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Key skills for graduate jobs in financial services

Graduate employers want client skills as well as numeracy in their actuaries

You probably expect to use numerical skills in an actuarial graduate job, but you'll need to be good at working with others and dealing with clients too.

Today’s actuary can spend as much time advising and presenting to clients as they do in front of a computer.

You do need a high level of numeracy to be an actuary and that’s why most employers of graduate actuaries seek applicants with a numerical degree. You will spend much of your time as a trainee actuary making models and calculations. But this doesn’t mean that all you are required to be is a ‘numbers person’. Today’s actuary can spend as much time advising and presenting to clients as they do in front of a computer. Here's how to show off the strength of your people skills during the graduate recruitment process.

Giving advice to clients

‘For us, applicants’ numerical abilities aren’t more important than their interpersonal skills,’ said Giovanna Miceli, talent acquisition leader at Marsh & McLennan Companies, the owner of HR and financial services consultancy Mercer. ‘If there was a tendency for actuaries to have little interaction with clients in the past, that is no longer the case. It is important that candidates are comfortable speaking to clients and taking them through the numbers.’

Carla Lakey, partner at Lane Clark and Peacock LLP, agrees: ‘You need good written and verbal communication skills for both drafting reports for clients and speaking with people at meetings who may not be experts in your area. A lot of actuarial consulting work is about building relationships with people, so empathy is also a good quality to have. In a consulting role, it’s important for clients to have someone they are happy to pick up the phone to.’

Interpersonal skills are also important to career progression: firms such as Mercer and Lane Clark and Peacock LLP need good people skills in their future managers and team leaders.

The interpersonal skills you’ll need as an actuary

If you want an actuarial job, you need to convince recruiters and assessors that you have the necessary interpersonal skills – in particular:

  • Teamwork
  • The ability to communicate technical and statistical information to people who may not have a background in these areas
  • The ability to provide good customer service, which includes listening to and understanding a client's point of view and anticipating and solving problems. This ability can also be referred to as having good client-facing skills.

Demonstrating your people skills tip one: go for clarity over jargon

Recruiters assess your communication skills through how you express yourself at all stages of the application and selection process. 'In our application form and at interviews, we ask a number of questions assessing candidates' understanding of industry trends and our business,' said Giovanna. 'The extent to which they can communicate their understanding clearly and convincingly can make the difference when we are deciding who to offer jobs to.'

The first step to communicating clearly is to ensure you truly understand industry terminology so that you can use it appropriately and, if required, explain it. Avoid jargon if it's confusing – if you’re unsure, check whether a term is explained in a Financial Times article.

Demonstrating your people skills tip two: structure your application and interview answers

The next step to communicating clearly is to make sure your sentence construction is logical: one idea or concept per sentence.

If providing an example of a time when you used/developed a particular skill, use the CAR structure. Describe the Circumstances of the example, the Actions you took (what you did) and the Results.

Demonstrating your people skills tip three: put the audience’s needs first

At Mercer, how you deal with clients is assessed in part through a presentation you give at an assessment centre. 'The scenario we give applicants is that the senior consultant is held up and the graduate has to present to the client in their place,' said Giovanna. 'Those candidates who catch on quickly to the fact that the assessors are acting as the clients tend to do best.'

When structuring the presentation, you need to think about what the clients want to know (clear recommendations/strategy and the reasons for them), and ensure those points are put across. 'We also need candidates to have the courage of their convictions and to justify their decisions,' added Giovanna. 'They should expect to be questioned and challenged, to address concerns raised but to stand by their conclusions; after all, as a firm we pride ourselves on our expertise and judgement.'

Demonstrating your people skills tip four: look out for others

‘One of the things that we look for at our assessment centres is how candidates interact with others,' said Giovanna. 'Do they remember other candidates' names? Do they share information and look out for others on the day? Those that do tend to work best in our collegiate environment.'

It has been suggested in the past that actuarial careers are good for graduates who prefer to deal with numbers more than people, but, if that was ever true, it isn’t any longer – at least if you join an actuarial consultancy or professional services firm.

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