How Coffee Can Make Your Career (An Emoji Illustrated Story☕)

My name is Derek and I am an actuary. I work at CNA Insurance headquartered in Chicago. I recently took a role in London, England so I live there now. Hello from 4,000 miles away!

Today, I am writing my first blog post with a career tip for you curious future actuaries. Being my first blog, I did some research, and learned Rule Number 1 of Blogging:

Catchy Headlines – simple, powerful, useful, and bold

I hope I chose a good title.

Some of you may already think you know the answer to how coffee can make your career:

“Duh, Derek! Coffee has caffeine!”

Sure. Coffee and its caffeine content do indeed give you super powers. Heightened awareness. Enhanced focus. Three extra hours of sleep. Flight.

But today isn’t about caffeine.

Today, I’ll be talking about coffee’s most important property – the company it brings.

In my five year career so far, I’m quickly learning the importance of having good mentors to career success.


Just what exactly is a mentor? A mentor is someone who acts as an experienced and trusted advisor to you, with vested interest in helping you grow. Examples being Yoda, Mr. Miyagi, or Master Shifu (except not as awesome).

Star Wars.jpg  Karate Kid.jpg kung Fu Panda.jpg

You can find one through a formal mentoring pairing program at work, or an informal connection you keep in touch with such as past managers, or even from people outside your company or profession.

Typically, you meet with your mentor to catch-up every so often. Once a month is probably typical.

A Story of Why Mentors Rock

I’ll start with a true story starring me.

???? 9:00 a.m. – I get to work. Just a normal day so far. All’s gravy.

???? 10:00 a.m. – Something’s not adding up with the Excel pricing model I created. Other people already rely on this model for their work. I investigate further. Let’s not rush to conclusions here.

???? 10:30 a.m. – Uh oh. I found my mistake. Something is definitely wrong. But wait, if it’s immaterial, then this might not be a big deal! Let’s check!?

???? 11:00 a.m. – IT’S MATERIAL.

???? 12:00 p.m. – I tell my boss the issue. We agree to prioritize getting it fixed and to talk about what happened at the end of the day. I feel TERRIBLE that it is my fault and that it affects other people’s work.

???? 1:00 p.m. – No update. Still feel TERRIBLE.

  2:00 p.m. – I grab coffee with my mentor we had already scheduled for that afternoon. My mentor puts the issue into perspective, tells me about times they made their own mistakes, and gives me advice on how to approach my later conversation with my boss. I still feel badly, but considerably less stressed and now more prepared for the meeting later.



There are days where you will just feel stressed. Maybe it’s exams, maybe you’re about to give a big presentation, maybe you just had a real rough day at work, or maybe it’s something personal outside of work.

The first thing mentors rock for are giving support and encouragement. In the form of advice from their experience, or a sounding board to hear what’s on your mind, or just someone that’s there that has your back. It’s a good feeling.

Opening Doors

When I first started working, I had this impression that your manager is your only means of communication to senior management about your work. This isn’t the case at all.

Having good mentors across the organization doubles as a networking base. There will be times where your manager won’t be able to speak best on your behalf. In this case, a mentor can recommend your work and reference you to others, thus helping give you opportunities and other connections.

Changing managers every couple years is very common in early entry level years, especially in a rotation program. But establishing a good mentoring relationship early and sticking together will provide a constant, no matter where your two careers take you.

Now, that I’ve discussed a few benefits, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your mentoring.

Building a Good Relationship

The Office.jpg

Play me:

One of my favourite scenes from The Office is when Michael Scott (Steve Carrell, Agent Michael Scarn) having faced recent financial issues, declares bankruptcy to the office, and shows shortcuts don’t exist.

Nothing’s ever quite that easy, is it? How much you get out of your mentoring relationships depends on how much effort you put into it.  Here are some helpful tips to get the most out of mentor meetings:

  1. Be prepared with topics to discuss
  2. Consider your meetings as a priority
  3. Be authentic and show your personality
  4. Build trust and open up
  5. Have fun

Final Mentor Perk

I asked colleagues at CNA if anyone had any mentoring experiences to share. I was happy to connect with Tim Fleming, our VP of Specialty Reserving on his experiences. He wrote:

I first met with my mentor right after I got my FCAS and well before I took on any leadership role. The relationship I have had with this individual has evolved over the 8+ years since then as we have both grown our careers. Now I am proud to call my mentor a friend, a colleague, and in a new chapter of our working relationship I call him boss (ok, I don’t really call him boss, but he is my direct supervisor). I know that the support I have received from this relationship has been critical to my success so far and will continue to be for the next 8+ years and hopefully many more.

I really like Tim’s story. He met his mentor early in his career at CNA, over 8+ years ago. And since then, he and his mentor have both found success moving up through the company into more senior leadership positions.

But, what I like most about his story?

He sought and found a career mentor, but also found a friend. And that’s pretty cool.


Please Like, Comment, or Share. Let me know your thoughts!

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Start Your Actuarial Career Off on the Right Foot with These Exclusive CAS Student Central Resources

Two years since its inception, the CAS Student Central Program now reaches more than 4,000 student members from over 400 universities worldwide! The growth of the program can be attributed to the wide range of benefits and resources made available to support you on your actuarial career path. We’ve highlighted a few of the key resources below, and we invite you to share your recommendations on additional materials or benefits that you’d like to see made available to Student Central members in the future!

Access to Free Practice Exams

CAS Student Central teamed up with The Infinite Actuary to provide exclusive access to free practice exams on P and FM, beyond those already offered on The Infinite Actuary website.  Each problem on these full length sample exams offers a video solution to ensure that students have a strong understanding of the material. Typically these exams are only available to students through the purchase of an Online Seminar through The Infinite Actuary, however you can access this FREE resource on the CAS Student Central website.

CAS Student Central Webinar Recordings

Each semester we offer a webinar exclusively for actuarial students. The webinars are a great way for you to get advice on the actuarial profession and get a better understanding of the tools and concepts that actuaries use in their day-to-day work. If you haven’t been able to attend a Student Central webinar yet, or want to go back and revisit a webinar topic you enjoyed, you can access recordings of all of the webinars in the Student Central Online Community.

You can also download past webinars through the links provided below:

Invitations to Networking Events

Have you attended a CAS Student Program yet? The CAS offers student programs at five meetings and seminars annually. Attendees are invited to spend the day meeting and networking with practicing actuaries, and learning more about the CAS and P&C Industry. Check out the list of remaining programs in 2016. For details on registering for any of these programs contact Tamar Gertner, CAS University Engagement Manager.

  • CAS Spring Meeting, May 17, 2016, Seattle, WA
  • CAS Seminar on Reinsurance, June 6, 2016, Boston, MA
  • CAS Casualty Loss Reserves Seminar, September 19, 2016, Chicago, IL
  • CAS Annual Meeting, November 15, 2016, Orlando, FL

Additional opportunities may be available through your CAS Regional Affiliate. Visit the CAS webpage for the list of regional affiliates.

Online Calendar of Events

The Online Calendar of Events makes it easy for you to access important dates and deadlines relevant to actuarial students all in one place. The calendar lists upcoming actuarial exam dates, scholarships deadlines, webinar and in-person event registration dates and more! Notice an event or deadline that’s missing from the calendar? Let us know and we’ll make the update.


As the actuarial field grows more competitive, companies are increasingly looking for candidates that have internship experience. CAS Student Central provides you with a list of internship offerings available through the CAS Career Center. You can find relevant listings and sign up for automatic email notifications of new listings that match your criteria. Read the full list of features on the CAS Student Central website.

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