Bradley Shearer and Jane Barrett on building a satisfying career throughout your working life
As the world of work changes at increasing speed, the career path for actuaries also evolves. Individuals need to adapt, ensure their skillset is relevant and up-to-date, and seek out opportunities where their transferable skills can be applied. Nowadays it’s more important than ever that individuals take responsibility for their careers.
We asked two career professionals for the advice they would give to members at very different stages in their career journeys. Bradley Shearer shares guidance for newly qualified members, while Jane Barrett focuses on those who have been working as actuaries for some time but may be considering other options.
Executive director of Protagion Active Career Management (www.protagion.com), an online consultancy supporting professionals to manage their careers through guidance, mentoring and coaching. He is an actuary and CFA charter holder.
The actuarial journey
Completing the actuarial exams is a significant achievement that deserves celebration, given the sacrifices, highs and lows experienced along the way. Once the euphoria dies down, we soon realise we have extra time on our hands, as we’re no longer studying. So now what? After a well-deserved break, should we get more involved at work? Volunteer (bit.ly/2TtxVXk)? Network more? Study further? Or all of the above?
Deciding what to do can be a challenge, particularly as the pathway is no longer clear cut. The great news is that by managing our careers actively, we can shape our futures to suit our ambitions and aspirations. Part of our professional growth at this stage of our careers involves building new skills, especially the ‘softer’ ones.
It’s important to remember that we are professionals; we represent our profession and are responsible for acting in the public interest. We have a duty to keep developing – we can’t stop growing once we qualify.
In fact, that’s the essence of continuing professional development (CPD), reflective practice with others (bit.ly/3iJD8ok), and lifelong learning.
Australian actuary and mentor Jules Gribble uses an insightful analogy: qualifying is like passing your driving test, which takes place under driving conditions that are different from the real world. The true skill
is built after we get our licence. So don’t be a dangerous driver or an accident-hump actuary – develop valuable and necessary higher-level skills through ongoing professional practice.
“We have a duty to keep developing – we can’t simply stop growing once we qualify”
Given our multi-decade careers, we’re going to need to adapt and evolve as circumstances change. We’ll change who we work for, our working styles and patterns – employed/consulting/contracting/portfolio careers/full-time/part-time/flexible – and perhaps even our chosen specialisms or the countries we work in.
Fortunately, we’re trained in making financial sense of the future, and mapping strategies to manage and make the most of uncertainty. Those who thrive will be the ones who apply our professional mindset: (i) understanding the challenges (ii) developing solutions, and (iii) monitoring and adapting. In a career context, we apply the control cycle as:
- Step (i): knowing yourself
- Step (ii): making improvements
- Step (iii): actively tracking your progress.
Knowing yourself includes understanding your aspirations and strengths, and reflecting on your career
path and goals. Improving yourself involves gathering feedback and suggestions, challenging yourself and getting guidance from mentors and coaches. Tracking your progress ensures you move towards your career goals. As we mature and gain professional experience, perhaps leading teams, functions or businesses, our self-understanding improves and our goals shift – in other words, the cycle repeats over time.
Whichever career stage you’re at, bear in mind the importance of actively managing your professional development. Remaining flexible to evolving circumstances is essential – for us, our clients and for our profession. Keep practising doing things you’ve never done before so you feel comfortable with adapting and reinventing yourself. Stay curious, reinvest in your growth and ask for professional support when needed.
Co-founder of The Career Farm and guest lecturer at business schools in the UK and Europe.She is the creator of the CPD accredited online career development course www.careermaximiser.com
Your career check
Even in a ‘normal’ year, many of us face career challenges: redundancy, being passed over for promotion, a failed or struggling business or a depleted team, to name just a few. Whatever your position right now, it is very likely that coronavirus has meant challenges for your career – and possibly opportunities. In career coaching, it’s good practice to do a career check at regular intervals so that issues are picked up and addressed before they develop into full-blown crises and opportunities can be spotted earlier.
How do you do this? First, ask yourself: “Do I know my strengths and am I using them the majority of the time?” (A ‘skill’ is something you do well; a ‘strength’ is something you do well and enjoy). If you are not using your strengths, you might be at risk of burnout – even if you are currently performing well. Using skills that are not our strengths often drains us.
Second, think about your values, the priority of each one, and if they are reflected in the life you lead at home and at work. Not ‘living your values’ can slowly grind you down. Regularly reviewing what is important to you, and organising your life and work to reflect that, is more likely to lead to satisfaction.
Third, are you deepening your knowledge of your interests and of future trends? If you stay on top of what is happening in your industry, you are less likely to find yourself down a career cul-de-sac. Outdated skills, or a lack of awareness of what competencies your company values, will hinder your progression.
“It’s good practice to do a career check at regular intervals, so that issues are picked up”
Combine these three cornerstones with reflection on your working environment, and colleagues and managers who bring out the best in you. Think about your longer-term goals to build a picture of your future career strategy. From here you can consider different options available to you against a backdrop of clearly understanding what you want from your career and what you have to offer. This then leads into focused research and informational interviews with people who can give you insight into the different paths you are considering.
Insider information can prove invaluable in applications and interviews, as well as providing the possibility of receiving the ‘holy grail’ – the internal referral, when someone recommends you for a position. This systematic approach also means you are less likely to join a company or take a position that’s not right for you. Career mistakes like this can be uncomfortable at any level, but at more senior levels it can be especially difficult; as you rise in seniority, it can be hard to effect change if you don’t have the backing of your manager and colleagues. As you become more senior, you are increasingly judged on your achievements – a key part of your value as a candidate.
In summary, there are so many reasons to take a considered and structured approach to your career development. Understanding what you want and what you have to offer is key to a satisfying career, whatever position you find yourself in and whatever kind of life you want to create.
Throughout your career it will be more important than ever to seek out opportunities to continually learn and develop. The IFoA will help you in this journey by continuing to provide access to resources that support you at all stages of your career. Find out more and take advantage of learning resources on our Lifelong Learning hub at bit.ly/3uvGY6K