The beginning of a new year is often a time to pause and reflect – in both directions, forward and backward. We look back at the calendar year just completed, and we can’t help but try to recall its major events, assess how good or bad it was, and evaluate its general impact on our lives. Such reflection is a good thing – especially if it encourages us to learn from the past, identifying and responding appropriately to both the good and the bad.
But when it comes to a New Year, mostly we think of resolutions: those plans and promises we make to ourselves regarding the future (e.g., from my personal resolution repertoire: losing weight, getting better organized), and which often last far shorter than originally planned (e.g., again from my personal resolution experience: 24 hours, and ditto).
Despite occasional failures to live up to our plans, the idea of a resolution is a good one, whenever it is made. And so I herein offer three possible resolutions for actuarial science students: three recommendations for habits and behaviors that will help you to better develop your business skills and actuarial persona. And these are non-technical resolutions. In our actuarial world, it is easy to let the pursuit of technical skills overwhelm us: taking university courses, preparing for actuarial exams, learning a new programming language. But full and ultimate success in a career is, I believe, at least as dependent upon the softer, or non-technical skills, as it is on the technical. And to have both technical and non-technical skills – that’s a recipe for well-rounded success.
Here are three non-technical resolutions for actuarial science students – resolutions that you can begin implementing now, and continue for the rest of your career.
1. Begin or Enhance Your Networking Efforts: All successful people network. Period. And there is always more networking one can do, limited only by the number of hours in a day, the need for sleep, and other such minutiae of life.
“Networking” is the systematic development and nurturing of relationships to fulfill certain needs or desires. From a career perspective, building such relationships can facilitate knowledge and opportunities, and it is something you should work on daily, throughout your career. And it is never too early to start. There are dozens of ways to network; just a few examples:
- If you read something interesting – e.g., an article, email, or blog post – send a quick message to the author expressing your appreciation and showing interest in the topic.
- When meeting someone new, consider following up with a brief phone call or email. If relevant and appropriate, ask if they’d be interested in talking further over a cup of coffee, or perhaps grabbing a sandwich for lunch.
- Keep a list or database of names, contact information, and a few important characteristics about each person.
2. Become a Career-Long “Student” of Your Industry: Absorb as much information and knowledge of your industry / profession as possible. For actuarial students, right now that may mean learning about actuarial science and risk management in a broad, general sense; you can tailor your information-gathering efforts to your specific career focus (e.g., property / casualty insurance, health risk management, etc.) later, once you have made a decision on where to concentrate your career.
Nowadays, there are numerous “news aggregator” apps that allow you to collect, organize, and read information, by searching news articles and other media based on your selected key words. (Start with “actuary” and “actuarial,” and add other key words as desired.) Make a daily habit of perusing your aggregated news, reading a few of the links in-depth. Soon, you’ll have plenty of industry knowledge with which to better understand discussions, see connections between topics, or start your own cocktail party conversations.
3. Subscribe To and Read a Newspaper: Sounds trivial, I know. But this is something I always recommend to near- and recent-graduates who will be starting their jobs and careers. Knowing a bit about what’s going on in the world – internationally, nationally, and locally – is an important indicator of your presence and engagement. And, more importantly, it will help you to better appreciate your life and the world around you.
Keep in mind that much of job and career success is a matter of engaging with others in conversation, and being aware of what’s happening in the world that might be notable or relevant to your industry. Small talk at the beginning or end of (or sometimes even during) meetings is not unimportant; demonstrate engagement and enthusiasm at every opportunity.
Best of luck – and Happy New Year!