Actuarial graduate programmes offer tailor-made routes into the profession for capable graduates. Felix Currell is currently undertaking a graduate programme at XPS Pensions Group, he discusses the opportunities available, their benefits and offers advice on when and how to apply.
Types of opportunities available
Actuaries are being employed in many different areas and disciplines, offering wide opportunities for those entering the profession. Graduate possibilities are particularly strong in:
- Risk management – Often for an institution (e.g. a bank), this involves analysing financial risks that face the firm. The recession highlighted the potential consequences of such risks, and as such the demand for actuaries who can manage these risks is high.
- Insurance – The different avenues in this area are wide-ranging, as the variety of products and specialist situations is greater than may be initially apparent. This can range from something as common as car insurance, to insuring a military submarine against malfunction.
- Benefits – Giving consultancy advice to companies which provide benefits to people (e.g. companies which provide pensions to its employees).
Graduates will need to have strong numerical skills, making a quantitative degree desirable but not essential. Actuaries can come from a variety of academic backgrounds; an employer will focus on a keen logical mind that is able to understand and solve difficult problems.
Often an actuary is required to explain complex ideas to a client, where the client may not have full understanding of the mathematical calculations. Therefore it is important that potential actuarial graduates are able to communicate clearly in simple terms, both verbally and in writing.
Any graduate programme offers great opportunities, allowing you to develop many skills, such as time management and teamwork. I think that actuarial graduate programmes offer other particular benefits:
- Experience – I have gained valuable knowledge about financial industries that is very useful in my job, as well as for any related work. Actuarial work can expose you to areas such as finance, law, and administration, which will help broaden knowledge.
- Constant learning – The exams help to expand knowledge in a way that many other careers may not. Different roles within an actuarial situation also allow learning of skills in a work environment.
- Highly-regarded – Being an actuary is looked upon favourably by many employers and professionals. The skills required for the job, plus the demanding nature of the exams, are a strong start to any CV.
Support training and development
One thing that can put some people off the actuarial profession is the prospect of the exams. They are indeed a challenge for an actuary in their early years, and do require work and commitment from the graduate in order to pass them. However, graduate programmes usually offer generous study packages, which include time off work to study, as well as support networks within the company. This was helpful for me, especially as many others who I work with have had to take the same exams, and go through the same process.
How and when to apply
Applying for graduate programmes can be tough, but remember that everyone is in the same boat as you. Effective research and preparation into both the industry and the company you are applying for will put you in a great position at the application stage.
Competition for places can be very strong in certain areas, so it is important to take some time to ensure that your CV/application letter is suitable, as this will be the first reference point a potential employer will have of you.
This stage of the process is also the one where you have the most control – you can take as much time as you like, and can make sure that you say exactly what you want to. Therefore I believe that putting in that extra effort is really worthwhile. There are several other points to note regarding your application:
- Employer-specific – Many candidates will have lots of good reasons why they wish to become an actuary. What will stand out to a potential employer is the reason for sending the application to them.
- Give yourself a chance – Employers aren’t going to mark you down for applying for other roles, as you are just maximising your chances of becoming an actuary. Going for other actuarial interviews is also great practice, as there is no substitute for the actual experience. It is important, however, to keep your applications specific. Generic applications sent to lots of employers isn’t going to get you noticed.
- Time is crucial – There is no harm in applying too early, so I would look to submit my application well before the deadline. Some employers start reviewing applications in October or November (where the job will start the following September) so it is important that you are ready. Most employers ask for a CV, so this could be done well in advance to save yourself some time and stress.
- Involve others – It can be very difficult to independently judge your own application, so I would definitely ask others to read it, and provide feedback.
- Read about other people’s experiences – It can be very daunting applying for graduate programmes, so it helps to read about the experience of others, and to realise that all other applicants are in a similar position. We have an extensive library of profiles on here.