Ever since I began my career as an actuary, I’ve been passionate about helping students navigate the uncertainties of their initial job search. Choosing a path after college is already difficult, and once you’ve chosen to go down the path of a career as an actuary, the question becomes, “how do I get my first job?”
As I searched for my first job out of college I remember wishing that I could read the minds of my potential employers. I knew that preparing for an interview was important. I wanted to know exactly what the employer was looking for and how I could meet their requirements.
Based on my experience recruiting for both of my companies and speaking with many candidates, here are my top 10 things you should consider as a student that will bring you closer to getting that first job as an actuary – ranked in no particular order of importance. As a member of the CAS, my list is based on my experience as a property and casualty actuary, however these tips are transferable to a career in life and health.
1. Develop an understanding of the types of actuarial jobs available.
Know the job market. Consider the types of firms where actuaries work, including insurance companies, brokerages and consulting firms. Also, consider responsibilities actuaries hold at these companies, such as pricing, reserving and predictive modeling. Career fairs are a great way to see which companies are hiring, and give you chance to meet their representatives in person. You can impress during an interview by displaying you’ve done your homework and you understand the types of actuarial positions available.
I cannot stress enough the importance of developing and utilizing your network, even at the onset of your career. Your network is likely much larger than you think – It’s made up of friends, family, university professors and other acquaintances. The better you get to know someone, the more likely you’ll be to have access to their network, which can vastly expand the number of people who can help you find that first job. If you have the opportunity to meet someone and make a new connection, do it! LinkedIn has made it easier to keep track of your network, however, remember that LinkedIn is not enough. You need to take the time developing connections. That means asking people to get coffee and staying in periodic contact with them. The more time someone invests in you, the more likely they’ll become an asset to you in your job search. I recommend keeping a spreadsheet with your network and keeping it updated with every interaction you have with a potential contact.
3. Develop a rudimentary understanding of the insurance business
Actuaries are traditionally insurance experts, so it makes sense to know about the industry in which you’ll likely be working. Take a look at the list of the largest property and casualty insurance companies, and read about them to understand the type of business they write. Are they writing personal lines, commercial lines, specialty lines or maybe all of the above? Read up on the standard insurance products – you might be working with them when you’re hired.
4. Pass exams in while in college
It’s no secret that it can be challenging to obtain an entry level actuarial position without an exam passed. Nowadays, I’ve interviewed candidates that have passed three, four, or even five exams before looking for their first job. The more exams you pass while in college, the stronger your resume looks, and the easier it will be to obtain your fellowship, as you’ll need to pass fewer exams once you start working full time. I’ve heard students say that they have been advised not pass too many exams while still in school. I find that advice to be out of date and detrimental to applicants.
5. Keep that GPA high
The GPA isn’t the most important statistic on your resume, but a low GPA could give an interviewer a reason to doubt a candidate’s abilities. So stay focused on keeping those grades up!
6. Take advantage of soft skill opportunities
The actuarial career requires a unique balance of technical skills and communication skills. Many students studying to become actuaries focus on math and economics courses. These courses teach critical skills, however, you should consider opportunities to improve your soft skills. Classes to consider include ones that require writing papers, or public speaking courses.
7. Take steps to prepare for the interview process
An interview can be daunting for someone that hasn’t experienced one. Even someone with a spotless resume can stumble in an interview due to nervousness or lack of preparation. It is important to know your resume inside and out, learn about the company to which you are applying, and know the description of the position to which you are applying. You should find someone such as a career services professional to do mock interviews with. Professionals can help you diagnose weaknesses in your interview style and provide suggestions on how to improve your interview skills.
8. Make your resume spotless
Career services at your school can help by proof reading your resume. It is hard to imagine, but even a small typo will stick out like a sore thumb on a resume. Print out a copy of your resume and read through it. This will help you spot errors that you might have overlooked while reviewing your resume on the computer.
9. Understand the hiring schedules of companies for internships and full time candidates early on.
This is particularly important if there is a company you would really like to work for. It is important that you don’t miss a deadline to submit an application. To avoid this, you need to understand their hiring schedule well in advance. Most of the larger firms are beginning to hire earlier than they have in the past so they can fill out their entry level positions ahead of the spring graduation. Be prepared to submit your application earlier than you may think.
10. Flesh out your technical skills
It’s a huge plus to be able to showcase relevant software knowledge on your resume. Consider taking an introductory course in Microsoft Excel, which is the bread and butter software used by actuaries. Additionally, look for opportunities to get experience with VBA, SAS, SQL, R, Java or other programming languages. If you can demonstrate in your interview that you have experience with one or more of these languages, it will suggest to the interviewer that you’ll have a head start on important skills when you begin your full time role.