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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Testing times

Q1 Is it higher praise to say someone has:
a) vision
b) common sense?

Q2 Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Developing people should come second to meeting client expectations?
a) Strongly agree
b) agree
c) neither agree nor disagree
d) disagree
e) strongly disagree.

Think carefully. Your answers to these rather obscure questions could help win you the actuarial career of your dreams. Whether by credit crunch or New Year’s resolution, some of us could be confronted with such a (multiple) choice in the search for a new job over the coming months.

Potential employers have been testing us for centuries. From 19th century handwriting analysis or ‘graphology’, to the advent of the IQ test, the most recent addition to the HR department’s arsenal is the Psychometric Personality Test. While signatures can be forged and IQ tests practiced, psychometric personality testing shows you and your potential employer your psychological strengths and weaknesses, in order to facilitate informed decisions about the type of work and environment that is most suited to your individual personality and needs.

White lies and exaggeration have been an integral part of the interview process for centuries, on both sides of the table. The standard procedure is an artificial situation, with both the interviewer and interviewee modifying their behaviour to suit an unusual set of circumstances. Once these circumstances are removed, the potential employee will revert to a more normal behavioural pattern as they become an actual employee engaged in day-to-day work. However, the interview does test some very important skills, such as the ability to sell oneself to any audience, understand what is required of you, and communicate your knowledge and experience to the audience in a convincing manner.

After successfully presenting oneself as a confident, competent, likeable future employee, it would be a shame to have all your hard work undone by a psychometric test revealing the borderline psychotic personality, which, let’s face it, is more than likely lying dormant in the mind of anyone who can, ‘derive an expression for the theta of an option under the Black-Scholes model involving delta and gamma. (4 marks)’.

One of the most common psychometric tests used by companies today is the Myers Briggs test. Adapted from the theories of psychologist Carl Jung, so valuable are the contents of the test considered, you may only read a copy at the University of London library. The theory attempts to classify whether you:
>> Are an introvert or an extrovert
>> Trust your own intuition or ‘gut feeling’ over information from your senses
>> Prefer to think rationally or trust your feelings
>> Allow feeling and intuition to overrule intellectual judgment.

Your tendency toward these apparently mutually exclusive poles is extrapolated from your responses to questions posed at the beginning of this article. So, what is the personality type of a successful actuary? What may be considered serious character flaws in potential candidates for an investment banking position may, in fact, be the making of a successful actuarial consultant.

An introverted personality could serve you well on those evenings and weekends locked away with only ActEd notes for company. An extrovert will flourish at presentations and networking. Your intellectual judgment will help you make sense of the facts contributed from your senses, balanced with your highly honed sense of actuarial intuition. Clearly a healthy dose of schizophrenia is required.

Top tips
A few tips from a friend of a friend...

>> When answering questions, imagine that you’re already in the role for which you are applying. Emphasise the personal characteristics that help you excel in this role.
>> Too many strong (dis)agreements may indicate excessive beliefs and opinions, which may worry a future employer.
>> Too many ‘neither agree nor disagree’ answers could indicate that you find it difficult to commit or make decisions.
>> Don’t stress. Remember that the psychometric test is only a part of the selection process and typically makes up around 25% of the hiring decision.
>> There are a wealth of books on the subject including explanation of the theory and practice exercises.

Finally, a word of warning. As actuarial students, we are highly experienced at learning how to pass tests. But even if it means ‘failing’ a test, there’s a good reason to be psychologically suited to the work that you do. Whatever your answers to the questions above, provided you can convince a client or examiner that you’re right, congratulations, you’re well on your way to becoming a successful actuarial consultant.