Innovation is often misguidedly linked to technology—especially in today’s workplace, where robotics, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming commonplace. However, technology would not be successful without humans and their inventive minds guiding it forward.
Those embarking upon the actuarial career may be individuals fresh out of college with an actuarial or related undergraduate or graduate degree, or they may have decided to pursue the career at a later stage in life. In a survey by IBM, 47 percent of Gen Xers and 42 percent of millennials say they would leave their current job not only for more money, but also for a “more innovative environment.”1
The Actuary interviewed three individuals from the Society of Actuaries’ (SOA’s) Candidate Connect program to gain perspective on what newer entrants to the actuarial career have considered throughout their occupational journeys and what they are looking for in their pursuit of actuarial science.
- Tamrah Brown has worked in the insurance industry for two years and is currently pursuing actuarial exams.
- Jesse Healy recently completed his undergraduate studies and is pursuing actuarial job opportunities.
- Muriel Holmquist recently started a full-time actuarial position after working as an educator and underwriter for several years. She is currently pursuing actuarial exams.
The takeaways: The actuarial community must continue to be innovative in cultivating opportunities for its members to attract talent and ensure continued growth in the future of actuarial work.
What advice do you have for those seeking to enter the actuarial profession?
Tamrah Brown: My main advice to anyone pursuing actuarial science would be to ensure you have a passion for it. I have found, many times, that my passion and determination to succeed are what keep me motivated. I would also encourage them to do as much research as possible and try to plan out milestones—especially when it comes to planning for exams. It is important to stay up to date with any changes that may occur in the industry, specifically regarding policies associated with sitting for exams; this will ensure you are always prepared for what’s next.
Jesse Healy: My advice to those looking to enter the actuarial profession is to develop a broad set of skills that go beyond actuarial science and math, and learn how to convey these skills to potential employers. During my career search, I’ve found that while employers value math and analytical skills, these aren’t the skills that make a truly great candidate stand out in a competitive job market. Three of the skills that actuarial employers often value are technical, leadership and communication skills.
- Technical skills. Interviewers have told me that you don’t need to have advanced technical skills going into internships and entry-level jobs, but proficiency in Excel and some knowledge of programming languages will make you a more desirable candidate and help you learn on the job faster. VBA, SQL, R, SAS and Python are some of the languages employers frequently mention.
- Leadership skills. Many companies have leadership development programs that are designed to prepare actuarial interns and permanent employees for leadership roles. Leading a team to successfully complete a project in class, part-time work experience or volunteer work can all be examples of great leadership. You don’t necessarily need to be president of an organization to develop leadership skills.
- Communication skills. When I started applying for jobs after college, I was nervous about the fact that most of my work experience was as a server in the restaurant industry. After discovering how valuable communication skills are in the actuarial profession, I realized how valuable my restaurant experience was—it taught me to communicate and work well with a diverse group of people.
As you were looking for actuarial roles, what was the “nonactuarial” coursework that prepared you the most?
Tamrah Brown: One useful course was a University Teaching program I took while pursuing my master’s degree. A component of that program was to take a concept related to your field of study and present it to a group of students who did not belong to the same field of study. During this course, I learned valuable techniques on presentation and communication which, when one works in a very technical field, can prove very useful for effectively communicating across teams in the workplace for different projects.
Jesse Healy: The two types of nonactuarial coursework that prepared me the most would be business and computer science courses. Business classes often complement actuarial exam material and cover concepts that are important for business leaders and actuaries to know. In addition to business courses, computer science classes also have been important in helping me prepare for actuarial roles. As I passed my first few actuarial exams, I was excited that I understood the material; but I also realized I needed to develop better computer skills to apply the concepts in a real-world environment. Supplementing actuarial coursework with Excel, computer science and other similar courses is a great way to do that.
How has your internship opportunity or job search been affected by the COVID-19 environment?
Jesse Healy: The COVID-19 pandemic has made navigating the job market more challenging, but I’ve also used it as an opportunity to better myself. There haven’t been as many job openings since the pandemic started, and I have had fewer potential employers reach out for interviews. But the pandemic has motivated me to continue my education and better prepare myself for future opportunities. I signed up for computer science classes at my community college in the fall, I’m currently taking a Python class online and I’m considering pursuing another degree. The pandemic may make finding a job and starting a career as an actuary more difficult, but I’m thinking positively about how I can use the extra time to prepare and better myself.
Muriel Holmquist: I began my actuarial career search right as COVID-19 began to spread, and it truly changed the entire process and brought on a lot of anxiety and adversity to overcome. It’s already such a hard process trying to gain employment as an actuary, and adding a pandemic to the mix is extremely daunting. In my own life, the pandemic forced me to become patient and optimistic while waiting for companies to decide to move forward with job opportunities—or not.
What attracted you to the actuarial profession over other career paths?
Muriel Holmquist: The actuarial profession is unique in its ability to take on different shapes and forms. Whether working for the insurance industry, government, academia or other less traditional industries, actuaries don’t seem to have two days that are exactly alike. The profession is stable, growing, comes with great benefits, and includes on the job training and learning.
As the journey through one’s actuarial career is about more than exams, the continued investment in attracting talent to the future of actuarial work is necessary to ensure continued growth for the profession. Innovative programs, such as SOA Candidate Connect, provide insights into the varying perspectives of the career by hosting and sponsoring learning opportunities and networking events around the world. Through the continued outreach of this program, and in conjunction with other organizations and corporate partnerships that support the profession, the cultivation of actuarial opportunities will thrive.
Copyright © 2020 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.