Interested in becoming an actuary? Here we discuss the wide range of opportunities open to students to gain an insight into the profession, how to get involved and how to make the most of these opportunities.
Actuaries work in many different fields – pensions, insurance and investment to name just a few – and the work involved in each area is very different. Companies recognise that choosing an actuarial path to go down is just as important a decision for your career as the decision to become an actuary in the first place. Many companies are therefore offering opportunities to gain insight and work experience to help you find the right path, whilst acquiring invaluable experience to help build a strong application for any jobs you apply for in the future.
Career events at school and university
Schools and universities all run career events – this may be how you first found out about the actuarial profession. If you would like to learn more about becoming an actuary, raise this with the careers officer, who can invite someone in to speak from a local actuarial firm. These talks usually give a broad introduction to the profession, including the qualifications you need to apply for jobs, and the qualifications and training you would get as an actuarial student. But school and university visits are also a good chance for firms to plug their own work experience, internships and graduate programmes, so you might get a few hints and tips about upcoming opportunities for which you could apply.
If you are a budding young actuary in sixth form or in your first year at university, and want to gain a better understanding of the work that an actuary gets involved in to help decide whether this is the career for you, don’t be afraid to contact a few actuarial firms to see if there is the opportunity to shadow an actuary or actuarial student for a few days. The advantage of this is that you get some first-hand experience of life as an actuary. You’ll meet people at different stages in their career, and can keep in touch with those you meet to ask them questions when you come to apply for roles in the future. However, don’t be disheartened if the company says they are unable to cater for you – shadowing is a very time consuming exercise to run, and so some employers have stopped offering this.
As a compromise, an increasing number of employers have introduced ‘insight’ days or weeks for sixth-formers and university students. These are a lot more formal than shadowing a member of the team; the day is often structured, with talks from different practice areas and workshops where you can get stuck into some practical actuarial problems. As well as meeting actuaries, you will also get a chance to talk with other students who are interested in the profession. However, you might find that insight days are not very well advertised on company websites, as students invited along are those who have proactively sought work experience – yet another reason to approach firms yourself if you want to gain some experience!
If you are strongly considering a career as an actuary, then an internship is the best way to strengthen your knowledge and experience in the profession. They typically run over the summer holidays, lasting between six and eight weeks, and will include a series of structured training sessions as well as the opportunity to get stuck into some real work. You are often assigned a mentor who will help you adapt to working life and will be your port of call if you have any queries. You will often be placed in a particular practice area – which is something you will have to choose when you apply – although you may be given the opportunity to get involved with projects in other departments as well.
Most applications for summer internships open during the previous September, with assessment days around Christmas. The application process may be just as demanding as applying for graduate jobs, so don’t be dispirited if you fail to get an offer from your first application. Candidates are generally expected to have A Level maths and be on track to achieve a 2:1 in a numerate degree. But as well as good academic results firms will also be looking for proactivity, enthusiasm and a desire to learn. All these things can be demonstrated through previous work experience and through a little bit of research on the company when you apply.
As well as gaining invaluable experience and building your actuarial network during an internship, many companies use their internship programmes as a way to recruit to fill their graduate vacancies the following summer, so you might even secure a graduate job.
How to make the most out of any work experience
As much as these opportunities are for you to get to know the work and the company, it also gives the company a chance to get to know you. If they like what they see they may remember this if ever you apply to any of their roles in the future.
First impressions are key – both with any correspondence you have had in arranging the work experience and in person during your visit. Take care to use a sensibly named email address, avoid spelling and grammar errors and typos and be prompt with your responses in any email communication. You will need to be able to demonstrate that you can conduct yourself in a professional manner – and part of this will be dressing appropriately.
Don’t be afraid to make conversation and ask questions. Employers like questions – they show a willingness to learn and demonstrate your interest in the firm and what they do. You might find it useful to do a little research on the company before going along, so that you can make sure to ask relevant questions – and they’ll be flattered that you took the time to learn about the company!
But most importantly, enjoy the experience. If it looks like you are enjoying the work and networking then you will make an impression with the actuaries you come across.
Rachel Pegrum is an Actuarial Consultant who joined Barnett Waddingham after completing their internship programme. She set up Barnett Waddingham’s popular Actuarial Insight Day in 2017, aimed at sixth-formers and first year university students, which now runs annually every July.