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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Student Page: Welcome to the real world

As this year’s fresh crop of summer interns arrive at our actuarial offices, eager to impress and gain their first actuarial roles, spare a thought for what lies ahead should they be successful in securing a graduate position. This month, two trainee recruits give an insight into their first few days on the job. No graduates were harmed in the writing of this article.
Jen and Jean

Daniel Haxby
Starting work as an actuarial trainee was as daunting as any new job would be, and the level of commitment required to pass the rigorous exams was frequently emphasised throughout the recruitment process. I became really engaged by that same process, and so began my first weeks in the office full of enthusiasm. Our graduate intakes were lucky enough to avoid an immediate plunge into the murky waters of transfer values and benefit calculations. We began with three weeks of seminars and assorted training sessions to teach us the fundamentals of pensions actuarial work.

What struck me on my arrival in the office was the average age of my colleagues. I had assumed that the majority of actuaries and consultants would be quite senior but the office turned out to be an energetic, youthful mix. Also, despite being told that people around me were terribly busy, everyone I went to with a question, no matter how complex, gave me all the time and attention I needed in a relaxed and friendly manner. So ask questions I did.

The funny thing about actuarial work is that the legislation it is governed by is so convoluted by successive regime changes that nearly every pension scheme is almost entirely unique. From my point of view, the most important and interesting part of the work at my level is client intimacy. Satisfaction comes from knowing your clients, and applying what knowledge you have to produce a unique solution to a specific problem. With numeracy, creativity and an organised mind you can quickly find yourself working on important, time-critical projects to which neither the method nor solution are known at the outset, and it is that challenge which makes the long apprenticeship before qualification seem worthwhile.

Grace Huang
“I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t this” was my thought as I dangled ungraciously from a trapeze bar, 40 feet above my new work colleagues. Day one of my new career as a Hewitt Associate, and my ambition to be a “high-flyer” had just taken on a whole new meaning. The setting was Wokefield Park, where 30 fresh graduates spent three days in activities ranging from daunting — a team presentation to senior Hewitt consultants — to downright silly, hence the trapeze bar. By the end of the third day we had been fed and watered nicely, new friendships had formed, and we all shared the experience of being “inducted”.

But there is nothing quite like learning on the job.

Day 1
I changed one of my many passwords and then immediately forgot what I’d changed it to.
Day 2
I managed to change someone else’s outgoing voicemail message.
Day 3
An expertly constructed Excel model deteriorated into a mess of #VALUE!s and #DIV/0!s within minutes of my touching it. My panicked choke drew the immediate attention of my official Hewitt buddy, Celine, who rushed to my aid. With the not-so-much-of-a-crisis averted, she smiled sympathetically at my obvious mortification, adding: “Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.”

Later that week alarmingly large boxes of ActEd study material arrived at my desk. After eyeing them warily for two or three days, I decided to get stuck in. The first few weeks were every bit as painful as expected (“Derive, from first principles...”). As I had been warned, it’s not easy studying for three exams while working full-time. However, I’m happy to report that I’m gaining momentum and, aided by in-house tutorials, my studies seem to be running along smoothly.

The last three months have sped by, and I’m looking forward to the day when I too will chuckle knowingly and say: “Don’t worry, we’ve all been there...”.

Ever felt like the key to passing the exams is a well kept secret? We would like to uncover this key by coming up with the “Ultimate” guide to studying — written by students for students. So if you have any top tips or tales of what worked for you, please write in…