• Role: Trainee Actuary
  • Location: Glasgow
  • University: Glasgow
  • Degree: BSc (Hons) Statistics, MRes Statistics
  • Organisation: Mercer

Kirsten Fairlie

Is a career as an actuary for me?

I, like many other students, found deciding on my future career to be a daunting experience.

Having particularly enjoyed studying a Financial Statistics course at university, I was keen to pursue a career in the financial industry doing a job where I could apply the statistical knowledge I had gained during my degree and work in a client facing role. I decided to apply for internships as an opportunity to gain some work experience and to see if a career as an actuary was for me.

I applied to Mercer in 2012 and was accepted onto their eight week summer internship in the Glasgow office. The placement gave me a valuable insight into what a career as a trainee actuary would entail (without the pressures of the professional exams!) and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. After completing my internship I was offered a graduate place for the following year, which I was delighted to accept.

The interview process

The application process began with an initial online application, which was followed by a phone interview and an assessment centre which included a series of group and individual tasks, a short presentation and a psychometric verbal test. The final stage was an interview with two team managers from my chosen office where I was asked a combination of questions about Mercer, competency-based questions and about current pension issues.

I prepared thoroughly by researching the firm and the position I had applied for by using Mercer’s careers website and also gained a good grasp of issues in the pensions industry by keeping up-to-date with the current financial news. Although preparation is an integral part of the interview process, it is essential to be yourself throughout.

Jet set start to the internship

My internship started with an early morning flight to London for an intensive training day at the Mercer Headquarters, which was attended by all thirty actuarial interns from across the UK.

The day included inspiring talks from a senior partner and an actuarial trainee, as well as an introduction into some of the computer programs and calculations we would be encountering in our day-to-day work back in the office. After our training session, we were then divided into small groups and were each assigned a topic to be researched collectively during our placement and presented together in our final week.

Our induction day concluded with a drinks reception, which was a great way to meet some of the London based trainee actuaries and the HR team, as well as getting to know some of the other summer interns, before heading back to Glasgow for my first day in the office.

Starting in the office

On my first day in the office, I was placed in a delivery team made up of six actuaries, all at various stages of qualification. My colleagues were very welcoming and were eager to get me involved in a wide variety of their own individual client projects, which made me feel like a valued member of the team.

Mercer also have a ‘buddy’ scheme in place which meant I was teamed up with a new graduate who was more than happy to help me understand the tasks I had to complete, taking time to provide me with background information on different clients and to answer any of my questions.

During my internship I had the opportunity to work on a number of different responsibilities, including a range of calculations from Transfer Values and Early Requirement Quotes for individual scheme members to updating client specific monthly factors. I was also involved in accumulating data to fill in valuation surveys, which gave me the chance to work with colleagues in different teams as well as some of the senior actuaries.

I gained experience in prioritisation and working to deadlines and was involved in following my assigned tasks from the initial calculations, through the peer reviewing stage to issuing the quotes to the administration team.

Project work

When I wasn’t working on tasks passed on to me by my colleagues, I was kept busy with researching my group’s topic of interest. With each group member based in a different office, we had to communicate by using group emails and conference calling – something new to most of us! As a group we had to delegate areas for research and produce a clear PowerPoint for our presentation in our final week. Despite my initial nerves, our presentation ran smoothly and I received good feedback from my managers and the HR team. I also feel this project helped improve my presentation skills and highlighted the importance of clear communications between offices.

Social events

I was invited to a dinner and drinks event the week before starting my placement in the Glasgow office which was a great way to meet the people I would be working with in a relaxed environment and definitely made starting in the office a much less intimidating prospect. During my placement there were plenty of other events to be involved in, including team nights out, drinks to celebrate colleagues passing their actuarial exams and even a cocktail master class!

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