Friday, 26 July 2013

Four ways to protect yourself from unnecessary harm following an accident

Nobody leaves their house for work or school thinking, “this is it—today I'm going to get into an accident on my way to where I'm going.” Yet, our daily commutes are filled with visions of auto collisions that leave us thinking thoughts of gratitude that we have been spared, and wishing good thoughts to those unfortunate enough to be involved. Why is this worth mentioning? Because the inability to anticipate that an accident could happen to you is in part what makes the aftermath of an accident such an intimidating experience. Simply put, because we weren't expecting it, we don't know what to do about it. This means we end up making mistakes that cost us in the long run. Anticipating calamity and knowing what to do about it can help minimize its negative impact upon us. Here are four ways to protect yourself from common mistakes people make following a collision.

Stay at the scene. Even if it seems to you that it was just a case of one bumper nicking the other, and that there isn't much to report, resist the urge to panic and race off. Failure to stay at the scene automatically puts you in a suspicious position because typically, people associate fleeing with guilt. If you remain at the scene, you demonstrate your responsibility, and communicate that you have nothing to hide...and if you don't, you can be sure that you will be caught, and that the consequences for driving away will be far worse than anything you might have feared just from staying at the scene to begin with.

Report the accident. If you've managed to stay at the scene, good work: that's the first thing you did right. However, you may find yourself and the other party engaged in a dialogue that is motivated by the same kind of fear that would prompt you to speed off to begin with—fear of what consequences there may be for each of you if the accident is reported. Never agree to not report the accident. For one, there is no reason to believe that the other party will not turn around and report it without you. In such a case, you will appear to be more culpable and guilty because you did not follow procedure. Contacting the police is the best way to protect both parties and to ensure the fairest possible outcome.

Don't rush to find fault—with either party. Any insurance provider seeking to equip you with the best advice possible in terms of dealing with collisions will tell you that you must never admit fault. The reasons that people rush to admit fault are well-intentioned: they are trying to be honest. However, it is very often the case that a driver believes himself or herself to be at fault when in fact they are not. Reporting the accident will enable law officials to accurately determine fault—this really is not your responsibility. Conversely, don't rush to blame the other party either. Emotions and tensions are already running high, and exacerbating this will only slow down the process of quickly and effectively resolving things.

Record, record, record. The more details you record at the time of the accident, the better the expected outcome for yourself. For the purpose of insurance claims, you want to record as much information as you can about the other party's vehicle, including the make, model, and year, as well as license plate number. You'll also want detailed contact information for the other driver. In terms of recording details about the actual accident itself, use every means available to you. Write down as much as you can in terms of how the accident played out (being as objective as possible) because you will forget these details very quickly. Also, technology is on your side: you should definitley use your phone to take as many pictures as possible of the scene.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Water tubing safety

Summer is the season that tends to see the highest volume in terms of outdoor sports and activities—and with good reason: many of these activities simply cannot be enjoyed at other points in the year. This is particularly true of water activities, as the water may be too cold (or altogether frozen) during the other seasons. One such activity that sees a considerable increase in popularity during the summer months is water tubing. Water tubing is a great way to relax while soaking up the outdoors, but to keep it enjoyable and not dangerous, the following tips should be followed.

Dress appropriately. The most important piece that you don when water tubing is a life jacket. You really shouldn't be participating in this sport without one. This is not a requirement on condition of being able to swim well or not: you cannot always anticipate how waters will behave, or where you may end up in the water despite your best laid plans. Wearing a life jacket will protect you in those instances when things go awry. In addition to wearing a life jacket, the rest of your clothing should be suitable for aquatic activity. Usually when people engage in water sports they wear bathing suits, and this is your best bet here, since you want to minimize dragging, and to avoid clothing that will weigh you down in the water, making it harder to swim if and when it becomes necessary.

Be familiar with your gear. Water sports equipment is not learn-as-you-go equipment: you need to become very familiar with it well before you plan to use it. For example, you don't want to learn by trial and error that the number of people you were planning to share a tube exceeds its capacity. Learn the size, weight, and occupant limits of the tube you are using, the speed it is rated for use at, and any other pertinent manufacturer information.

Be a good driver. If driver performance is key to safety when on the road, then it follows that the same holds true on the water—perhaps even moreso, since travel is not restricted to certain pathways on the water, but can be in any direction. Whoever is operating the craft that is towing the tubes should be sober, well hydrated, and in good health. Additionally, it is important to maintain as much distance as possible from other crafts in the water body you are sharing, and to be constantly aware of hazards as they arise in order to avoid them in a timely fashion.

Know the rules. Part of being a good driver—or rider, for that matter—is observing the rules. This can only be done if you know them to begin with. If there is a certain waterway that you plan to spend time sporting on, be sure to find out well in advance what rules they have for water sports. Do not proceed with your plans until you can find this information out, and commit it to memory.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Protecting your pets from housefires

One of the most common types of disasters that emergency response workers respond to are house fires. This is unfortunate, because most of these fires can be easily prevented. Nevertheless, this continues to be one of the most foremost types of disasters to strike the average person. In many of these cases, the casualties include pets, which only adds to the devastation of an already upsetting ordeal. In order to prevent that type of loss, you should take measures to consider your pets when you are putting together your family's fire plan. For one, be sure to discuss insurance coverage with your agent specific to your pet so that if they sustain injuries or illness as a result of a fire, you have the means to see to it that they are treated quickly and effectively. Hopefully though, you can form and adhere to a prevention plan that will protect your pets from such calamity to begin with. Here are the measures that you can take.

Put together a first aid kit. As living, breathing beings, pets are subject to physical trauma just as we are. If you would have a first aid for the people in your house, then it follows that you should do the same for your pet. The humane society suggests having the following items (at the very least) in your pet's first aid kit: 

  • Absorbent gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antiseptic wipes, lotion, powder or spray
  • Blanket (foil emergency blanket)
  • Cotton balls or swabs
  • Gauze rolls
  • Hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting when directed by a veterinarian or poison control)
  • Ice pack
  • Non-latex disposable gloves
  • Petroleum jelly (to lubricate thermometer)
  • Rectal thermometer (your pet's temperature should not rise above 103°F or fall below 100°F)
  • Scissors (with blunt ends)
  • Sterile non-stick gauze pads for bandages
  • Sterile saline solution (sold at pharmacies)
  • Tweezers
  • A pillowcase to confine your cat for treatment
  • A pet carrier

Make sure your home is pet safe. Check your home, room by room, for hazards that may make it easy for a pet to inadvertently start a fire. Loose wires are an especially prevalent offender in this case. In terms of rooms where this is most likely to happen, the kitchen usually holds more fire hazards than any other room in the house. Be sure to remove knobs, or to lock your stove and oven so that curious critters cannot accidentally turn them on.

Contain your pets wisely. Pets, especially smaller animals, can become easily trapped in smoke-filled spaces when disaster strikes, leaving them with no way to escape. To minimize the chances of this happening, keep them secured in an area of your house where the fire risks are at a minimum (for example, a room without hot lamps, or flammable materials). Include your pets in your evacuation plan. Know exactly where you would locate your pet in the event of a fire, and be sure to have collars and leashes handy at the exit you plan to use. 

Communicate with your community. When people know that you have pets, they know to look out for and rescue them in the event of an emergency. Stickers on the window are one very effective way to do this, since emergency response crews will see them as they enter your home.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Protecting yourself from new account fraud

Protecting your personal information from falling into the hands of ill-willed individuals is of utmost importance. This is why insurance providers typically offer identity theft insurance. For those who have never been affected by identity fraud, it can be hard to imagine what pieces of personal information might be of interest, and just how catastrophic the damage could be if this information ever got into the hands of the wrong people. While there really are countless offenses that can be committed using this stolen information, we're going to examine specifically those that enable the thief to open new accounts for services they would otherwise be unable to obtain without that stolen information.

The type of fraud that usually comes to mind when people think of fraudulent activity associated with account information is credit card fraud. It is also the most common type of identity fraud period. There are two primary reasons that a thief may want access to your credit card information: either to use that credit account for the purchase of goods and services they don't want to pay for themselves, or to to actually draw funds from it. While most major credit card providers are very good at catching suspicious activity on a credit account almost as soon as it takes place, there are still instances that slip their notice. Because of how easy credit card fraud is, it is imperative that consumers do their part to protect themselves. You should be monitoring your account regularly. Since most accounts are now viewable online, you are no longer limited to checking your transactions on a monthly basis: you can check them daily, and you should. Be careful, however, about doing so on shared computers—in fact, you should avoid doing this altogether.

Another type of account fraud—one that most people don't think of—is utility fraud. Utility fraud is very, very easy to commit because of how little information is required to do this. Usually, all that is required is a name, telephone number, and address. The address that is provided in this case is the address of the thief using your name. It can be a long, long time before utility theft is ever discovered because the victim has no way of knowing or checking for this. It can go on for months before you hear from a billing department that wants payment for these services. This is definitely a case where prevention is the best measure of protection you have. Be sure to file your monthly bills in a secure place. If you are discarding them, shred them to ensure that none of your information is accessible.

Loan fraud, while not nearly as common as the other two types of account fraud we've just discussed, can be devastating to the victim. The reason it is not as prevalent is because you are usually required to provide your social insurance number at the time of applying for a loan. It is key that you guard this number carefully. Good practice is to not carry it with you in your wallet, and to only give it out when you are legally required to do so.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Are you coordinated enough to be driving?

We rarely think of driving as a skill—especially if we are seasoned drivers who have been on the road for some time now. Yet, successful driving is dependent upon a sophisticated interplay of several our systems at once. A compromise in one or all of these systems can be catastrophic in its effect. Driving distractions are exactly that: a threat to the integrity of this synergy. Experts agree that there are three primary avenues of distraction: those affecting your vision, those affecting your mind, and those affecting your hands. We can see why any of these poses a detriment to safe driving. If you cannot see properly, you cannot even assess your situation correctly, so there is little hope of responding safely. If your mind is preoccupied, then it is not working on making safe decisions. And if your hands are already engaged in something else, then they are not on the steering wheel, and are therefore not prepared to respond to danger in a timely way. Let us consider the various distractions that threaten coordination among these systems.

Cell phones. These are among the worst offenders when it comes to driver distractions because they actually affect all three systems. While it is now illegal in all provinces to drive while talking on a hand-held cell phone, they are still a manual distraction: fumbling with hands-free connections, as well as texting (which is against the law, but still grossly practiced) attest to this. They are visually distracting by nature. Our eyes tend to look towards light sources, so when our devices flash to let us know that there is an incoming call or a new text message, this prompts us to take our eyes off of the road. Finally, they distract us mentally. It is important to remember that hands-free cell phone use is not distraction free. Our minds need to be 100% engaged in the task of driving.

Eating. This distraction is primarily manual (although it can also be a visual distraction when you are trying to manage it in a mess-free way). You need at least one hand to eat, which means that you have reduced your manual control over the steering wheel by a minimum of 50%. Sometimes it's more, as in those occasions where you need to unwrap your food and so forth. In those instances, both hands are removed from the wheel, diminishing your manual control entirely. Even if your eyes are on the road and you can see danger coming, and even if your mind is quick to assess and respond, you have no means by which to react: your hands are tied up.

Smoking. Similarly to eating, this ties up your hands so that they are not prepared to respond to situations as they arise.

Grooming. This is another multi-system offender. Doing your makeup on the way to work is bad idea. Your eyes are not on the road because they are instead looking in the mirror. Your hands are not on the wheel because they are engaged in the application of cosmetics. Your mind is not ready to assess whatever already impoverished input it is receiving because it is focused on the task of grooming. Grooming is best done at home.

GPS. These are wonderful devices, and when all goes well, they should actually diminish the mental distractions associated with confusion around directions. However, when things go awry, they pose significant temptation for distraction. Instead of occasional glances, our eyes spend more time focused on them trying to figure out what has gone wrong. Our minds are mulling over the possible causes of misdirection. And when we reach for them to re-enter our destination, our hands are disengaged from the wheel. If your GPS gives you a nasty surprise, give it the cold shoulder. Exit or pull aside to where you can stop safely, and deal with it when you are no longer on the road.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Find energy savings in your home without spending on upgrades

There are so many additional costs associated with home-owning apart from mortgages, which we tend of think of as the primary expense. Yet on top of mortgage payments, we must budget for insurance payments, utilities, maintenance, and so forth additionally. Given the many expenses we must manage, who wouldn't welcome a break in any of these? We'll start with a bit of bad news: most Canadian households are not operating efficiently when it comes to energy and water consumption. Now the good news: this means there are hidden savings to be had in your home without spending a single red cent (ahem, we meant to say “shiny nickel”—RIP penny) on costly upgrades. Here's how you access them.

Manage your air well. For something that's typically mistaken for nothing, we spend a lot of money on air. We spend to heat it, and we spend to cool we should be careful about where it goes. First of all, you want to ensure that air which you've either heated in the winter or cooled in the summer isn't escaping unnoticed. The sources of potential leaks are numerous and varied, and increase with the size of your property, so take some time to do a survey of your home to see where air might be leaking out. The most obvious culprit is in the space around window. A substantial amount of air escapes this way, even with seemingly well sealed windows. In the winter, the best way to prevent this is with caulking. This is a very inexpensive way to implement a system that will save plenty. Using plastic film over the windows in addition to the caulking is even better—and has the added advantage of preventing condensation (and thus mold) too! In addition to preventing the loss of heated or cooled air, avoid heating or cooling more than you need to. If there is a room that is seldom used, close the vents there. While this won't seal it off and prevent the air from entering there completely, it will reduce the waste significantly.

Manage your light well. This applies both to natural and artificial lighting. Natural light has a huge role to play in terms of contributing to the temperature of your home. During the summer, sunlight is actually a costly intruder. If you allow it in unfiltered, you will be paying and re-paying to cool it all day long. Using shades to decrease the amount of sun that comes in will reduce that expense significantly. If you want to step it up a notch, use foil on your windows. This will reflect the light right back outside before it can convert itself into energy (heat) inside your house. Of course, during winter months, the same principle applies, but with the opposite application. Letting in sunlight through closed windows will reduce the amount you spend on heating. When it comes to artificial lighting, remember to turn off lights in rooms and closets that aren't being used. Replace inefficient bulbs with efficient ones, and keep lamps unplugged when they are not in use (even when they are switched off and plugged in, they are still using energy).

Manage your plants well. Plants have a great deal to do with the conservation of resources. Most people are aware now of the ability of a living roof to shield a house from excess heat in the summer, thereby reducing the amount spent on air conditioning significantly. Trees can have a similar effect when planted strategically. Although purchasing a mature tree may be costly, this isn't the only way to reap the benefits of tree shade: buying a sapling of a fast-growing variety may not give you the shade you seek immediately, but you'll be sure to see its effects in summers to come. Energy isn't the only resource that plant management can conserve either: water can be conserved if you give careful consideration to what you grow. Choosing drought resistant plants, such as bitterroot, plains prickly pear, and blue flax (all with stunning blooms, by the way) is a great way to reduce the amount of you spend watering your yard.

Friday, 12 July 2013

How you can contribute to senior driver safety

When we're asked to think of an age group that most frequently comes to mind as being the most at risk of involvement in motor vehicle collisions, the demographic that we automatically think of is that of the adolescent driver—after all, don't they pay the highest auto insurance premiums? However, there is another age group that deserves just as much focus and attention when it comes to education about improved driver safety: senior drivers. In fact, while we know that there are many factors contributing to the passing of persons over 65, most are surprised to learn that car accidents are actually among the leading causes of death for such persons. For this reason, it's important to create awareness around these risks, and to implement strategies for minimizing those dangers. What can you do to promote elderly driver safety?

Make sure the elderly driver in question has access to a vehicle suited to their needs. Many modifications can be made to basic models of most makes of cars to facilitate driving for the elderly. These modifications are not a matter of luxury, they're a matter of safety, because where the driver's comfort and confidence are increased, so is their ability to make and execute safe driving decisions on the road. The available modifications for drivers with special needs run the entire gamut from something as simple as cushions, to something as sophisticated as hand controls, to everything in between, like pedal extensions. Chances are, if you have a need, it can be met. Your insurance provider should know of the options available to you for this sort of customization, and should be able to recommend reliable providers of these services.

Know the signs of a driver whose safety is compromised by aging. There are tell-tale signs that a person may be approaching the stage at which they are no longer fit to drive. First and foremost among these is declining vision. When vision is compromised, this can spell disaster on the road—especially in adverse weather conditions, which diminish visibility even further. Slow reflexes are another cause for concern. Other indicators that it may be time to slow down include getting lost on familiar routes, being pulled over for any type of traffic violation, and having a physician or a relative explicitly express concern over the driver's ability on the road.

Know how to talk to an elderly driver whom you believe to be at risk. Expressing concern to a loved one over their ability to drive is an extremely sensitive task. There is much at play here: feelings of fear at the potential loss of independence and freedom, resentment about their perceived weakness, and depression over the inevitability of aging are all common reactions whenever elderly persons are confronted with their own decline. If such a conversation causes them to become too agitated or upset, they will not take your concerns seriously, and will continue putting themselves (and others) at risk. This is why tact is crucial in such cases. Be sure that your words are carefully chosen so as not to diminish the driver's sense of self-respect, and to reflect that you are acting out of love and concern for their well-being above all.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Public wireless safety

For all of the merits of the age of digitalization, electronic data is much harder to track and protect than physical files, if you are unaware of the security risks you are exposed to. While purchasing insurance to cover the damages that might occur if your sensitive information is leaked is one way to protect yourself, you ultimately want to prevent such a scenario from happening to begin with. Unfortunately, there are ill-intentioned people who are continually striving to access sensitive information to use it in dishonest ways. One of the most prominent sources of this risk comes from publicly shared wifi connections. If you are somebody who typically takes your tablet or computer on the go with you, and relies on wifi connections outside of your home or workplace, you need to be very diligent in protecting your information.

Frequent users of public wifi need to be aware that the connections they rely on at cafes, hotels, airports, and other such public places, have no security about them. That is to say, because they are intended to be accessed by many people, that accessibility comes at the expense of security. This has nothing to do with the integrity of the business offering the connection: this will apply to a perfectly trustworthy establishment whenever public wifi is being offered. The following are some areas you can target to reduce your exposure to this kind of vulnerability.

Choose a network wisely. When you are out and about, and eager just to check your email or to gain access to online content, the temptation is to simply get connected however you can. This usually means looking for the easiest connection to log onto—likely one that does not require a password. However, if the choice is between requesting a password from the establishment you are visiting, versus logging in to a password-free network from a neighbouring business, you should opt for the password protected one. That password means that less people are accessing the network, lowering your risk of exposure.

Make sure your software is up to date. Ensure that you don't fall behind with the software upgrades and updates that your operating system provides. These updates will help protect you from viruses, spyware, and malware, and are constantly evolving to identify and correct security breaches as soon as new ones come into being. Staying current is really key in this regard.

Mind your settings. There are a few settings you can modify on your computer to up its security when you're working on a publicly shared network. By turning off sharing, you ensure that your files are protected from unwanted visitors. Additionally, turning off your wireless signal when you don't actually need to be online is a good habit to get into, as it ensures that you aren't unnecessarily exposing yourself to network hazards when you're not making use of the internet connection.

Favour https over http. Websites that begin with https, instead of the more common http, use encryption. What this means is that the website you are using has taken measures to ensure that any information you submit through the site cannot be stolen by someone else, since it is encrypted. Most web browsers show an icon of a padlock when you are on such a site.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Protecting yourself from E. Coli

Several months ago, we featured an entry entitled “Understanding E. Coli” which covered some of the basic facts about this nasty bacterial strain. While E. Coli's contagion is not necessarily as virulent as the various forms of influenza, you still can catch it from infected persons. For this reason, it's important to observe good infection control practices in order to minimize your risks of exposure. Follow these guidelines in order to protect yourself from infection.
  1. Avoid known areas of contamination. When your municipality issues an alert to inform you of contaminated waterways, avoid all primary and secondary contact with those waterways at all costs. Primary contact would be if you yourself were to be exposed directly to the area of contamination. Secondary exposure would be at play if you had contact with somebody (another person, or an animal for example) that was exposed to the contamination.

  2. Protect yourself in public restrooms. Unfortunately, you cannot assume that everyone around you is as steadfast in adhering to infection prevention measures as you are, so protect yourself from the laxness of others. Only two thirds of people report that they wash their hands after using the rest-room at work. Given that E. Coli lives in fecal contamination, this behaviour could literally be deadly. By washing your own hands frequently (particularly before consuming food) you lessen your risk of having to pay for another's sins.

  3. Remember that money is the root of all evil. Well, it's the root of many infections anyway. Think of how many times in a given day you are involved in the exchange of money. Each of those exchanges presents exposure to infection. Less than half of all Canadians wash their hands after handling money. This means there is much room for improvement in shutting down this avenue of infection-spread.

  4. Be careful about sharing. If there are common work surfaces (phones, keyboards, etc) that you must share with others, try to get into the habit of disinfecting them before you use them. If there are items you can avoid sharing altogether, then opt to do so. For example, if you frequently have visitors who require a pen when working with you, keep a pen for yourself, and have several available for those who visit you.
It may seem like a hassle at first to try and modify your practices to include various means of infection prevention, but soon it will become second nature to you, and you'll be grateful for the added protection.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Life insurance: at what age should I be shopping for it?

Life insurance is one of the most important policies you should be subscribing to. Simply put, it's an agreement between yourself and your insurance provider in which your subscription to it means that upon the death of the person to whom the policy applies, you will be payed a sum of money (as per the agreement you and your insurer make). That is life insurance at its most basic, but some policies also grant payment when it becomes evident that the insured individual is terminally or critically ill, and may even cover funeral expenses.

Most people know this, and in thinking of it, they reason that death, and even illness, shouldn't be affecting them for a few more decades (despite that there are exceptions), and that they will likely not face the sort of calamity that would leave their loved ones in a financial bind if they were to pass. With that in mind, they conclude that life insurance—while it would be nice to have now—doesn't become a necessity until middle age and beyond, when it's more likely that they may pass. But the fact of the matter is that the younger you are, the better rates you will get on your premiums. Are you newly wed? As grim as it may be to think of “the end” when you've just embarked on a wonderful journey of partnership, protecting your spouse financially through life insurance will actually be easier to get into if you start when you are under thirty and in good health.

There is a Hindu proverb that says “Dig your well before you're thirsty.” No advice could be more sage when it comes to deciding when to purchase life insurance. If you wait until a medical problem kicks in, this will absolutely have an impact on your premiums, and your policy will cost significantly more than it would have if you had made a policy when you were healthy. Investing in life insurance early on also acts as a hedge against inflation: when you are purchasing a life insurance policy that you plan to subscribe to over a longer period, like 20 years for example, you have the opportunity to consider and anticipate what the inflation rates may be like over those decades, and to wisely purchase a policy that would benefit your family by those future standards. If you have any dependents, life insurance is indispensable; and the sooner you invest, the better your rates will be.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Does your insurance provider deserve you?

With so many aspects of our lives demanding the most from us in terms of time and research, it's bound to happen that some key area that we should be devoting effort to will fall short. For many people, this is in choosing an insurance provider who will best meet their household's needs. If this is you, there's no need to despair: while you may be locked in for the time agreed upon in your contract, the good news is that these agreements always have an end, which means that there's always an opportunity for you to catch up on the research you missed. If you are unsure of how to begin assessing your own level of contentment with your current insurance provider, here are the criteria you should consider:

Quality of service. Simply put, are you convinced that your provider's service is unmatched by any other provider? This is a service you are paying for—anything short of excellent shouldn't do. How easy is it for you to speak with a representative when you need to? How courteous are staff with handling your concerns? While all business know to talk about good customer service, does your company put their money where their mouth is? That is to say, does the day to day of how they deal with you reflect what they say are their priorities about customer satisfaction? How easy does this company make it for you to access information you may need? Do they use technology effectively? Are they putting effort into developing websites and apps that expand the realm of ways they can help you? Don't stop at a company that falls short in these ways.

Integrity. Determining the honesty and integrity of the insurance provider you are with (or considering) takes careful observation on your part. Listen very carefully to the statements and promises they make, and if you may have difficulty remembering them in the future, write them down and clarify with the agent you are speaking to so that you know exactly what is being promised. This way, later down the road, you can determine: has their been reneging on anything that was promised? A good way to judge whether this will be the case beforehand is to look at the company's advertising claims and strategies. Favour companies that rely on their excellent service and reputation, rather than the pressuring of consumers into sales.

Knowledgeability. It's important that your provider demonstrates knowledgeability of the industry at large, and of their products and services specifically, at all levels—whether you are dealing with someone in management, or whether you are dealing with frontline workers. A well educated staff means there will be less ambiguity around challenging situations, which in turn increases the likelihood of your needs being met efficiently and effectively.

Authority. How is authority with decision making handled by your provider? Do the agents working with you need constant approval or verification from someone at a higher level, or are they well equipped and trusted by management to make the best decisions for you?

Reputation. There are several ways to check a company's reputation, and the more of these avenues you employ, the more accurate your assessment will be. Start within your own community of family, friends, and coworkers to see if they have anything to say about the company you are assessing. Online reviews can be another source of information in this regard. It's also worth talking to local car repair shops and towing companies to ask what they have heard of various insurance providers.

Community. What does your insurance provider do for the community you live in? This is not a superfluous consideration: an insurance company that is continually striving for the improvement of a given community outside of office hours is one that will highly value the individual members of that community when it comes to providing them with service.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Successful seasonal hiring

Summer is a time when many businesses, small and large alike, may be seeking to increase their staff. This could be out of a desire to capitalize on fresh, young minds that are otherwise not available during the academic season, or it could be owing to an actual increase in the volume of business a company may observe during the summer months depending on the nature of the goods and services they provide. At any rate, the summer usually presents employers with a “hirer's market” in that there tends to be an increase in the amount of labour available to you. The most important traits to be considering in your candidates are:

Their skill set. This is the primary consideration that any employer gives to potential employees. You want to ensure that the candidate's past experience and education has equipped them with the skills they will need to get the job done. Additionally, you want to ensure that the candidate is well prepared to fine tune and develop these skills in a way that is specific to your company.

Their attitude. There was a time when conventional wisdom dictated that ability trumped all when it came to hiring, but we now see the downfall of such a system: no matter how skilled a candidate may be, if their attitude prevents them from offering the fullness of that talent to your team, then that skill-set becomes inaccessible to you. You want to look for a candidate who both has much to offer, and will offer it.

Their narrative. Listen carefully to what your candidates say to you about their reasons for wanting to work for your company specifically. Their explanation needs to go well beyond parroting key phrases they may have found from your company objectives on your website. Prior to interviews, determine key ideas and actions you would like to hear brought up by your candidates, and then listen for them carefully. This will help to secure somebody who enters your team knowing exactly what they want to help you achieve, and how they will do this.

Their network. Between a candidate's education, internships, work experiences, and references, you should be able to glean how their network may have shaped them for better or for worse. Do you notice any common contacts you may have? This would certainly pose an advantage to you, as it increases the likelihood of commonalities, which in turn will make the candidate a better fit for your environment.

Their long-term commitment. Do you have returning applicants who worked for you in a previous season? If they performed well previously, their commitment should be rewarded—and that will be rewarding to you, since they will see themselves less as newcomers, and more as team members who take pride in the place they work for.