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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Careers: The way ahead for contractors

In a recent OAC survey of actuarial contractors, we asked each contractor how they would classify the current marketplace. Of the 69 responses received, 76% described it as stagnant. Given the change in economic climate perhaps this does not come as a surprise. Although, what is actually happening in the actuarial interim resourcing marketplace? What can contractors do to help themselves secure their next contract? Also, how do we see things changing in the coming months?

It is true that as the effects of the economic downturn took hold, companies were under pressure to keep overheads down. If companies did not have a freeze on recruitment, their demand for actuarial contractors was certainly reduced.

The contractors surveyed confirmed that they have been aware of the changes in the market and indicated that they face a range of obstacles in the current environment including: obtaining a steady flow of work, finding an agency they can trust, and knowing where to look for current contractor vacancies.

Obtaining a steady flow of work was shown to be the largest hurdle. The decline in the number of roles available has been coupled with an increase in the number of candidate applications for each position. Although in reduced numbers, it is worth noting that new positions do continue to be available and contractors who market themselves effectively should not take long to secure their next placement. The key is to ensure you remain one step ahead of the competition and there are four main ways in which this can be achieved:

1. It is times like these that the most powerful marketing tool of a contractor – the CV – becomes ever more important. Your CV is the key to securing an interview so it is essential it makes a good impression and markets you effectively. Check to make sure your CV clearly outlines your skills, strengths, and experience. We have found that relevant points can be easily forgotten or are too briefly described. Don’t be shy about mentioning your key selling points. All relevant information goes towards enhancing the reader’s understanding of your skill-set and demonstrating your competence. If you are registered with an agency then seek help and advice in refining your CV further.

2. Ensure adequate preparation for interviews, which are increasingly conducted by telephone. Remember that the employer / recruiter wishes to obtain the same information as if you were face to face, so preparation is just as important. Prepare clear answers to the typical questions you will be asked in order to show that you are confident and competent. Good communication skills are vital to demonstrate your ability to get on with others. Telephone interviews offer the opportunity to have notes in front of you – use this to your advantage so that you can easily refer to your strengths and suitability for the role. Preparation will enable you to make a good impression on the interviewer and give him / her confidence in your abilities.

3. With increasing pressure on costs, it is in the interests of purchasing and procurement teams to look for potential improvements in rates and margins, so contractors are recognising the need to adjust their rates accordingly. Make sure you are competitively priced for each role you are submitted for and keep in mind that this may need to vary for each position to reflect your suitability. Your agency will be able to advise you so make use of their knowledge.

4. As a contractor you may find it difficult to find time to keep abreast of the technical changes in the market. However, it is extremely important that you read widely and keep up to date as much as time allows. This will help to broaden your areas of expertise and enable you to market yourself for a wider range of opportunities. For example, Solvency II has now been given the formal green light with a planned introduction of 31 October 2012. This date is fast approaching and is likely to generate significant opportunities for contractors in the coming months.

There are good signs that the economic climate will be looking healthier as this year draws to a close. Many believe that we are already at the bottom of the recession. The KPMG National Business Confidence Survey in June 2009 says, “More business leaders are feeling confident about the future and optimism is slowly creeping into UK plc”.

While the amount of activity in the interim resourcing market slowed down over the last 12-18 months, an increase in opportunities is now expected. Companies which have over-stretched staff as a result of recruitment freezes will once again look to recruit additional resource. Contractors are well placed to bridge this gap – offering a flexible resource solution without the cost implications of permanent employees.

Colette Lurshay is the practice leader for Interim Resourcing at OAC Actuaries and Consultants