Fresh from graduating at university, I was equally excited as daunted about my future prospects. With no less than straight As and a first-class degree at university, I had a track record of high academic attainment. But so did Dalton, Aqib and Shabnam.
All of my peers were academically gifted and many were more talented than I was. Furthermore, I was not only competing for Actuarial roles with my university peers but also some of the best minds from across the UK and the entire globe. Actuarial graduate roles are very competitive and firms put you through a rigorous screening process which filter out all but the most equipped candidates. So, excitement quickly changed to trepidation.
“Unfortunately, on this occasion your application for employment with us was unsuccessful” was a statement that I became all too familiar with but I was determined not to end up as a statistic. 48% of graduates are unable to secure a graduate role within 6 months of graduating. A statistic which is likely to only increase when looking at candidates searching for purely actuarial roles.
In my own experience, my Actuarial Science degree included a cohort of around 35 bright individuals and I recall only a handful of those securing an actuarial role within the first six months (although not all actuarial graduates wanted to continue to pursue an actuarial career and a minority went back into further education).
If you have not yet been successful in your pursuit for an actuarial graduate role, then the damning statistics above are a timely reminder to you that you are not an anomaly and you are definitely not alone.
The field of Actuarial Science is growing with more universities offering degrees that provide exemptions and more generally there is greater awareness of the industry. This is great as it can only grow and enhance the actuarial industry. However, there are a finite number of graduate roles and therefore many applicants will be unsuccessful.
Having experienced similar heartbreak, I have compiled some advice and tips on what to do if you have not yet secured an Actuarial graduate role.
1. Don’t take it personally
Rejection always hurts. There is no way to sugar coat this as it genuinely does hurt to be rejected. But it is not the end of the world, I promise! There was another candidate better suited for that role this time, but this is not a reflection of your credentials. There will be similar roles, different roles and new and exciting roles where you will be the most suitable candidate. Therefore, it is important to try to stay positive in spite of rejection.
2. Learn from your mistakes
Try to use your unsuccessful applications as a learning experience. Ask for feedback from the employer or recruiter if possible and use this alongside a critical self-evaluation of your application to increase your chances of success in the future. If you are finding that you are consistently failing at a similar stage of the application process, then try to strengthen this area. Try to make this into an iterative process, fine-tuning yourself until you’re the most equipped candidate and inevitably successful.
If you find that you are not making it through to interview stages then your resume and cover letter might not be eye-catching and strong enough for employers to want to probe further. Stand out with a clear and concise resume, tailored for the job specification and the company’s ethos. Think about the skills, abilities and characteristics which are listed as desirable.
For example, an actuarial consultancy might look for instances that show candidates are able to build relationships and present to clients i.e. by demonstrating good personal and communication skills.
It might be that you are struggling with the online aptitude tests or the phone interviews. It might be that final interviews are your biggest obstacle – whether it be articulating yourself concisely or preparing yourself with strong examples of different competencies. It sounds obvious but practice, practice, practice. Practice does make perfect.
There are plenty of online aptitude practice websites which can ready you for a live one and even more material to prepare yourself for interview style questions. Jot down the different questions you were asked during an interview (after the interview has finished of course!) and try to use this to help you prepare going forwards. Reflect on your answers and the different reactions you received to these and develop accordingly
3. Use constructive criticism
Get into the habit of requesting feedback after unsuccessful interviews. This is one of the most effective ways to recognise any shortcomings in yourself and your application. Not only will this help you in the short term in your hunt for an actuarial graduate job but it will also prepare you well for the actuarial world where regular feedback can prove priceless in progressing through the ranks.
Effective feedback is only effective if you use it constructively, so try to find solutions to any criticisms. However, never take criticisms personally and try not to lose confidence from honest feedback.
If, for example, the interviewer explained that during a presenting exercise, you looked flustered and nervous, you could try to practice speaking in front of an audience to become more comfortable going forwards. Ask your family or friends if they can listen and provide you with feedback.
The interviewer might have stated that you lacked strong examples of the competencies that they were looking for. Can you polish your answers to make it have a greater impact on your interviewer? Are you going into enough depth or perhaps too much depth? Maybe this competency is one of your weaknesses and would be helpful if you can hone this specific skill.
Clearly not all solutions are quick easy fixes and therefore gradually improving your limitations are imperative to becoming a better-rounded, employable candidate.
4. Gain more experience and skills
You need to gain experience by getting a job, but can’t find a job as you don’t have enough experience – the ultimate catch-22! All else being equal, a lack of work experience will put you at a slight disadvantage but there are many ways to minimise the effect of this.
You might have been working the odd bar shift to help you afford rent, and you might ask how that helps you land a graduate role?
Well, look at the skills required for the job and think about any of the transferable skills that you might have developed in this role no matter how unrelated the job you were doing! Look at creative ways where you have demonstrated different competencies such as undertaking a role for a university society or volunteering for a charity or community organisation.
An empty profile is obviously not desirable but a candidate who has managed to demonstrate the skills required through different types of experiences is suddenly an interesting and viable prospect.
5. Look at alternative routes
Applications and interviews for graduate level roles starting immediately after graduation will have taken place months in advance, often as early as the start of the year. Many of the typical graduate programs that start in September/October will already be filled months in advance. So what options do aspiring actuarial applicants have?
Luckily, there are still a plethora of routes that can be explored including some quite unorthodox ones which could be the chance you are looking for.
A lot can change between the period where the job offer was made and accepted to the intended start date of employment. Candidates may later reject job offers after initially accepting or employers may feel they need additional resource. There are many reasons why the job could be reposted and therefore it is important to continue to keep a look out.
Many online job-boards provide a function to send out email notifications for job roles that become available, that fit the job description that you are looking for. Some company websites allow you to do this directly on their site.
Tap into different social media channels. I think even millennials will be surprised at how digital the world has evolved to. LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, the list could go on, but mainly LinkedIn. My first two significant jobs coming out of university were both found via LinkedIn! If you use these platforms properly, they are an extremely powerful tool to have at your disposal (more on this in a later article!).
Rather than waiting for an actuarial job opening, another option is to try to find a role which could give you a platform to demonstrate and develop your skills. This could become extremely useful when promoting yourself to actuarial employers in the future. A direct route might not always happen immediately and so a similarly challenging role should be explored which could hone and develop your skills, like volunteering at different organisations or returning to education.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive and therefore I have limited this to just a handful of tips! Please do not give up on all hope, there is an Actuarial graduate job out there for you.
Abdul Basith is the founder of Ask Abdul, an online mentoring service. Abdul is an Actuarial Science Graduate at University of East Anglia and Senior Pricing Actuarial Analyst at Just. Also a Student Guest Editor of the Actuary Magazine, SIAS social sub-committee member and career ambassador for the IFOA.