'How many people in this room would like to make six figures? Raise your hand," asked Andrew King, president of Liberty National Life Insurance Co., in an address to job seekers.
Hundreds of hands immediately shot up, near the beginning of an hourlong presentation Thursday that was one part of a mass interview at Chattanooga's downtown Marriott.
Job interviews are the lifeblood of Liberty National, a Birmingham, Ala.-based insurer that is continually hiring no matter what the shape of the economy, officials said.
King said he planned to hire 100 of the nearly 400 attendees at the Chattanooga event, provided they are willing to "get out of bed in the morning."
"You've gotta learn one word, and that word is w-o-r-k," he told attendees, who roared out the word's spelling with him.
The company has about $44 billion of insurance in force through more than 4 million policies and pays its employees by commission. This means they can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars - or nothing - depending on how many policies they sell, King said, though the average worker makes around $56,000.
Howard Ralston, Dalton, Ga., branch manager, said that though turnover in the business is very high, salesmen who make it past six months typically stay on much longer.
He started in 1960, and said honesty and a solid work ethic made him successful in the area's largest office.
In a twist, the poor economy has actually made people more eager to buy insurance, he said, perhaps because they seek "a security blanket when everything around them seems insecure."
"I've worked for 50 years, but last year was the biggest year of my career," Ralston said.
Don Harris, field vice president for the company, said that Liberty plans to interview 12,000 employees through large-scale hiring events in the Southeast until at least November.
He said the number of clients in the company's worksite portfolio had increased 56 percent year over the previous year.
King began his career in 1980 at the Roanoke, Va., sales office, and was named company president in 2006.
He plans to open up 100 more field offices in the next five years.