Recruiters, to use, or not to use?



To use, or not to use?

For recent or soon–to–be graduates, the question of whether to enlist the aid of a recruiter ("headhunter" in the vernacular) can be confusing. Are recruiters a viable alternative for first–time job seekers? If you use one, will anybody hire you?

How do recruiters work?

Recruiters are hired by companies to find candidates to fill specific jobs. The recruiters fee can top 30% of the candidates first years salary. Job candidates do not pay the recruiter. The fee comes from the company doing the hiring.

The fee is the reason many large firms are reluctant to use recruiters for entry–level people. Mary Gianninni, national campus recruiting manager for Towers Perrin, said, "We do not use any kind of search firm for entry–level hires. It is our policy to hire entry–level staff in our actuarial areas from our campus recruiting program."

The Travelers Group has the same policy. "I cant imagine us using recruiters for entry–level candidates. We dont feel pressed to do that," said Miki Dickinson, vice president of staffing and development for the Hartford, Conn. insurer. Instead, The Travelers recruits at some 10 to 12 colleges in the Northeast and Midwest every fall and spring for both entry–level actuaries and interns.

"I would really recommend that candidates try to do summer internships. Internships allow us to build a relationship with entry–level people. We get a chance to look at them and they get a chance to look at us and see if this is really what they want to do," Dickinson explained.

She does believe recruiters might be helpful to candidates who have some work experience and at least two or three exams. Dickinson is in charge of The Travelers leadership development program, which includes the actuarial development program. "We develop them with management in mind. We rotate them through various departments and jobs. There is mentoring involved. They stay in the program until they achieve Fellowship," she said of the 35 to 40 actuaries currently in the development program.

The Travelers will accept resumes from candidates interested in doing internships. They should be sent to Judi Kennedy, who heads the actuarial development program. She can be reached at 860.954.8076.

Diane Smith, administrator of actuarial development programs for Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, New York, said, "We occasionally will use recruiters but prefer to have students contact us directly. We have used recruiters when a position needs to be filled immediately."

Like other large actuarial employers, Equitable recruits at college campuses. "We go to about six northeastern schools every spring to recruit for both internships and full–time permanent positions," said Smith. She said the insurer has about 17 actuarial candidates in its development program currently.

Smith recommends that candidates send resumes and cover letters to any companies they are interested in, including The Equitable. She also suggests using the Actuarial Training Programs booklet published by the CAS and SOA. The booklet lists companies that offer internships and other types of actuarial training programs. She also recommends that candidates in the New York area attend the Actuarial Career Day sponsored by the Actuarial Society of Greater New York and the Casualty Actuaries of Greater New York. This years career day is Tuesday, December 29, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Park Avenue at Grand Central Station, New York. The contact for career day is Nikelii Bennett at 212.251.5630 or Smith can be reached at 212.314.3249.

For Equitables summer internship program, Smith said the company gives preference to juniors in college who have passed at least one exam. "We would consider someone who has taken an exam in May of their junior year and will receive the results during the summer."

Recruiter Michael Braunstein confirms Towers Perrins, The Travelers and Equitables statements. "Using a recruiter in many markets could actually hurt an entry–level person because companies that are doing their own recruiting wont work with the recruiter." Braunstein, FSA, is president of An Actuarial Recruiter, Hartford, Conn. He continued, "I feel so strongly about this that I would caution anyone to think twice before working with a recruiter who comes on too strong."

"Right now, companies are having a hard time finding entry–level candidates. So a well–qualified candidate should have no trouble finding work on his own. Once a person has about 100 credits, or two to three exams under his belt, thats when working with a recruiter becomes attractive," he said.

What can a recruiter do for you?

Though recruiter Terri Michalewicz, LCM Associates of Atlanta, agrees that entry–level job seekers may not be best served by enlisting the aid of recruiters, she said first job seekers should consider calling a recruiter to take advantage of their advice and insight.

"We can help graduates understand what companies are looking for," she said.

Michalewicz said she does manage to place two to four entry–level actuaries each year. "When a company calls me to assist in entry–level recruiting, its generally because they dont have an on–campus recruiting program, they underestimated their need, or someone has left unexpectedly. I do have a few clients who prefer not to be involved in a formal on–campus recruiting program. Typically, they are smaller companies with only one or two openings at a given time. They hire strictly on an as–needed basis. Often, the human resources departments of these companies have limited exposure to the actuarial field, so its worth it to them to pay a fee for us to source and screen the candidates."

Braunstein agrees that recruiters can be of benefit to entry–level job seekers when the candidates want smaller or nontraditional firms that may not be part of the annual campus recruiting frenzy. "If a person is looking specifically for that kind of firm, thats when a recruiter is most likely to be of help to entry–level candidates," he said.

Recruiters see the current job market

Perhaps the most important knowledge recruiters have is that they know the state of the job market at any given time. Terri Michalewicz said, "Fifteen years ago, if you could spell actuary theyd hire you. Now, companies are going for the top 20 percent of the candidates. Thats because just like every other business, firms that employ actuaries are being asked to do more with less."

According to Michalewicz, an ideal entry–level candidate would have 60 100 credits; good to excellent communication skills: a high GPA (3.5 or better); good computer skills and a well–rounded background in academics as well as extracurricular activities. Internship experience is good, but not essential.

However, having more than 100 credits can be difficult if the candidate has no work experience. This is because for employees below the Associate level, compensation is tied closely to exam credits. In most companies, all employees in an actuarial department are compensated at the same level depending on exams passed.

"The goal is to strike a balance between number of credits, experience and compensation. Many companies find that difficult to achieve if a candidate is "heavy" on exams and has little or no experience," said Michalewicz.

Michalewicz and Michael Braunstein counsel students who contact them to research the companies they approach, get internships, learn how to interview, contact the companies on their own and send individually addressed cover letters. Both recruiters say, "Go to the library or the Internet and do your homework."