Actuarial Recruiting: What Am I Looking for in Actuarial Candidates?
By Tracy Martinotti
For the last 16 years, I have worked for The Hartford and have spent the last 11 managing the life actuarial program. I am responsible for all aspects of the actuarial program including recruiting, student development, exam support and the internship program. The time has flown by and it’s surprising to me that I’ve been working with actuaries for so many years, and have observed and experienced several changes of the job market and actuarial recruiting over this period.
I’ll never forget when Jim Trimble, who is now Professor Trimble and the director of the actuarial science program at the University of Connecticut, became the chief actuary of the life businesses at The Hartford in 2004 and proposed this role to me. At the time, the profession was not known anywhere to the degree that it is now. I didn’t know much about how individuals became actuaries. The only thing I really knew is their detailed involvement in the development of our products for our international businesses, which is where I worked then.
Jim was pretty convincing, so I decided to take the challenge. I quickly came up to speed on the exam process, the roles that were available to our actuarial students, and how we were recruiting this talent. At that point in 2004, there was an exam transition happening with the Society of Actuaries (SOA)—exams were only administered twice a year, none of them were computer-based with automatic results. There was no such thing as the SOA Centers of Actuarial Excellence (CAE) for actuarial programs at universities and colleges. For those reasons, in my opinion, actuarial recruiting was more difficult than it is now. At that point, we did take “leaps of faith” with some candidates, based on a half-day interview and then perhaps an 11-week internship. Some were successful … others were not.
But things have changed. I recently read an article on CareerCast.com that listed the best and worst jobs of 2015. Actuary was rated as the number one best job! "I've never met an actuary who said they didn't love what they do. I work with interesting people every day, from CFOs and attorneys to international clients, and what I do each day is different from what I did the day before. And since I love solving problems that benefit society, it's really a wonderful career," said Tonya B. Manning, Chief Actuary at Buck Consultants of Xerox in Winston-Salem, N.C. Manning. “Being strong in math is a given, but having soft skills, such as the ability to communicate well and work in a team, can be just as important."
Being a top-rated career for years, the actuarial profession has attracted more and more talent, and our candidate pool has continued to grow. This year alone, for our actuarial internship job posting, which is generally the “feeder” into our full time program, we had 490 applicants for 22 positions. So you can say the competition is pretty strong and may be wondering how you can stand out among all the candidates. The above quotes from Ms. Manning are great summaries of things that I look for in candidates for our company.
Let’s break that down:
- Strong in math. Tonya stated that it is “a given”. But what does that mean from a recruiters’ standpoint? We know that not everyone is going to have a degree in actuarial science, or go to a college or university that the SOA has designated as a Center of Actuarial Excellence. However, we want to see relevant degrees with strong GPA’s. I look for a GPA of 3.3 or higher and look at those with degrees in not just actuarial science, but also those with math, economic, engineering or other degrees with transferable courses and skills. With exams offered two, three, and up to six times per year, completion of actuarial exams is a must in today’s market. If you’re going to a school that has been listed in the CAE, not only are we expecting you to have one exam, but if multiple exams aren’t passed, we do ask “why?” We do not take the risk anymore of thinking that someone will come in and pass the exams because they have a strong GPA and math aptitude. We need to see that before we move forward with interviews.
- Communication. I cannot stress to you how important communication is from day one in your career. Because I am not an actuary, I am a great person to assess just how good you can communicate your abilities and past experiences and tell me how these will be applied to future opportunities. So often, actuaries are working with many people other than actuaries—they may be from underwriting, legal, IT department or even very senior level individuals, who don’t need to know all the details. It’s very important that you can explain and simplify your work and findings, so that those at all levels and backgrounds within an organization can understand what you are doing. The stereotype of actuaries sitting in a cubicle by themselves all day just does not exist in today’s world. Which brings me to the next thing I look for which is:
- Team Work. At The Hartford, we are evaluated not just on our performance results but also in our behaviors in achieving these results. One of the behaviors that every employee in the company is accountable for is working on a team. We need to be able to respect our teammates and work inclusively to achieve best results. This is a very important attribute that I look for in all our candidates and something that I really pry into during my interview process.
- Passion for the profession and work. We look for candidates who really want to be at our company and show true passion for the profession and work. If you don’t have prior experience you can discuss, show your passion and enthusiasm in other ways, such as getting involved in your campus’ actuarial or other relevant club. And I mean really get involved—don’t just show up for a meeting once or twice each year. If you don’t have prior experience, take an excel course or advanced excel course on your own. Know about the company you are interested in working for, and know what recent things have happened. Do your research. Attend actuarial club meetings or other events where you can meet people and learn more about this profession.
- Being creative and Innovative. As an actuary, you have a lot of influence in the businesses that you are going to work with. Being creative and innovative, and thinking “outside of the box,” is not only going to help you, but also the company you work for. We’re always looking for those types of people. Think about ways you have been and can continue to be creative and innovative and be prepared to explain these to your future employers.
As a recruiter, I truly feel honored that I am recruiting and helping to develop such important talent within our organization, and have the privilege to work with and learn from smart people every day. Many actuaries and candidates are often top of their class, they’ve done well on the SAT’s—especially math, have strong GPA’s, etc. So it’s up to you to decide how you want to distinguish yourself in this growing market.
We’ve hired all types of individuals into our program—those with their actuarial science degree, those with an engineering degree, an English degree or even a music degree. Some come from our home state of Connecticut, many from outside Connecticut. We have those who started with a different career—some started out as teachers, some managed individuals in a call center, some have been in the military. It’s important for us to continue to recruit people with all different types of education and experience.
In the above areas that I mentioned, where do you think you are the strongest and can make the biggest impact with your future employer? You want to think about these things, and how you can make yourself stand out with your own individual education and experience!
Tracy Martinotti is the life actuarial program manager at The Hartford. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org