0 to 100 Real Quick: A Student’s Guide to Land an Actuarial Internship
How to get your first internship as a university student, especially as an international student.
By Bryan Liu
Since I am still very far from becoming a fully credentialed actuary (FSA or FCAS), probably I am at 0 to 12 rather than 100.
Being born and raised in Hong Kong, I always had an interest in finance and an aptitude for mathematics. Whilst growing up, I always wanted to find a career that could offer me the opportunity to combine my two interests. By some funny coincidence, I stumbled upon the actuarial career during my university search, and ended up in Canada at the University of Waterloo.
For many aspiring actuaries in first or second year of university, and perhaps more so for an international student like myself, getting an actuarial internship is surely a daunting task. After all, all I knew about actuarial science when I first started University in Waterloo is that it means “accurate calculations” in Chinese.
I was very fortunate to have some amazing people give me the right advice and point me in the right direction for me to land an actuarial internship with Manulife. But it’s never an easy feat getting your dream internship. Looking back, I find here are some of the things I did that were essential to land my first actuarial job.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice I got during my first year was “Register for Exam P tonight”. After hearing this at a mentorship event early in my first year, I registered and started studying for the Probability exam. Needless to say, as I had no knowledge of integration before the exam, it took two months of intense studying and hundreds of practice problems before I was even ready for my first practice exam.
Yes, it might be slightly repetitive to mention the importance of passing your first exam, but I cannot stress this enough. In the search for your first actuarial internship, you must show employers that you are dedicated to the actuarial profession, and capable of eventually reaching an actuarial designation. Exams aren’t easy. But wherever you come from, it is extremely challenging to get an actuarial job without showing that you are capable of passing exams.
Aim to pass at least one exam before your first job search.
Take Part In Extracurricular Activities
People might no longer recognize the big name organizations that you worked for during high school, especially for someone like me who comes from halfway around the world. Despite the fact that I held several leadership and volunteer positions in high school, it did not quite resonate with employers who were thousands of miles away from my hometown.
Attending various information sessions, I realized that the best way to display your communications and leadership skills is through organizations and roles that recruiters are more familiar with. The easiest way for college students is to start with getting involved in their school’s actuarial science club.
I first started as an executive for the Waterloo Actuarial Science Club in my second term of university. My original intention was to try to get involved or to attend more events. However, the actuarial science club turned out to be the place where I made a lot of my friends. We would often go out to the movies, or to dinner. Being an executive helped me become part of the community, despite having come from 8,000 miles away. More recently, I became further involved as president of the club, which exposed me to even more people as well as crucial opportunities to organize events and grow my soft skills. Taking part in the actuarial science club, I was able to actually build crucial problem solving and communication skills that are essential to an actuarial career.
Taking part in extracurricular activities should not just be limited to the actuarial community. You never want to be someone who just stays home and studies throughout your entire university career. You are in an entirely new environment, try out new things! Have some fun! In my first year, I took part in debating society, a school fund, the weather society and many more clubs. You will be able to build your soft skills (perhaps also language skills if English is not your mother tongue), as well as become a more interesting and well-rounded person.
Upper years in your university are perhaps some of the most knowledgeable people in your daily university life. In addition to “been there, done that”, they are also some of the nicest and most helpful people. Especially for those who come from a different country, upper year students can definitely help you integrate into the community as well as provide you with valuable job search advice.
If it wasn’t for an amazing group of upper year friends, it would not have been possible for me to land any interviews or job offers. Before my job search, an upper year friend offered to go through my resume for me, and ended up rewriting it entirely, improving the wording, format and content. Without his help, I would never have been able to land an interview with Manulife. Even now, after my first job search, my upper year friends still give me advice on life, career, and even on this very article!
Go to as many information sessions as your schedule allows. Learn about the companies and what they look for. Meet new people—actuaries, recruiters and other future colleagues. I was surprised, to say the least, when I met my interviewer before the interview at a networking event in the school pub. You never know who you will meet, or what you will learn (or what food/drinks there might be).
It is never easy for anyone to get their dream job, and even less so when in an unfamiliar or new environment. Life is all about monopolizing the lemon market when given lemons. By showing dedication, getting involved and having a desire to learn, we can all be one step closer to our goals.
Bryan Liu is a second year actuarial science major at the University of Waterloo, currently working in Manulife Financial as an actuarial co-op. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org