[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

To be or not to be… an actuary

Are you finalising your studies and considering a career as an actuary? Have you got what it takes and is it the right choice for you? Read on for more advice from actuarial recruiter Dr Geraldine Kaye


I have never once regretted entering the actuarial profession. It has done me proud and I still believe in the original motto ‘I hold every man a debtor to his profession’. Having enjoyed my time as a traditional actuary, I could never have established GAAPS without the skills acquired as an actuary. However, there is always a big BUT, and in this case it’s that it is always important to ask fresh graduates wishing to enter the profession whether that’s really what they want, or whether they are possibly being pressured into it.

Your CV is probably one of the most important advertising documents you will ever write

Perhaps they have an idealised view and are not fully aware of the amount of work involved in the exam process. While an actuarial career is perfect for some, it might not be ideal for everyone. I always wanted to be a singer, but certain skills were somewhat lacking, as I’m sure you’d agree if you ever heard me sing…

It is perfectly possible to qualify as an actuary with a 2.2 degree or a 3rd (see panel, ‘Degrees of difficulty’), but it will be much harder to persuade an employer to take you on rather than a candidate with a higher grade of degree. Such candidates must become introspective for a while (not difficult for prospective actuaries) and ask themselves truly why they want to become actuaries and also why they missed out on a 2.1. There may be many good reasons for this – such as a hectic social lifestyle, or playing too much sport – but finding the exams too difficult is not one of them.

There are many other professions that can use the skills obtained on an actuarial or maths degree. Knowledge should never be wasted. Remember that for the actuarial profession, you need to be able to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential and, once qualified, have a long-term perspective.

Tenacity is essential, as the actuarial exams are demanding. Being accepted as an actuarial student usually demonstrates that you have the ability to qualify. The two reasons for not qualifying are that the student ‘learns well how to fail’ and gives up, or that they give up, albeit for wholly justifiable reasons – such people are often referred to as ‘unqualified successes’.

Actuaries need good communication skills. It used to be said that you could tell an extrovert actuary because they would look at your shoes rather than their own when they spoke. This is no longer true. As an actuary you will often need to explain complex, technical information to non-technical audiences. I often describe the actuarial qualification as a certificate in ‘applied common sense’.

How do you get that first job?

The milk round – the recruitment drive carried out by large companies at universities and colleges – is the most likely means of finding that first job. Recruiters such as GAAPS are, dare I say, a poor second best. Large companies will usually contact recruiters only if they cannot find candidates by direct sourcing. Nevertheless, that does not mean they do not use recruiters and we make many successful graduate placements each year.

We do tell fresh graduates without prior work experience not to hold their breath waiting for us to come up with their dream job. But we also tell them that if they do not buy a ticket, they cannot win the lottery – registering with us makes it easier to find suitable vacancies. So what else can you do? Start early and make friends with people you already know who have become actuaries, as they will be able to recommend you.

A game of application

Your CV is probably one of the most important advertising documents you will ever write. It is this document that secures the interview, if not the job itself. With that in mind, follow some basic rules.

>  Keep it simple. For example, list dates in a margin on the lefthand side of the page so it is easy to see chronology. Make it easy for the recruiter or actuary scanning your CV to find what they are looking for.

>  Make sure your CV is topical and in tone with current skill sets as required or marketed by the industry.

>  Never lie on your CV. It may come back and haunt you at a later stage in your career and, in extreme cases, can result in dismissal.

>  You will receive all sorts of advice from all sorts of people on layout and design. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder – it is your CV, so you must be happy with it. If there was a perfect CV, someone would by now be a millionaire advising people on it.

All you have to do is ask

Born with an inquisitive and acquisitive mind, I have never been slow in asking questions and I certainly asked plenty during my days as an actuarial trainee. If I have one message for today’s graduate entrants to our profession, it would be ‘never be afraid to ask questions’. It is a superb way of building up knowledge and shows that you are engaged and interested.

It is important to remember that different employers are looking for different things; actuaries are a diverse bunch and one size does not fit all. Before you apply, research different companies, look at their websites and speak to their representatives at careers fairs. Get a feel for the companies so you can apply to the employer that is right for you.

Prior to her extensive work in the actuarial recruitment market, Dr Geraldine Kaye studied and worked in the actuarial science department of City University for 10 years