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Being an actuary is the best job you probably haven’t heard of. It is an intellectually challenging, highly respected career path that allows you to apply maths, economics, and risk management to real life business situations. Philip Arthur talks about the different career options and gives his advice on everything you need to know about actuarial graduate programmes.

Career options

Actuaries work in a variety of industries; they are basically found wherever there is financial risk involved. There are numerous graduate opportunities available in pensions, insurance, investment management, banking, and working for the government. The number of different opportunities for actuaries is increasing with more non-traditional roles opening up in areas such as asset risk management, predictive modelling within businesses and environmental finance. It is a highly regarded profession worldwide, and many actuaries take the opportunity to work abroad. The roles all have the same exam structure, but will differ in the day-to-day work. Make sure you research the company and sector to see if it is the right fit for you. Ask yourself whether you want to be a client facing consultant, or whether you would rather work in-house.

Graduate programmes

Actuarial graduate programmes offer on-the-job training and support. Although the qualification process is challenging, study packages are often generous and give you sufficient time to spend studying towards the exams.

There are also opportunities to attend tutorials that provide focussed training for the exams. It will be long and hard work, with the typical qualifying time being 4 to 6 years. However, you will be working with other people who are going through, or who have been through, the same process as you and who are willing to offer help and advice.
I tend to work in the office for four days of the week, and spend one day a week studying for the exams – this is common across many organisations. At the office, I work in a number of different client teams, which are built up of many different people, including people from other departments, such as investment advisors and administrators. I have been exposed to many different aspects of pension consultancy, from calculating the present value of a member’s pension benefits to assessing the financial health of a whole pension scheme. I am always learning and am constantly challenged. No two days in the office are the same.

Job requirements

The actuarial profession draws on logical thinking and problem solving, making a numeracy-based degree preferable. Most companies will expect candidates to have obtained or be on track for at least a 2:1 degree with honours and have a B grade or higher in maths at A-level.

Actuaries work in teams and often communicate with clients, so being able to work well with others and communicate complex ideas in a simple and concise way is crucial.
It is important to have sound IT skills. We often work with Excel, so an understanding in this is helpful. You need to be self-disciplined because maintaining a balance between your personal life, work and studying can be a difficult task.

The application process

Applying for an actuarial role can seem like a daunting experience to start with. The application process is normally very thorough, and there is a lot of competition out there. But with the correct preparation, you should be fine. Although not all application processes are the same, the process often involves an online application form, a telephone interview, online tests and an assessment centre.

Graduate roles start appearing around October, with the normal starting date being the following September. Many organisations also offer internships, and the application process for these is similar.

Online application form

Take your time in completing this. Make sure you tailor your response to the firm and sector you are applying for and do your research, don’t just copy and paste responses to every company you apply for. This is the stage in the process where you have all the time in the world and no pressure around you. Make sure you write something that will get you noticed! Ask others to look over your application and check for things such as spelling and grammatical errors.

Telephone interview
This will be the first opportunity for the company to get to know more about you, but also for you to get to know more about them – so ask questions! Make sure you are prepared and go to a quiet place with your CV and application form to hand. When answering competency questions, make sure you state what you did to contribute and give examples.

Online test
Make sure you practise! Work through the practice test for the company you’re applying for, even if you have completed others in the past. It will give you a good idea of what the format will be for the real one. They are normally there to test your mathematical ability and how you analyse data.

Assessment centre
The best piece of advice here would be to just be yourself and enjoy it! Make sure you read up on any current issues or hot topics, so you can demonstrate your interest in the career. During my assessment centre, there were many different tasks to complete, with interviews and presentations thrown in as well. It is a real opportunity to see what your potential future colleagues and employer are like too!

About the Author

Philip Arthur read Mathematics at the University of Manchester. He became a teacher for five years, before applying for a graduate position at XPS Pensions Group. He is now an Associate working in the XPS Pensions Group Leeds office.

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