Name: Sammie Caine University: Lancaster University Subject Studied: Maths with Statistics Current Job Title: Actuarial Trainee Company: Zurich
How easy was it for you to find a graduate job?
For me it was both a difficult and relatively straightforward process... Having interned at the same company for a couple of summers, I was fortunate enough to be offered a graduate job with them (provided they had the vacancy, which they wouldn't know for definite until nearer the time).
Actuarial grad schemes take applicants very early on in the academic year, with many schemes having application deadlines around the end of November. So, for me, whilst I had been speculatively offered a role, I had to continue to apply to other schemes because of the uncertainty with the offer I had. These schemes are competitive, so you have to be on your A-game to make it through to the final stages of the process.
Ultimately, the role was available and I've been lucky enough to kick-start my career at a company I was already familiar with and knew I enjoyed working for.
What was the process of applying/testing/interviews like?
The application process for actuarial grad schemes is pretty similar across all companies, with your initial application consisting of information about your qualifications and work experience, alongside questions requiring 300-500 word answers. These questions tend to be competency-based, such as describing times you worked in a team, as well as explaining your understanding of the actuarial career and why you chose to apply to the company you're applying for.
The next stage consists of testing - it varies from company to company but, as you'd expect for an actuarial vacancy, this will always include a numerical test. Other testing includes verbal reasoning and diagrammatic reasoning. Practice is key for this stage, as you need to be able to cope with the pressure of the time limit (there's nothing more unsettling than being stuck on a question and seeing the timer ticking down!).
Once you've made it past these initial stages, you could expect to do a telephone or video interview, in which the questions tend to build upon a similar style to the questions you answered in your initial application. This can be difficult if you aren't prepared - you need to know who it is you're applying for and why their graduate role appeals to you. If you can't show that you have at least some interest in their business, then why would they consider hiring you over someone who took the time to do their research?
If you've managed to make it past these stages, then the next stage is typically an assessment centre. These can vary according to the company you've applied for, and I'd always recommend reading through all the information you're sent before the day, as well as doing some online research! In my experience, the common elements of the day were a group exercise and more testing (like the ones you did previously). Assessment days are your chance to shine and show off in person why you're the best candidate for the role, without being that person who is trying too hard to outshine everyone else and ends up coming across as pushy. This is especially notable for the group exercise - no one like one person who doesn't take the time to listen to other's viewpoints...
What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?
Do your research. I cannot stress how important this is, especially considering how competitive graduate actuarial positions are. You need to have at least some awareness of the industry you're looking to enter and the challenges facing that industry.
Actuarial work is available in a range of sectors, most notably insurance and pensions, and you need to have some understanding of key features or hot topics in the respective sector. Events like Brexit are going to have an impact on what you're doing, and not only is it good to be able to demonstrate to interviewers that you appreciate the effect of these events on business, but it'll also help you to understand whether you want to commit to being a part of that industry. There are so many resources available online nowadays, and looking at the likes of TheActuary.com can open your ideas to current talking points within the actuarial world.
Of course, you're a graduate applying to begin your career, you're not going to be coming to the role with years of experience, so don't be too daunted by the fact you don't know everything there is to know about being an actuary. No prospective graduate employer is going to expect you to be an expert, they just want to know you're willing to go out there and do some research.
Training to be an actuary is a big commitment, and if you can show you have that commitment throughout your application then you're heading in the right direction.
What is your favourite thing about your current job?
My favourite thing would be the different work I get to be involved in. Whilst there are some repetitive aspects, this is to be expected from any job, and I still get to experience a range of different work outside of my usual day-to-day tasks.
I've been lucky to get thrown straight in to the deep-end with my work, taking responsibility from an early stage as part of different projects. This has enabled me to work with a range of colleagues both in my local offices and in offices around the world, so much so that I had the opportunity to work with other new actuarial trainees from my company's European offices for a week in Slovakia. As a result of this I've already learned so much about the industry I'm in.
I love being able to get stuck into complicated tasks as part of my work. I can't deny that the sense of accomplishment when successfully completing a task is a great one - not only because I've managed to successfully do something which was initially challenging, but because my role allows me to appreciate how my work can impact on the rest of the business. That's something I value greatly in my work - being able to see that what I'm doing makes a difference and that I'm contributing to the team.
What do you see in your career future?
For me, as a trainee actuary, my focus over the next few years is very much on sitting my professional examinations to gain Fellowship of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. After that, I'd like to continue working within an actuarial role and continue to gain experience in a range of actuarial work. It'd be amazing to become a senior actuary and work on higher level issues within business, but that all relies on me successfully qualifying first...
What's the weirdest question you've ever been asked in an interview?
I can't think of the weirdest question I've been asked... Usually the questions are rather serious because they're designed to lead you to talk about relevant experience for the job. In one interview, I was talking about my interest in photography as a hobby and, when asked what was my favourite photograph I'd taken, mentioned a photo I took of a squirrel where I'd photoshopped a lightsaber into its paws. The conversation digressed briefly into a discussion about some wacky photoshopped photos we'd seen, but I found it great that the interviewer was friendly enough to discuss something like that with. It certainly put me more at ease in the interview and reminded me that interviewers aren't as intimidating as you may build them up to be in your head.