Pursuing a career as an actuary is a challenging and rewarding road, requiring a commitment to passing a rigorous set of examinations to achieve CAS credentials while working full-time. After years of experience in the profession, members may reflect upon the advice that they wish they were given during the early stages of their career.
I, for one, would have told myself (1) For my University days – speak up. Answer the professor’s questions. Don’t just sit there in silence like everyone else. This is good practice for being effective at work. At work, silence is not the road to success. (2) Make it a priority to understand the business of insurance. For example, if you don’t immediately know if the values in the exhibit are in dollars or in thousands of dollars then that’s a very bad sign.
While at the CAS Board of Directors and Executive Council meetings last month, I asked a few leaders of the CAS to share the advice they would give to themselves as young actuaries and recorded their responses in this short video.
Thinking over your career, what advice would you give yourself that would have helped you on your road to becoming an actuary? We are compiling responses to this question for an article we are preparing for members of CAS Student Central. Please leave your advice as a comment below!
My advice: present your conclusions in ways that makes others want to understand your point of view. Concise wording, sharp visuals, and creative displays of numbers draw attention.
Learn early, and learn for the long-term. The first few years of your career are probably the easiest years to learn programming languages such as VBA, SAS, R, SQL, etc.. Also, ask questions to make sure you understand what you’re doing and WHY. Don’t just do things because you were told to.
Network early. Volunteer for committees, get a mentor, put a face to your name with colleagues outside actuarial. No one ever said a network isn’t important for your career, and there’s a reason for that.
Have fun. An early actuary has the flexibility (and perhaps, an expectation!) to provide new and fresh ideas. Use this liberally.
Great video! My advice: Be open to new opportunities — they come in all shapes and sizes! While actuaries deal with risk on a day to day basis, most of us tend to be fairly risk averse. My most fulfilling assignments and positions were those where I stepped outside of my comfort zone and challenged myself to learn something new. I agree also with the comments underscoring the need to understand the business.
I fully agree. Risk aversion often blocks entrepreneurship.
Towards the end of studying for exams, I relied heavily on this phrase- “It doesn’t have to be easy, it just has to be worth it.” I think that phrase applies to studying and some of the more stressful moments at work. I have usually been happy that I put in the extra time, made the hard decision, paid attention to the details- even when it hasn’t been pleasant in the moment. An evening eating dinner at your desk might be worth the satisfaction of completely nailing a project, many Saturday mornings at the library might be worth a first time pass. I think this phrase is also important to identify what isn’t worth it. Relationships and experiences can’t be completely put on hold for 8-10 years while you study, then indefinitely while you consistently put in extra hours at work.
There are two things that I wish I would have worked on more in college.
First – Build strong communication skills in college, both written and verbal. You will find that supporting your analysis to people inside and out of your company will become very important.
Second – Time management is critical. When working a full-time job and studying at the level needed to pass actuarial exams, you don’t have a lot of time to waste. Start now on managing your time so that you get your work done and leave time for play.
Great blog Jessica! A few things I’d want the young me to know….
– Learn how to learn. This sounds odd since you will have been in school the vast majority of your life to date, but the syllabus quickly throws a lot of new concepts at you and the exams require a deep understanding of the material. I have found that each one of us consumes information differently and part of being successful on exams and in work is find out how best YOU learn. Some people like repetition, some like notecards, some like podcasts and hearing the info, some like visuals. Don’t underestimate the power of different strategies and mixing things up when something just isn’t quite sticking!
– Ask questions and truly listen to what people have to say. Don’t just ask the surface questions but dig deeper when you want to learn more. And sometimes it’s not just the questions you ask but “how” you ask the questions that matters. Use a mentor to practice or watch some of the more senior leaders in your organization to see what is effective. Practice makes perfect.
– Don’t be afraid to fail. On exams or otherwise. We have all done it and we will all fail again at things – it’s a part of the learning process. Getting back up after a fall says a lot more about you than failing in the first place. Shake it off, learn from it, and don’t look back.
Don’t assume that you know everything. Talk to people in other departments to learn their perspective. Be able to communicate without using actuarial jargon.