Advice on Obtaining an Actuarial Position
You want to become an actuary, now what?
Landing that first actuarial position may be one of the biggest challenges in your career, but through hard work and perseverance you will enter into a highly rewarding profession. Here is some advice on obtaining an entry-level actuarial position.
Probably the single most important qualification for an entry-level candidate is exam progress. Entry-level candidates should be prepared to pass two exams before being seriously considered for employment. However, a candidate with one exam and excellent internship experience is just as desirable as a candidate with two exams and no experience. The market discourages candidates from passing more than three exams without experience.
Typically, the most desirable candidates possess a bachelor's degree in a quantitative area of study. These include:
- Actuarial Science
- Computer Science
- Management Information Systems (MIS)
While employers favor candidates with a quantitative background, it is not unusual for candidates with degrees in liberal arts, education, or other disciplines to land a position provided they have proven ability to pass exams and good computer skills.
Many employers prefer a candidate have some actuarial experience prior to consideration. Whether you are still in college, a recent graduate, or a career changer, an internship or co-op is a good idea if not a requirement.
If you are still in college, it is vital that you obtain at least one actuarial summer internship. Ideally, you will strive for two. Internships are a great opportunity to "try on" a discipline. One summer you can try out pensions and the next property and casualty. Also, try to have one internship at a traditional insurance company and another at a consultancy. The environment at a consultancy is vastly different from that of an insurer and the environment in life insurance is different from property and casualty.
If you are a recent graduate and have two exams under your belt, begin looking for a full-time position, but indicate you are open to an internship. While it will be very difficult for you to obtain employment without an internship, it is possible with a solid academic record, two exams, and good computer skills.
If you are a career changer, an internship is still a great idea especially if you are switching from an unrelated field such as teaching. Obtaining an internship may be a challenge. Many of the larger employers will only consider college students or recent graduates. Smaller, private firms are much more embracing of a varied past. Also, smaller firms can benefit from your work to a much greater extent than larger firms.
Technology plays an important role in the actuarial profession, so a good working knowledge of the tools of the trade is extremely important to obtaining an actuarial position and success on the job. Possessing an above-average understanding of both Excel and Access is a must, and to a lesser extent Word and PowerPoint. SQL is becoming an indispensable skill, and many employers are requiring knowledge or even mastery of it before consideration. Programming languages such as VBA and C++ are beginning to become a requirement as well. The better your computer skills, the more likely you are to be hired!
In the past two years hiring has been slow throughout the industry. Recently, there have been signs of improvement. With unwavering persistence, you will be able to secure a position and embark on an exciting and rewarding actuarial career.
Article written in May 2011 by Jacob Galecki, who holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Actuarial Science from Temple University and is pursuing a career as an actuary. Jacob is actively involved in building a global social network of actuarial candidates. Within this, he manages the fastest growing Actuarial group on LinkedIn: The Entry-Level Actuary.