Myths amongst Actuarial Students

HFG’s William  Gallimore looks to dispel some common myths found amongst the Actuarial student community.

If you’ve got any questionFile.ashxs that he hasn’t answered here, please get in touch, no matter how trivial you may think your question is: william@hfg.co.uk

I regularly find myself offering advice to Actuarial Students on their future options and the best way to set themselves up for a successful career at the forefront of the industry. Several regular themes arise, and I am keen to address certain myths in the market that can often be misleading.

‘You need to have an Actuarial Science degree to become an Actuary’

I often come across graduates and actuarial students who choose to complete Actuarial Science degrees and Masters, in an attempt to further their actuarial careers in the belief that exemptions from the Institute exams will put them at an advantage. Although the Actuarial Science degree does cover many relevant topics within the field, it is still a modern degree which hasn’t yet gained as much credence as a mainstream subject such as mathematics.

Whilst views are starting to change amongst employers, there is currently a preference for candidates from a traditional mathematical or science background. The main two reasons for this seem to be that firstly, there is very much a ‘learn on the job’ attitude across the market and secondly, employers often actually prefer candidates with fewer exemptions. By starting the actuarial exams without exemptions, Actuaries are forced to complete the qualification the traditional way, just like the senior Actuaries used to.

Despite the wealth of theoretical knowledge gained through studying Actuarial Science, companies prefer individual’s practical work experience. As a result hiring managers often prefer a ‘blank canvas’, someone who still has a lot to learn but is capable of doing so from a practical perspective. Also, many employers like to see actuarial students passing their FIA exams in conjunction with gaining the three years of relevant work experience required to qualify, as opposed to starting off ahead academically but behind technically.

‘You have to take a step backwards to move from one area to another’

Gaining experience across different areas, such as pricing, reserving, reporting and modelling, is often appealing to actuarial students, but securing a mixed role can be difficult. The majority of students will find themselves working in one specific area in their first actuarial job and after a couple of years will find themselves looking to move in order to gain exposure to something new.

A common theme across the market is the idea that to switch areas you have to start from scratch in an entry level or junior position.I often have candidates enquiring about such roles and find myself explaining the concept of being over qualified for a position. When an employer is looking for a graduate, they are genuinely looking for someone with minimal experience, to train them up from scratch and in a certain direction, as well as only having the budget for a graduate salary. The best way to switch areas is to move into a mixed role, but given the rarity of these, the other option is to side step. When moving at the part-qualified level, employers don’t yet expect you to be an expert in a given area and therefore a specific skill set in one particular area is not always a requirement. This isn’t the always the case as it is dependent on business needs at the time, but is often largely about waiting for the right opportunity to arise.

‘It is impossible to switch industries’

Switching between General Insurance, Life Insurance, Pensions and Investments is difficult, but not impossible. Often students looking to switch industries after a year or more experience and there are a number of reasons why, to certain candidates, this move may seem impossible. In order to be successful in switching, you have to ensure you’re moving for the right reasons, have the relevant skill set for the industry, are flexible, and above all, you have to have patience.

The common mistakes made by students looking to switch industries are prioritising money and location over opportunity, narrowing down their options too much and setting time frame’s by when they want to have made the move. Of course to switch industries it is best to move before you do become a specialist in your current area, therefore the 12 – 18 month mark is ideal, although it’s also important to allow time for the right role. If you do decide you want to switch once you are in the later stages of exams, this can sometimes still be done by moving departments internally, with your employer at the time.

Switching industries is highly competitive and in order to be successful it is imperative to complete on-going research on the industry you are looking to move into, not just when interviews arise. Ensure you read industry press, are aware of market trends and speak to friends or contacts already working in that field.

‘It is good to move for money’

Of course moving for money is important, as you want to ensure you’re earning within the range of current market value and you don’t ever want to price yourself too low. At the student level however, as you’ve still got a long way to go in your career, moving for opportunity is above all most important.
You are at a crucial stage in your career when you’re heading towards actuarial qualification and the positions you hold during your time as a student are crucial to your success and development. As far as money is concerned, this should always have an influence on a job offer and the decision to move but don’t let it be the deciding factor. For Actuaries it is once you qualify that the real money comes and it is therefore important to ensure you’ve set yourself up for strong progression once you get there.

‘Interviews are about explaining your technical abilities’

When searching for a new position as a student Actuary, it’s usually the first job search you will do with relevant technical experience behind you. It’s definitely necessary in an interview to know how to discuss your CV and explain your experience, but remember that the employer has already decided to interview you on the basis of the technical abilities outlined on your CV.

When discussing your experience in an interview it is important to prove that the technical abilities you claim to have on your CV are true. This can be done by explaining processes and giving examples to back up your skills, proving that you do actually know what you’re talking about. If everything you claim to have done is true then explaining it to the interviewers should be relatively easy. The difficult part of the interview is the other thing that employers are really interested in these days: soft skills.

Depending on the requirements of the role and the industry you are interviewing in, different soft skills will be required. It is common across the Actuarial Profession for employers to look for strong commercial attitudes, communication skills and confidence. As the actuarial profession offers more and more roles encompassing face to face responsibilities, proving soft skills has become a key element in the interview process and is one of the important main areas I would suggest focusing on throughout interview preparation.

I hope this article has shed light on the common preconceptions associated with the early part of an Actuary’s career. We must not forget that despite it being a difficult path to navigate, it is ultimately a very rewarding and well regarded profession to be a part of and I wish you all the best going forward. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me: william@hfg.co.uk

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