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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Working overseas: The good ship America

Looking for a job in the US while it is experiencing the steepest economic downturn since the great depression could be tough but, based on a National Public Radio survey in early 2009, actuarial jobs are among the best to have during tough economic times.

Suppose you graduated with an actuarial major in May 2009, having passed one actuarial exam and are wondering whether you can successfully find a job in the US. The answer is possibly, but it is much tougher now than five years ago. The actuarial job market has changed quite significantly over the last 10 years. Back in early 2000, many students with one exam pass gained an entry-level actuarial position as a matter of course. Nowadays, with increased numbers of universities offering actuarial programmes and many students passing more than one exam during their college study time, you will be competing against students with three or four exam passes.

On the other hand, if you have worked in the actuarial field for a few years, you might find yourself in a better position than fresh college graduates. For experienced hires, companies are more interested in soft skills such as communication, management, and insurance expertise.

Experienced or not, people without US working permits can be significantly disadvantaged when competing with US natives. Some small insurance companies do not accept applicants who require visa sponsorship due to complex immigration laws. However, many large insurance carriers and consulting companies have recognised the importance of employees who have an international background and industry expertise. These companies are willing to sponsor working foreign nationals in order for them to gain visas and green cards. Deloitte Consulting, for example, provides visa sponsorship for people working in actuarial consulting.

There are many resources available to help you locate an actuarial job in the US, including traditional job search websites and actuary-specific websites. Traditional job search websites include monster.com and hotjobs.com. Websites more focused on actuarial work include actuarialoutpost.com and beanactuary.org. Experienced actuaries will probably get better results by working with professional actuarial recruitment agencies.

Networking is another efficient and useful way to help you locate a job. The actuarial world is really quite small when compared with other professions such as law or accounting. Attending seminars and society meetings will not only provide you with insight into industry trends, but could also acquaint you with potential future employers. Being recognised as someone who takes an interest in the wider aspects of their work and keeps up to date with the latest developments can help you stand out in an interview.

Dollar signs
So, what is the pay like for actuaries in the US? A 2007 survey by the Life Office Management Association, one of the largest US insurance and financial services companies, indicated that the average base salary for an entrylevel actuary is $53 000. Associate actuaries, who direct and provide leadership in the design, pricing and implementation of insurance products, receive an average salary of $110 000. Actuaries at the highest technical level without managerial responsibilities are paid an average of $125 000. Another useful source of salary information is the annual salary survey prepared by D W Simpson.

While many actuaries in the US work in traditional fields such as reserving analysis, there are also opportunities to move into areas such as risk management, applying predictive models to calculate rating factors, underwriting, claims, audit, and agency review processes. Although there are plenty of jobs in these areas, they require specific technical skills in statistics, mathematics and programming. The required skills should be highlighted in the job specification and it is important to be able to demonstrate that you have the necessary aptitudes.

Finding a stable job that pays well in the current recession sounds too good to be true, however actuarial work might just fit the bill. You need a passion for numbers, solid communication skills, teamwork and just a little bit of luck.

Melissa Wang is an associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society and works at Deloitte Consulting in the US.