Eight Tips for a Successful Interview

Eight Tips for a Successful Interview
By Bosco L. Chan and Claire X. Yang

"Actuary," a respected and rewarding profession, is consistently ranked one of the best jobs in North America. The travel time to fellowship can be long when compared with other professions, but the examination system provides comprehensive education that evolves over time to match the changing demands of the industry. Given that the actuarial profession demands top students with exceptional mathematical knowledge and strong business sense, it is often a challenge for graduates to find a job in this highly competitive environment.

Many books provide guidelines for drafting a résumé or general interview skills. They are good resources but, no doubt, one of the key factors that separates the winners from those who fall short is their understanding of what potential employers are looking for. How well can you present yourself if you do not know what your audience wants to see? Although employers set different requirements, we have listed eight general principles that you may consider before starting your career planning.

1. Make yourself a good fit
Employers want to hire you because you are a good fit, not just because you are good at passing exams. Candidates need to be able to show potential employers what they can offer and how the whole company, or at least the department they are trying to join, can benefit from adding them to the team. Having the abilities and qualifications required for the position is important. At a minimum, students should select relevant courses at school, obtain above–average grades and be able to pass a few actuarial exams.

One possible path is to enroll in a co–op or internship program. One of the advantages of enrolling in these programs is that a co–op program gives you an opportunity to experience the real actuarial work environment. In addition, your co–op employer may choose you over an external candidate because you will already be familiar with the company culture, procedures and processes–less investment in training time and resources will be required.

2. Demonstrate your passion, energy and creative thinking
New hires are expected to bring energy to the team. Eagerness to learn and the ability to adapt to changes are important characteristics, as these traits can help you mix with the team. Because of the inevitable learning curve in junior actuarial positions, committing yourself to work and being willing to spend some personal time can help you to stay on top of industry developments and maintain your competitiveness in the company. Passionate and creative thinkers can always bring inspiration to business. When employers make hiring decisions, they are not only looking for basic training. They recruit talent and personality, so, be yourself and show you are a valuable candidate.

3. Realize that it's not just mathematics; it's about business
Actuaries in the 21st century are considered to be business–oriented people with keen mathematical and analytical skills. But no matter how good you are, if you cannot show people you are good, you are not that good. Employers favor candidates with business skills which include, but are not limited to, communication, presentation and time–management aptitudes.

Communication skills are necessary to make your messages easily understood when involved in work with marketing, underwriting and claims departments. This is especially true if you work in insurance companies or consulting firms. Presenting financial results or solutions to problems to senior management, investment analysts and regulators are part of the job requirements in senior levels. As you may already realize, taking exams while holding a full–time job requires good time management skills.

4. Sharpen your technical skills
Employers tend to look for candidates with strong analytical skills, because junior–level actuarial work is highly technical. Most of the time, analysts are responsible for handling detailed calculations. On the positive side, good technical skills are an asset in getting work done more efficiently. Team leaders want their team members to complete work quickly and still be able to provide accurate results.

5. Attitude is everything
In the early stages of their actuarial career, analysts are often asked to deal with repeated projects to get themselves familiar with actuarial work cycles. It requires time and effort to develop skill sets to sustain employers' quality standards. Having the right attitude toward work is important during this period. Be an employee that your manager can always count on. Even if you are brilliant and require less time to learn, you still need to spend time building up your experience. Having a good and positive attitude toward work will pay off over time.

6. Set goals
During interviews, students are often asked why they would like to pursue an actuarial career. The long travel time toward the fellowship designation takes both persistency and discipline. New entrants to the industry should be confident that this is the field that they want to pursue. Setting up a clear career plan in advance helps you regularly measure your interim performance and aligns your activities accordingly.

From the employer's point of view, hiring an actuarial analyst is a human resource investment. It requires employers to provide lots of training over an extended period of time. Because the company's investment horizon is not short, hiring committed individuals with clear career goals matching the company's business objectives creates a win–win situation.

7. Learn to work independently and as part of a team
The nature of the typical actuarial analyst position requires a student's abilities to work independently and as part of a team. This combination is necessary to complete projects with optimal usage of resources. Analysts should be able to think and work independently, but at the same time, the best solutions often come from discussing, brainstorming and combining others' suggestions. Teamwork often results in a synergy that can be more productive than the sum of individual efforts.

8. Have a life outside of work
Actuarial jobs are rewarding but also challenging. Healthy hobbies demonstrate a balanced lifestyle. If you cannot manage your life well, it's probably difficult to manage your work well. Is your personality compatible with others? Employers want you to enjoy what you do at work because people who love their jobs are willing to go the extra mile.

Follow the above tips, have some confidence and a rewarding actuarial career will not be far away.

The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the authors and should not be interpreted as those of the authors' employers or any other organizations with which the authors are associated.

Bosco L. Chan, FSA, FCIA, FCA, MMath is a member of the Society of Actuaries International Section Council and a consultant at Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Toronto, Ontario. He can be reached at bosco.chan@mercer.com. Claire X. Yang is an actuarial associate at Manulife Financial, Kitchener, Ontario. She can be reached at claire_yang@manulife.com.