From shop fitter to trainee underwriter

Image of a person looking at the horizon


  • Life at Hiscox
  • Careers
  • Fancy a career in insurance and wondering how you get started? A-levels perhaps followed by an apprenticeship? Or a degree and then a graduate scheme? Yes to both of those of course but there are other, less conventional paths.

    Alex Roebuck – now a Trainee Development Underwriter for Hiscox – explains the long road he took to get here. It’s a colourful tale of fitting out shops in the dead of night, sifting through rubbish bins and unsuccessfully hawking a premium chilli sauce to cafes and restaurants.

    After a failed attempt at a psychology degree and a lot of hard work, I finally graduated with a 1:1 in literature. I had spent five years in higher education but it was all worth it; I was ready to make my mark and imagined I’d be turning down job offers left, right and centre…

    Only it didn’t pan out that way. With nearly a hundred applicants for entry level jobs in my local city at the time, finding work turned out to be far harder than I’d ever expected. Within a few months my rent was deeply in arrears, and all types of work started to look very attractive.

    Fitting for purpose

    After a short interview, I found myself waiting in a car park on a Sunday night, ready to start my career as a shop fitter. Each week I would be picked up and driven to the South of England, where a heavy-going series of 12 hour, labour intensive night shifts would begin, rearranging the inside of supermarkets. It was hard work, but I wouldn’t change the experience – it taught me a valuable lesson about being positive.

    Hiking for heart disease

    After several months, I was grateful to be offered a job conducting research for a national heart disease study. My role involved walking down each and every street in the cities of Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Hartlepool, recording data which would be used to determine heart disease rates. With clipboard in hand I recorded details such as the price of cigarettes and alcohol, the street lighting and the amount of green space on each street. I walked so far that my hiking boot soles wore through to my socks, but I liked being outside and contributing to the public good; something which I now know is a huge part of what motivates me.

    Bin there, done that

    While I was pounding the pavements of our northern towns, one local Council was experiencing a recycling crisis. After a pilot study trialling several methods to encourage residents to practice better recycling, they came upon a new idea to help change behaviour patterns and were looking for someone to run with it.

    My research contract came to an end at just the right time for me to become that someone. I would run ahead of the bin men, inspecting the contents of recycling bins and rejecting those which had non-recyclable contents. I was also responsible for dealing with and diffusing complaints from residents when their bins were rejected. The job taught me hugely valuable customer service skills although I struggled to really get behind what I was doing.

    A chilli reception

    Despite being quite successful as a ‘bin ninja’, I was looking for more. I’d met my (now) wife and she encouraged me not to sell myself short. I applied for and was offered a role selling chilli sauces; a bit of a passion of mine. The position was advertised as having an annual salary of £40,000 OTE, and being young and naïve, I neglected to look up the meaning of the letters ‘OTE’ following this figure. I found myself once again walking city streets, this time with a bag of premium sauces, trying to sell to local businesses. I remember one café owner laughing at me before telling me he could buy ketchup at 30p per litre and suggesting I look for another job. After selling nothing for two weeks and feeling thoroughly fed up, I took his advice and applied for a role at Hiscox.

    Taking a chance

    I’d tried and failed to get on a score of graduate schemes before applying directly to the Hiscox Customer Experience Centre. The majority of companies didn’t respond, and I was getting disheartened. By the time it came to my interview at Hiscox, I was really clear about what I wanted; to have an active role, to be listened to, for an employer to care about me and my wellbeing. And above all I wanted to show what I was capable of - I just needed someone to take a chance on me.

    If I’d interviewed anywhere else I’m sure my application would have been shredded, burned and the ashes sprinkled into a river. Hiscox took a chance, and I was hired as an Insurance Expert, selling commercial insurance to small businesses directly. I was given a great deal of support and direction, and since then I’ve been promoted to an underwriting position.

    I’ve been at Hiscox for just over three years now, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of working for a business which encourages and rewards hard work, taking the initiative and looking for ways to make a difference. At first I was wary as it seemed too good to be true, but now I feel valued as a part of the business, and I’ve seen how supportive and enabling Hiscox can be, both to me and to my colleagues. I wouldn’t change the journey I’ve taken to get here as it’s developed my work ethic and given me great skills that I still use every day. And I think it really does go to show that there are many varied routes to a career in the insurance industry!

    Alex’s lesson for students thinking of a career in insurance:

    “Don’t stop working after your degree. The hard work has only just started. Just keep looking for what you want to do and don’t be afraid to try different routes away from the traditional career paths to get where you want to be. You have something valuable to offer, don’t settle for second best!”

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