So you’re on track to get a good degree, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be guaranteed a good job once you graduate. Competition for top actuarial firms is fierce, so you’ll need to go the extra mile to give yourself a chance of obtaining that dream job. Helen Skinner from Punter Southall explains how.
Everyone leaves university with a degree – what else have you got?
I saw this question on a poster in my university halls in first year and it has stayed with me ever since. Getting the job you want is all about working out how to differentiate yourself from the competition, demonstrating you are everything the company wants and making sure you are remembered.
There are two main strands to this:
1. Make yourself seem interesting and good to work with. Think carefully about things you are involved in outside of your degree; these are the things that will make employers see you as a person, rather than just another graduate.
2. Don’t slip up on the basics.
Sure, joining an Investment Society may help you look interested in an actuarial career on paper, but is it something you can talk enthusiastically about at interview? The skills employers are looking for can be developed in all kinds of different settings – being involved in any society shows team-working, time management and communication skills, whether it’s a Maths Society, Skydiving Society or even a Pantomime Society. The important thing is to do something.
If you’re on the committee – even better. No matter what your interests are, no matter whether these are developed through an ‘official’ club or it’s more of a hobby, ask yourself the following questions:
- What have I been responsible for?
- In what context did I work with other people? (Liaising, delegating, team-working, promoting etc.)
- What problems did I have to overcome?
- What other demands did I have on my time?
Taking the lead
You don’t have to be President of a society to develop leadership skills or to demonstrate you can handle responsibility. Organising a smaller part of a larger project is still important to make sure everything runs smoothly. If you haven’t been involved with many clubs or societies, consider examples in other areas. You may have taken the lead on a piece of group work, had responsibilities at a part-time job or done some babysitting.
One of the most important skills employers are looking for is the ability to communicate. This covers both verbal and written communication, and ideally will be demonstrated in a variety of situations. Communication is about more than speaking well or good spelling and grammar; it’s important to be able to adopt the right tone for different situations. Consider the different roles you have taken when trying to accomplish different things. This may include:
- Working as part of a team
- Liaising with other people, groups or organisations
- Delegating work to other people and checking it has been done
- Promoting events.
Problems are good
Things go wrong. The venue double books, the speaker drops out, the DJ doesn’t show or the committee have a massive falling out. This is a nightmare at the time but it is gold dust when applying for jobs. Problems give you the chance to demonstrate how you come up with solutions, keep a clear head and perform under pressure. Remember this next time you lose your passport.
When you start your job, you’re likely to have some quieter periods followed by periods of being extremely busy, meaning you’ll need to learn how to prioritise. Do you remember that week when you had six essays to do, four seminars to attend and there was that big event happening that you’d been organising for months? Now is the time to remember how you handled that. And work out how you could improve on it for next time.
Where to start
Research the profession as a whole. It’s easy to think that all actuarial jobs will be very similar, but there are actually significant differences between jobs, and it will be to your advantage if you can recognise what the company you have applied to specialises in. Actuaries work in a variety of industries, such as insurance, pensions and investment, and once you have a lot of experience in one area in can be difficult to switch to another. There are also differences in terms of the amount of technical work versus consultancy work each role entails. So put the time in before applying to ensure you make the best choice for you.
Study the study
Research the qualification. Exams are part and parcel of the actuarial career, and employers want to be sure that you know what you are letting yourself in for. They do not want to spend a lot of time and money training someone who isn’t willing to put the work in. You will need to pass (or be exempted from) 15 exams to qualify, and this generally takes a minimum of three years but is often longer.
So what do you do?
Research the company. Which industry do they specialise in? How big/small is the company and why does this appeal to you? Where are they based? You will not be expected to know the names of all the partners or the details of their financial statements, but you will be expected to be able to explain why you think you are suited to this particular company. This could be because of the industry, testimonials you have read or employees you have met. This is not a trick question – companies want to know because they want employees who will be happy and will continue to work for them well into the future.