Actuaries have a unique role in businesses and organizations; they help companies plan for the future and insulate themselves from losses. You can find actuaries working in the finance departments of insurance companies, employee benefits departments and many government agencies. An actuarial career can take you in many different directions but landing that first position will require some specific skills and several examinations. If you have an analytical mind and an aptitude for math, you may want to consider a career as an actuary.
We're breaking down the steps to help you approach graduation with a plan for securing your first job in the field. Here are a few tips on becoming an actuary.
1. Major in math or business
"Most people who go into work as an actuary are not in an actuarial degree [program]," says McLean Sloughter, associate professor of mathematics at Seattle University. "[Instead, students are] getting a math degree or they're getting a business degree."
Many schools, especially smaller colleges, don't offer specific actuary degrees or actuarial coursework. Both math and business will help you build the skills you'll need in actuarial science. Even if you don't major in those areas, try to complete coursework in those disciplines so you'll have the skills you need to take the required exams to be an actuary. If you don't have any professional experience, you can also list this relevant coursework on your resume.
The website Be an Actuary can help you learn more about what you'll need to enter the profession, such as:
- Taking actuarial exams
- Earning actuary certifications
- Internships in relevant roles
- Strong math skills, business acumen and computer proficiency
- Aptitude for problem solving and self-motivation
But being an actuary isn't all about crunching numbers in front of a computer. When Sloughter speaks to current actuaries, they often tell her that the job "requires a bit more creativity than some other business and math jobs that are out there."
Students and recent graduates who enjoy math, business and problem-solving might find it rewarding and challenging to predict risk. According to U.S. News & World Report, people rank actuary salaries highly, and job availability and job satisfaction are positive.
2. Meet others in the field
As with many professions, networking is one key to success, especially as you begin your career. Some larger cities have actuarial groups that host events, which can be an excellent opportunity for hopeful actuaries to learn from and meet professionals.
"You can become a bit of a known name to some of the companies in the area and also hear from those people what the job is like and get a better understanding of what they are getting into," says Sloughter.
If you don't have a professional organization nearby, consider starting your own student actuarial group on campus. "In some schools, students put together their own club for folks who are interested in working as an actuary," says Sloughter. "Partly, so they have groups to work and study together with as they are prepping for those exams and to pass on recommendations of courses to new members. But that also can be an avenue to reach out to people who are working in the area."
Find an actuary in your area, let them know you're part of an on-campus group and ask if they would be willing to talk with you about their work.
"If you get in touch with a company and say, 'Hey, we've got a group of five or 10 people who are interested in learning more,' my experience has been that there's a pretty good chance that someone will be happy to come and chat with you about that," Sloughter says.
3. Land an actuarial internship
If you're in college and you hope to become an actuary, try to find a position as an actuarial intern before you graduate. You'll gain experience and perspective on what day-to-day life as an actuary is like. If you perform well, you may even be able to secure a job after graduation.
"A lot of people will have an internship between their junior and senior year that then turns into a job with the same company once they graduate," says Sloughter.
4. Prep for the exams
Entry-level actuaries will take between seven and 10 exams before they start a position in the field. Your testing schedule will be based on which of the two actuarial tracks you decide to pursue:
- Life and health insurance
- Property and casualty insurance
"Most jobs want to hire someone who has passed at least one of those exams," says Sloughter. If you've been studying math and business, your undergraduate classes may have covered the material on the exams. That said, preparing with a study group or with study guides is also important. According to Sloughter, the exams have a high failure rate, so students shouldn't be surprised if they don't pass on the first try. "You go back and you study some more and take it again," he says. "It doesn't look like a red mark against you."
5. Send out those applications
Before you apply for a job, make sure your resume is concise and professional. Check out our Resume Builder to write a resume that will stand out and get you to the interview phase. Or, you can check out our Consulting Actuary Resume Example, and work from that if you'd like. Your cover letter should convey your experience and the skills you have that would ensure your success as an actuary, like math and problem-solving. Get even more advice to build a strong application with our Cover Letter Builder.
When it comes to standing out as a high-quality candidate, your application materials and showing initiative will set you well on your way. Add a couple of the required exams and an internship to the mix and you'll be an extremely strong candidate. With preparation, education and a professional resume, you'll be much closer to getting your dream job as an actuary.