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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Careers: How to get ahead in actuarial

Graduate recruitment is getting harder. Dramatic job reductions in other financial areas mean that there are more highly qualified applicants for each actuarial trainee role than ever before. The best actuarial trainees have the technical and communication skills that make them an asset in the office, along with the academic ability to pass the exams quickly. The aim of the recruitment process is to identify graduates who have these qualities and who, with support, can develop the technical and soft skills needed once they qualify.

How the process works
Most companies have a similar process for graduate recruitment. First, there is an application form and maybe online tests. Next there will often be an interview — either face-to-face or over the phone. Finally, there is nearly always an assessment centre. The process is long and can seem endless, but the rounds highlight different skills and so increase the chances that offers are made to the strongest candidates.

The assessment centre phase lasts for one or two days. It takes place with a group of undergraduates and involves a number of different exercises. As part of proceedings, most companies also have a casual meet-up with current trainees, often over a meal. Contrary to popular opinion this is not to make sure you use the correct knife and fork but to give you a chance to ask the trainees about their study, work and life.

Before you start applying, be confident that you want to be a trainee actuary. Potential employers need to be convinced that you understand the exam process and that you are willing to spend several years doing additional study. You also need to have good reasons why you want to work at the company to which you have applied. For example, it is not a good idea to tell an actuary in an insurance company that you really like the idea of going out to visit different clients and would hate a job where you sat at your desk all day!

Group exercises tend to feature regularly at assessment centres. They show how you interact with others. The biggest error made is by students who want to make an impression but end up interrupting, talking over people and just not listening. Other students have an idea rejected early on and then stop contributing. There is little you can do to prepare for a group exercise other than consider whether you are likely to do either of the above and guard against it.

Presentations are also popular, as they show how good you are at explaining things while dealing with nerves. If you have never presented before, then half an hour preparing and 10 minutes talking to some of your friends about a film you recently watched would be good practice.

What if it does not work out?
Not everyone will get a role from the traditional graduate recruitment process. If you graduated several years ago, your qualifications are not that strong, or you are just unlucky, then there are other options open to you. One possibility is the diploma in actuarial science. This could give you up to eight exemptions and another chance at the recruitment game. The downside is the cost and that extra year not working.

Alternatively, you could find a nonsponsored actuarial-based role and start taking the exams on your own. This is not easy, but once you have chalked up a few passes, the options open to you will increase. Some companies offer limited support to students taking the exams, but this varies widely. The UK Actuarial Profession also provides support by allowing non-members to take CT1.

And finally...
If you receive a job offer, it is very tempting to accept it straight away in that initial flurry of excitement. Before you do, make sure you want to work for the company and are happy to be based there for the next few years. If you are lucky enough to be choosing between several offers, try to be honest with them all about the situation. The actuarial profession is a small one so it is important to stay on good terms with any company you may wish to work for in the future.

Jennifer Robertson is an actuary working for Aviva UK Life