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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.

Exams

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. After passing two exams, your time would be best spent developing strong, relevant technical skills.

Education

Typically, the most desirable candidates possess a bachelor's degree in a quantitative area of study. These include:

  • Actuarial Science
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Finance
  • Management Information Systems (MIS)
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Statistics

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 technical skills.

Experience

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 retirement and the next property and casualty. Also, try to have one internship at a traditional insurance company and another at a consultancy or brokerage. The environments at consultancies and brokerages are 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 technical 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. Also, don't be afraid to volunteer your time in exchange for experience.  That is a great way to build out your resume and develop relevant skills.

Technical Skills

Technology is playing an increasingly vital role in the actuarial profession, so a strong 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 Excel is a must. With the rise of "Big Data," you need to be able to pull and manipulate large data sets. To pull data a strong understanding of relational databases and proficiency in SQL are required. Performing statistical analyses on the data will require knowledge of R and SAS. Many actuaries are utilizing Python for statistical and text analyses, especially those that work closely with data scientists. Additionally, VBA is useful for creating automations. The better your technical skills, the more likely you are to be hired!

Summary

The insurance industry is becoming very tech-focused. While actuarial exams are still very important, technical skills have become equally important. With dedication to learning both the theory through your exams and practical application through developing strong technical skills, you will be able to secure a position and embark on an exciting and rewarding actuarial career.

Article written in May 2011 and revised in 2019 by Jacob Galecki. Jacob is a recruiter specializing in the recruitment of actuarial professionals, the founder of Galecki Search Associates, and a former actuarial analyst.