You’re in Good Hands With a Varied Skill Set

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Allstate Insurance Company’s slogan, “You’re in good hands with Allstate,” appropriately sums up the company’s philosophy for its information technology workforce. Allstate has some 70,000 professionals at work, including more than 6,000 IT staff in varied roles, including application developers, information security professionals, architects, systems analysts and network engineers, and a complex IT infrastructure for which a wide and equally varied set of skills, education and experience are required for effective performance.

 

When canvassing for potential IT workers, Michael Escobar, assistant vice president, Allstate Insurance Company, said the first thing the company looks for is a proven track record of personal and professional growth and success. It’s important to have examples handy to illustrate how your skill set has grown, what kind of responsibilities you’ve held on other jobs and what your track record of success is. “Obviously, you want to make sure that you have a good match of current, up-to-date skills with the position you’re looking for,” Escobar said. “Additional things that we look at would be strong communication and relationship skills. For technology people, the ability to communicate effectively to a wide variety of audiences is important because you’re going to deal with people at different levels—people who have good understanding of technology and people who don’t. The other thing is the ability to work across boundaries. When you’re in a large organization like us, you’re constantly crossing organizational boundaries, and the ability to network, to engage different people to get things done helps to contribute to your success. It’s also important to have the ability to think and act like a businessperson. This is probably something the average technology person does not think about, but first and foremost, you always want to think like the businessperson that you’re supporting so that you understand the nature of the work and what needs to get done. Then, you use or apply your technology skills to create a solution for them. Finally, it’s essential to have unquestioned ethics and integrity. It’s important not only for us as the Allstate company, but in dealing with clients. You have to really show that you have good integrity, that you deliver what you say and can live up to your commitments if you’re going to create the right type of relationships with those clients.”

 

Other important soft skills include essential project management capabilities, which are often critical in an IT organization. Escobar said that Allstate could not deliver its projects effectively and efficiently without them, thus project management’s status as one of the company’s key competencies. “We’ll also look for certification level, as well as your experience in project management,” Escobar said. “But even in non-project management roles, having the basic understanding of project management is important for both technology positions as well as business positions in the company.”

 

On the technical side, Allstate has formal on-the-job development programs in place to train its IT workforce. The Learning Resource Network is available on the company intranet with a wide variety of easy-to-access and easy-to-follow courses for employees to take. “I call them development programs as opposed to training programs because I think training is only one of the avenues that you use to develop your people, ”Escobar explained, adding that job rotations, job assignments and mentoring programs to help employees understand how Allstate’s various business lines are run also are key development activities. “The to offer new employees extensive training opportunities to bring them up to speed on the particular needs required in their role and for the company at large.

 

At Allstate, most successful IT candidates will have a well-rounded blend of academic credentials, certification skills and work experience, although some positions do require specific certifications. “There could be a network engineer that you’re looking to be certified by a particular vendor or because we use a particular product or there’s a particular skill set. But generally, I think that education, certification and experience all give that individual a specific foundation of knowledge. What’s more important for me is looking to see how they leverage that knowledge to be successful,” Escobar said, adding that while certifications are definitely valued at Allstate, there is no preference for vendor-neutral versus vendor-specific certifications. Certification needs depend on the position available and whether or not certain products are used to do that job. “We’re looking for people who really have a desire and willingness to learn because in technology, changes come so quickly nowadays, and it’s so important for someone to keep up to date, not only with what’s happening in the business world but with their technology skills, and if someone has a passion for learning, for engaging in change, it really enables them to grow as the company changes.”

 

Experience in the job marketplace brings with it tips for the job-seeker, as well as the employer, and Escobar said the best personal career advice he ever received came from a supervisor who told him to own his career and take responsibility for it. “That may sound simple, but a lot of people, especially if you’ve grown up with a company for a long time, you look at the company to take care of you. This was about taking ownership yourself—that you shouldn’t depend on your company, your boss or another individual. You have to make the personal commitment to identify what you want to do, what you need to do to get ahead, and then put in the effort to achieve the goals that you’ve set out for yourself. I think when you do that it really sets you free from having someone else control your destiny. It was great advice.”

 

–Kellye Whitney, kellyew@certmag.com

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