The Hiring Process for Actuarial Careers
Schools that have major actuarial science programs and/or a strong business program will often host career fairs for those interested in the actuarial field. That will likely be your first contact with companies interested in hiring you. You'll talk to them about your goals, and they'll see whether their internships and entry-level training programs might work for you.
As a sophomore, you'll head to these events to find out about internships and get your feet wet. Don't be concerned if it seems the recruiters aren't paying close attention to you. They're primarily focusing on the juniors for internship programs and their seniors for entry-level work. Gather as much information as you can, be polite, and get contact information for each company rep you speak to. You can then call or e-mail as needed to follow up.
In the first half of your junior year, you'll be exploring your internship possibilities. The reps will take a more active interest in you, and will invite you to sit down for a preliminary conversation on campus during the event. This is, in essence, a job interview, so don't show up in gym shorts and sandals! Be on time (or better yet, a little early) and answer questions thoughtfully and intelligently. You'll also receive the necessary paperwork to put in your application for an internship. Expect follow-ups through the winter, and a decision on your internships in the spring. You should apply to more than one, but no more than three or four, and those should be at companies of varying size so that you can get at least one internship, given their importance.
Come senior year, you'll be back at the career events, this time talking about entry-level job programs. Most major insurers and financial services companies have them. Some are very formalized three-year programs that will guide you through both the early stages of your career and two to three additional actuarial exams, while others are less structured. The former ensures a stable job with well-defined success measures, while the latter can let you shine if you're a confident self-starter and know your stuff.
Once you meet with a rep on campus, you'll again be asked to file an application. From there, you'll receive follow-up calls and even some phone interview opportunities during the winter. Over spring break, expect to travel to New York, Chicago, Boston or wherever your target companies are based to interview in person. By late April to early May, you'll have your offers.
What if company reps don't come to campus?
You may be at a smaller school or one that doesn't have a strong business major, and the career fairs may not offer representatives from actuarial firms. If that's the case, you'll have to put in a lot of time at your school's career counseling center. Even at smaller schools, there should be contact information for representatives from major players in the industry. The Internet is another important tool for finding contact information, and if you have friends at other schools, put them to work on your behalf as well.
"Basically, if you're not seeing people coming to you, you have to be working the phone and computer to get in touch with everybody you can think of," says Brian Burleigh, an actuary who works closely on recruiting interns for his consulting firm. "Work your way up the ladder from the receptionist to HR to whomever is the right person. Find that person, and then get them listening to you."
Once you have contact information, you have to make your presence known. You may be at a slight disadvantage coming from a school not known for actuarial work, so you'll have to present a very well-written resume, show excellent grades, and have your first one or two actuarial exams under your belt if you're a junior or senior. You'll have to be professional in e-mail and on the phone, and make a case for your inclusion. But if you have the grades, exam work and the mindset, you should be able to land an internship and/or entry-level job like any other student would.
What if I didn't get an internship/job offer?
If you didn't land an internship by your junior year, that isn't the end of your actuarial career, but you'll have work to do. You should try to have the first two actuarial exams completed by early in the second semester of your senior year. An independent research study or senior thesis exploring actuarial topics will help -- especially if you can make contacts in the industry while performing your research. Any kind of work-study with local insurers is also a good idea, either during the summer before your senior year or during the school year. And since your skills may not have been up to par, it's a good idea to hunker down and show some improvement in your studies.
If by the end of your senior year you've not had a job offer from any of the entry-level programs you've applied to, it's time to reassess. Work with your college career counselor to formulate a plan of action. You'll likely have to start out smaller than you may have thought at first, going to a smaller insurer, for example, or taking a more traditional route through the insurance industry instead of hooking up with a hedge fund or investment bank right off the bat.
This also means your last month of school will be a flurry of phone calls, resumes, applications and interviews that could stretch through the summer. There are people who drop out of entry-level programs, or decline positions offered. You'll want to contact your company reps again and lobby for those remaining spots. You'll also want to broaden your search to a variety of firms beyond your target companies or even your target city. You may want to look at a position in insurance sales, locally, or at a local bank while you wait to hear from your second round of applications. You should also keep up with your actuarial studies, perhaps even consider taking your third exam. Graduate school could also be an option.
Finally, be realistic. A student with a 2.5 GPA and a squeak-by passing grade on one actuarial exam is not going to be working for Citigroup right off the bat. But it certainly doesn't preclude a job with a local insurance company. This is a demanding field. Work hard as early as you can in your college career, then tailor your job search to your abilities and skills. You can still work up to Citigroup if that's what you want.
But also bear in mind that if you've not had a successful college experience, this may not be your career. "This is a demanding field, so if you haven't passed an exam by the time you graduate and you have no internship experience, it's going to be an uphill climb," says one firm recruiter. "You'll end up at a third-tier insurer at most. It may be better to simply reassess and use your skills in some other way."