NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Arlette Cascella, an agent for State Farm Insurance, has an office located in New Providence right next to Dunkin Donuts. “That’s my claim to fame," she jokingly explains, “Everyone can always find a Dunkin Donuts.”
Cascella was not handed the opportunity to be an agent. Actually, she was turned down twice for Agency. But, she worked hard for it and persevered.
At the age of 27, Cascella applied for an entry-level job at State Farm. Five interviews later, she finally got in. In retrospect, she realized that no one wanted to take a chance, hiring her for their department. Since her father, Nick Cascella, was an established agent for a long time, the people doing the interviewing were reluctant and cautious. No one wanted to hire anyone who expected special favors because their father knew a variety of powerful people in the company. They kept interviewing her for the jobs that people just out of college applied for even though she’d explained that she had not yet completed college.
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Cascella remembers being asked how she felt about working in claims or underwriting. She laughed as she recalled replying, “What’s underwriting?” But, Cascella did not have a college degree and was not looking for any special favors. She did not even know how to type which in her mind helped define the entry level job she was looking for. She remembers the question that she believes got her in. The interviewer asked, “How will you feel in 5 years if you are still a mail and file clerk?” Cascella answered, “I’d have to assume I really like being a mail and file clerk. Five years is a long time. Certainly long enough for me to go out and acquire the additional skills needed to move out of that particular job.” In retrospect, she believes that to be the question and answer that got her the entry level positon she was looking for. She was only hoping to get her foot in the door. Finally, she was offered a no college, no skills, starting level position as a mail and file clerk in Life Company. With that she was thrilled. She accepted the position at the State Farm Regional office, located in Wayne, NJ.
Now that Cascella was in, she focused on how to be the best mail and file clerk she could be. She had a wide variety of different jobs but this was her first true office job. Her first job was when she was 14 years old. It was at a bakery. The minimum wage was a $1.60 an hour and along with others her age, she worked well past the legal 6:00 at night, often closing the store. Once Arlette, at the age of 28, landed her entry level job at State Farm Insurance, she knew it was her opportunity to learn as much about the insurance business as she could. She remembers when she realized that she better love being a mail and file clerk or go back to school at night until she finished college. She also realized that if her true ambition was Agency, there was a lot of ground work left for her to do. Arlette spent the next 7 years as a mail and file clerk in the department referred to as Life Company. She completed the courses needed by going to Rutgers University in Newark, NJ. She went at night after having worked all day. She then began the interview process all over again by applying for various jobs within State Farm in an effort to move up the corporate ladder.
Now the challenge was different but the same Arlette explains. She heard that the quickest way to prove oneself at the regional office was by working as an auto claim representative. Rumor had it Arlette explains that if you could handle being an auto claim representative in the Tri-State area, you could handle anything. So, Arlette began applying for that job every time she saw an opening. At least four different times she applied and was granted an interview to become an auto claim representative. Four different times, someone else got the job. During this period of time, she reached out to several co-workers and supervisors for advice. She researched the 60 most asked interview questions in an effort to be ready for the next chance or interview. She states, I even read, “The Farmer from Merna”, which is a book about how State Farm Insurance Company got started. Then she heard through the grape-vine about an opening. This opening was for a secretarial position, not a claim representative but in a claims department. This grape-vine also implied that a secretarial position was a great way or a great position to be in to determine if one really wants to become an auto claim rep. As grateful as she was for this advise, she held her ground stating, “I applied for the auto claim rep position, not the secretarial one”. The same grape-vine also advised her that any supervisor does not want to take someone on in their department and train them if they know the person wants to leave for a different job, like Agency. So, Arlette made an appointment to speak with someone in the personnel department and she explained her plight. She reviewed with the personnel person how she completed college, got her degree, reviewed the 60 most asked interview questions and bought a new suit for interviewing. When she got to the part about having read, “The Farmer from Merna," she began to laugh. She left the personnel office frustrated yet determined. The next time Arlette interviewed for an auto claim representative job that she read was available, she succeeded.
However, Arlette explained, getting the job to be an auto claim representative was not quite succeeding, not just yet. "First, anyone striving for this position had to first go to school. What school I asked?" Cascella explained. "We were sent to Bloomington, Ill. where State Farm Insurance Companies were domiciled. It is home to corporate headquarters. We had to attend three weeks of auto claims school. We were given a test everyday of the three weeks. If you failed four tests, you were out and sent back to your old job. Naturally I got nervous Arlette explained. Bloomington, Ill.? Fail four tests and back to mail and file? She did not fail. She actually enjoyed the experience as she got to meet people from all over the country. Arlette started to tell me about some of the people she met and what most of them think of New Jersey, but, that’s a whole other article. All she’d say about Bloomington, IL was that in the airport, the person who took your plane ticket was the same person that handled your luggage on the airplane. “Need I say more” she asked?
Arlette spent a little more than one year as an auto claim representative, again, she excelled at what she set out to accomplish. Arlette actually liked the job which she attributes to being good at it. Next, her sights were set on Agency. Ironically, after being turned down twice for Agency, the doors opened up to the position of becoming a State Farm Agent. If she recalls correctly, State Farm had not appointed anyone to be an Agent for almost 20 years. However, at the time, a generation of Agents were preparing for retirement in their near future. A meeting was called for anyone from the Wayne Regional office to attend if they were interested in the opportunity. Arlette recalls that about 400 people came to that meeting. The entire process was explained for anyone that was interested in becoming a State Farm Agent. The interview was going to take six months to complete. During this time frame, 2 days each month, every applicant was going to meet at the regional office. A showing of three cartons full of books, charts, binders and manuals was pointed out to each person and the program was called, “Agency 2000." There was continual testing and each applicant was reminded that it was not just about passing the tests. Each individual would want to shine and stand out. We were advised that each person’s supervisor would be contacted mid-stream. The people in charge of evaluations wanted to make sure that the candidates were still holding up their routine day jobs. They were going to find out if someone was acing all the tests but blowing off their regular day jobs in order to do it. To end this interview process they were going to video tape each candidate doing a sales presentation and the final 15 person panel would interview each applicant individually.
This sales presentation was going to include everything from your basic greet and meet to overcoming objections. The whole 6 month interview process ended with an actual traditional interview. The final interview was going to be the candidate and a 15-person panel. The 15-person interview panel consisted of agents, managers, vice presidents and other State Farm executives. When the time came for the first gathering of those that waned to continue with the process, there were only 36 people left. Out of the 36 people that continued on with the whole 6 month process, 12 were chosen and appointed as Agents.
Arlette remembers the process like it were yesterday. Ironically she describes it as rather fun, serious but lots of laughs too. The thing Arlette remembers the most were the other 35 people who wanted to be appointed as Agents. During her years as a mail and file clerk to auto claim rep, she had crossed many of their paths. Some of them had actually interviewed her at various times in her career with State Farm only to turn her down for whatever job or position she was trying for at the time. She recalls that topic coming up once. Everyone was sitting around bragging about their jobs with State Farm. Most of them were supervisory level employee’s. Some people were bragging about having 95 or 20 or 65 or a whole division of people report to them. She recalls asking some of them if they remembered her or remembered not hiring her when she applied for a job in their command. Some did. She remembers one time in particular, the applicants were going around the room, introducing themselves and stating their current positions of authority. When it got to Arlette, she looked up, introduced herself and stated her years as a mail and file clerk. She then pointed out that on that day, they were all on the same page, equal footing and all wanted to be appointed State Farm Agents.