handle, the more money you can make. It’s possible for independent claims adjusters to earn more than $100,000 a year.
What skills do I need?
Larger insurance companies prefer that claims adjusters have an associate's or bachelor's degree, but it's not required. Some colleges and universities offer degree programs specific to the industry, such as an associate's degree in insurance services or a bachelor's degree in risk assessment and insurance.
In addition, the following skills are important to have on the job:
- Analytical and math skills, as well as experience with spreadsheets.
- Word processing. One of the most valuable time-savers that most people don't think about is skilled typing! A good resource for learning how to type faster is Typing Test.
- Software expertise. You'll need to know your way around appraisal software and other industry programs. Xactimate® is the most popular estimating software, used by 60 percent of insurance carriers, and it is vital that you are proficient in it. Every person who takes a licensing class or exam prep course for property insurance adjusting should also take a course on Xactimate. For field adjusters, you’ll have to be tech-savvy enough to do all this from a mobile office.
- Medical knowledge, for some types of claims.
- An above-average work ethic. Insurance companies require motivated people with a high level of integrity. The hours can be long, and going above and beyond is expected. You must be willing to travel locally on a frequent basis and to work evenings and weekends. For some jobs, such as catastrophe adjusting, deployments (non-local travel) are common and can take you away from home for an extended period of time.
- Communication skills. The business of claims adjusting is all about customer service, and you're often required to work with people who are extremely stressed. The ability to listen and communicate empathetically is key. There will be conflicts! Sometimes a loss is covered, and sometimes it’s not. You’re not there to argue.
Trick of the Trade: Never deny coverage for a roof claim while you are still on the roof. Always complete your inspection, put all your ladders and tools away, and then, if you are authorized, discuss coverage with the insured. It’s a lot easier to get away fast if you already have your belongings in the car, just in case a homeowner becomes violent. It might seem crazy, but this situation has happened to adjusters I know.
Where do I start if I don’t have any experience?
One of the best ways to get into the industry is to start in restoration. Companies like Belfor and Servpro primarily work with insurance companies to restore homes back to their pre-loss condition after damage. I previously worked for Paul Davis Restoration, which helped me break into the insurance adjusting industry.
Restoration companies can teach you how to write estimates, use construction products, speak to insurance adjusters and ensure that you document all claim details properly.
The estimators/project managers working for these companies typically earn commissions for each job, but sometimes they are salaried. Working in this field is excellent training for your future career as an adjuster. Plus, you're getting paid while learning new skills!
A claims adjuster scoping damage on a roof: image source
What other resources can help me get started?
There are two great resources for learning about a career in adjusting: CatAdjuster and AdjusterTV. On both of these websites, you'll find valuable information on training, job listings, current industry events, and adjuster tips.
In most cases, you will need to take a pre-licensing course before taking the state exam. This course qualifies you to apply for your state license and preps you to pass the state exam with flying colors.
There are pre-licensing courses available online and in classrooms at select locations. Employers make no distinction between licenses obtained through an online class or in-person class, so do what works best for you.
There are many schools that will teach you how to be an adjuster. Vale is the "Harvard" in the CAT adjusting arena. Independent adjusting firms take a closer look when you have Vale on your resume.
There are many other schools, but beware of those that only want to license you, not train you. The property class at Vale is three weeks long! You cannot learn your new skill in three days!
Some states have licensing requirements, and others do not. The fastest and easiest way to determine this is by going to Adjuster Pro and typing in your state on the home page. They have all state requirements listed, including licensing, exams, reciprocity, fees, links and state department contact info. It’s all right there!
First, pursue a state adjuster license in your home state. If you plan to do catastrophe work, get licensed in hail- and tornado-prone and Gulf states ASAP. Before you start buying licenses in every state available, though, save your money! It doesn’t take long to get a license once you have your home state license. If you get deployed to a state that needs a license, then apply for the license.
Apply for reciprocal licenses in the states you are most likely to want to work in, like Texas or Florida. Texas typically takes the longest to get your license, and Florida is the second-longest. Because of the high volume of claims, employers often favor the Gulf Coast and Eastern states.
Being certified through IICRC in fire and water, as well as auto, will make you more deployable. Always start with your strengths, though.
Once you get certified, drive the managers insane with phone calls and emails. Never send a resume and then forget to follow up. Call them and ask how you can get involved in their claims handling. Don’t forget, you need to have your adjusting license first.
Independent Adjusting Firms
These are just like temp agencies. Don't fill out the paperwork for them until you have your license completed and in hand. Choose which firms you’re interested in working with and fill out their initial applications, which can be quite lengthy. Get to their certification classes as soon as possible and get on their roster lists.
Some good IA firms to start with are Pacesetters, ICA, AAN, US Adjusting and Worley. There are also lots of smaller firms you can find in your local area. If you have personal contacts in the industry, use them!
Consider joining a mentoring program through NACA or Adjuster Trainer, which can be extremely beneficial. If you’d like something less formal, there are lots of adjusters out there willing to let you ride along for some on-the-job experience and mentoring.
Remember that old saying, "It's not what you know, but who you know?" The National Association of Catastrophe Adjusters is the oldest non-profit group in the industry. It was started by adjusters and is still run today by volunteers in the industry.
There are many conferences to choose from. You will want to attend at least a few. I never miss the NACA Convention, because there are so many independent adjusting firms there interviewing adjusters. Networking is very beneficial in this career field, and conferences make it easy to get in front of independent adjusting firms that are hiring. There are also huge benefits to connecting with other industry professionals and learning tricks of the trade. The calendars posted by Claims Pages and CADO are also good places to find industry events.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Outsourcing? I just started! Why would I want to pay someone else to help me?” Well, believe it or not, it can be quite daunting to even a seasoned professional when more than 20 claims are dumped in your lap that have to be completed in less than one week. Using these services can actually increase your bottom line by helping you close more claims and receive new claims faster.
- Ridge Top Aerial Technologies, Advanced Claims Technology and Eagleview use satellite imagery to provide precise roof diagrams with pinpoint accuracy. Bob and I have used all of these and they are all great!
- Schedule It provides mapping, scheduling, and documentation software to help you manage large amounts of claims. The automated Schedule It Pro software does it all, all you have to do is get on the road and focus on inspections. An adjuster friend once said that it didn’t take that long to schedule inspections. Once I asked him to write down all the tasks involved with mapping, routing, calling, keeping a calendar, and documenting each call in the IA firm CMS, he realized he was spending almost 25 minutes per claim. I remember it vividly when he said, “Wow! You were right.” (Big grin!)
Words of Wisdom from the field
From Mark Hoversten: Independent Adjusting is not an easy field to break into without any experience. I would suggest that new adjusters not quit any jobs they have currently until they have worked claims long enough to sustain their financial needs without any additional income. Start slow, gain experience, increase your revenue, show value to the companies you work for and be wise enough to take care of yourself.
A challenging and satisfying career
Becoming an insurance adjuster can be one of the best things you do in life. You won’t learn everything the first day, but you will learn something new every day. Always be willing to adapt to change, learn new technology, and learn from your peers. Be positive, be willing to help the company you work with and, most of all, be willing to help the insured.
See ya on the storm,