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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Careers: Stand out from the crowd

In offering an insight into actuarial recruitment from an employer’s viewpoint, the best way to summarise what I’m looking for in candidates can be captured in terms of five main attributes.

1. Ability
Strong actuarial skills are non-negotiable. The challenging work in the actuarial field requires the ablest minds, and working out of one’s depth is no fun. Education and actuarial qualifications provide an effective check on baseline ability for employers, but identifying the sharpest minds remains a challenge.

2. Business sense
Here the adage applies, “an actuary who is only an actuary is not an actuary”. Candidates need an awareness of the market they operate in and the current trends and opportunities. Weaker candidates may interview with a mindset that their place is to fill a technical role rather than to be part of the team driving the business forward. The strongest applicants will clearly articulate their personal objectives and what they bring to their prospective employer.

3. Competency
Increasingly, competency-based interviews are the norm. Not only does this ensure that appointments are made using an objective, evidence-based approach, it also provides a framework for testing the scope of a candidate’s experience. Weaker candidates struggle to demonstrate experience outside their functional area, whereas strong candidates will have both a range of experience and the ability to adapt and stretch these to unfamiliar areas. So, before the interview, take some time to think of examples that highlight particular competencies, such as team playing and dealing with difficult situations or people.

4. Development needs
Often this is a real differentiator between candidates. Here the employer is not looking to trip up candidates, but to gauge how well the applicant understands where they are in their career and the direction their journey is taking them. Where I work, there is a culture for everyone, from the most junior graduate to the most senior partners, to have a clear understanding of their development needs. In this respect, there are several common patterns of behaviour shown by the weaker candidate:

  • Denying any meaningful development needs. Few employers are likely to take this kind of response seriously
  • Missing obvious development needs. With some candidates a clear skills gap becomes evident during the interview, yet they remain oblivious to it
  • Taking too narrow a view. Candidates who only look to technical areas can struggle to impress. This is particularly true if they haven’t picked up the flavour of questions earlier in the interview. For example, if they lack sufficient people management experience, a question on development needs can be a good opportunity to recognise this
  • Highlighting a critical development need. A good candidate will respond by setting out a plan to address critical areas, demonstrating that they already have the skills through wider experience but have not yet had a chance to deploy them.

5. Engagement
Finally, the magic ingredient. Interviewers like to recommend candidates that they get on well with at interview. Candidates who show the ability to engage with their interviewer and who are effective at building rapport will always outshine those who hold back. Be enthusiastic about the role you are interviewing for and think about what it is that makes you special and a real asset for your prospective employer.

Who’s more nervous?
Don’t be afraid. Making good recruitment decisions is as challenging for an interviewer as it is for the candidate. Interviewing isn’t just about asking tough questions, it’s about gathering evidence and trying to extract the best from the interviewee. Juggling asking, listening, writing and planning the next question at the same time is a real challenge.

Remember that an employer wouldn’t waste their time interviewing you if they didn’t think you were a serious prospect, so if they ask you that unanswerable question, don’t feel like they are trying to catch you out — keep calm and grasp the nettle. Hard questions are normally a good sign that you have impressed them and they want to see how far you can go.

If it doesn’t work out
Don’t be downhearted. There are lots of reasons why you might not get the job, and many of them just won’t be your fault. Ask for feedback, don’t be afraid to stay in touch and reapply at a later date. Remember, this is a great time to be an actuary looking for a job.

Alex Marcuson is a director with Deloitte and leads recruitment for the actuarial and insurance solutions practice.