Carla Lakey has worked in the actuarial profession for several years with Lane, Clark & Peacock LLP (LCP). She shares with TARGETjobs her top tips on how to get a graduate job as an actuary and excel in the role.
1. Ensure you have the skills and qualifications you need to be an actuary
‘If you want to become an actuary then it is essential that you have good numeracy skills,’ says Carla. Most employers require you to have a numerate degree such as mathematics, statistics or economics, as well as a maths A level. But other degree subjects are also considered by some employers, such as LCP, if you are prepared for the high level of mathematical content the actuarial training and the profession delivers. Expect your numeracy skills to be put to the test; many finance recruiters hold numerical tests as part of the recruitment process.
‘You also 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,’ adds Carla. These skills will be assessed during your application and at interview, so ensure your application doesn’t contain any errors and that you deliver your best performance at interview by preparing. Carla adds: ‘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.’
2. Know what to expect in an actuarial role
You have to be prepared to work hard during your first years in the role, as you will be studying for a professional qualification while working full-time. Carla says: ‘You have to be tenacious and hardworking, especially during the early years. The transition from being a university student to working full time and studying for qualifications at the same time is quite a big step and it’s important that you do not underappreciate how hard it is.’
You usually start out as a trainee making calculations and financial projections to support senior colleagues. Carla says: ‘It can take a little while to get the balance right between work, study and home life when you first start out as everything is new.’ Although many of the big employers will offer study support, it’s essential that you are able to handle the demands of an actuarial role – and that you’re able to prove that you can to your chosen employer. Your examples of juggling the responsibilities of study, work and extracurricular activities will prove that you’re prepared for a demanding role.
3. Get actuarial work experience
‘Doing a summer placement is a great way to stay ahead of everyone else,’ says Carla. ‘These placements are very helpful because students get a chance to see what life in an actuarial firm is like. And, from an employer’s perspective, it is essentially a six to eight-week interview.’ Several organisations, including LCP, Hymans Robertson, Mercer and Willis Towers Watson, have previously run actuarial summer internships. Check out their employer hubs on TARGETjobs to see if they currently have any vacancies. You’ll usually need to be on course for a 2.1 in your degree and possess at least a B grade in A level maths in order to apply.
Carla cautions, however, that ‘the competition to get a placement is now stiffer than it was when she started out’. It’s therefore advisable that you consider alternative application approaches to secure some work experience, such as submitting speculative applications. Not all opportunities for university students are advertised on graduate job boards so this method can definitely be a way into an organisation. You should also think about other activities and positions that will help you to build your finance experience and improve your employability upon graduation.
4. Women, don’t assume your gender is a barrier
The actuarial profession has traditionally been a male-dominated area of work so female graduates will be forgiven for thinking that it might be slightly tricky to break into and progress in an actuarial role. Carla says: ‘In the actuarial profession, as with many sectors in the financial industry, men originally outnumbered women. But this has changed significantly over time. As a woman I don’t think I faced any further challenges than a man trying to get into the sector.’
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