Technological advances continue to open new and exciting possibilities and at the same time it creates an atmosphere of constant change. Given the pace of change, it’s hard to imagine what any of our jobs will look like in 10-15 years. Having talked with thousands of actuaries and analytics professionals over the years, here are some thoughts on the qualities that will help you progress and stand out in your career regardless of what is to come.
Advance your theoretical and technical knowledge and apply it in your domain.
This means building expertise in the universal knowledge that can be applied across the entire industry, or at least your role within that industry. This requires studying the subject in university, but it’s also important to seek out professional and educational opportunities after you graduate. Stay involved with the appropriate professional societies; seek out challenging professional development opportunities; read industry newsletters; seek out conversations with industry leaders; and stay current with industry trends that extend beyond you or your company.
One mistake people make is to be focused on developing such deep technical knowledge that they ignore other areas of their professional development. Having top level theoretical and technical expertise is important, but it will not help you advance your career unless you can apply it appropriately to the business problems your company encounters. You must also be able to communicate that information. One way to gain this type of knowledge is to seek out ideas that challenge what you believe to be true. It’s easy to attend a seminar and walk away feeling confident because what was presented confirms what you already know. If you really want to improve then you should listen for the pieces of the presentation that challenge what you think. One sure way to improve your knowledge is to have your beliefs challenged. Embrace those situations that offer opportunities to improve your level of thinking and understanding.
Practical expertise in the application of knowledge.
The reason why you want to develop a high level theoretical understanding in the first place, is so that you can take those universal principles and apply them to situations. This requires contextual understanding of how the variables affecting these principles can be used to positively affect business goals. Improving in this area requires being curious about how what you do affects the broader business. Seek out conversations with professionals in other departments, collaborate across functions, and find a mentor who will help you develop this type of intellectual skill. In selecting a mentor, of course you want to find someone who is successful in what they do, but also make sure that they can explain complex ideas clearly and succinctly. That is the sign of a subject matter expert. Also, it’s helpful to learn from experts outside of your specific domain. They offer unique approaches and insights that can help enhance your ability to solve problems in your domain.
The importance of being self-aware.
How do you learn? It’s important to reflect on what method helps you learn best. Do you get the most out of reading, listening to podcasts, discussions with colleagues, or attending seminars? If you find that you learn best from listening to audiobooks, then find an app that lets you listen while you exercise or perhaps on your commute. An important next step is to develop ways to ensure you review and reflect on new material. If you hear it only once you will likely forget it. You may want to develop a note system or design notecards that make it easy to refer to new information you wish to retain.
How do others learn? This is especially important for managers to consider. Being a good manager is about helping people you work with to improve their performance. To do this you have to understand that not everyone learns or is motivated by the same things. Be aware of this and be creative in how you teach and challenge others.
Be aware of lifestyle influences. If you want to push your career forward you need to bring energy and focus to everything you do. We often get so focused on what we are doing in our career that we neglect to examine other areas of life that will help us do these things better. Examine and improve your routines with respect to task and time management, get sufficient sleep and nutrition, and find effective means for stress management. These aspects play a huge role in helping you perform at your highest level.
Communicating your ideas.
You can work hard to develop theoretical and practical knowledge, but if you cannot communicate that information to others, it’s not beneficial to anyone. Seek out opportunities to present ideas both internally and externally at your company. Reach out and communicate across different functions and departments, then after each interaction, take the time to reflect on how it went. What worked well? How could you improve?
Finally, one last recommendation on how to develop the ability to communicate is to become a mentor yourself. You may think that you are only helping the mentee, but by becoming a mentor you will learn to prioritize and communicate the most important ideas related to your work. If you are an effective mentor, your communication ability will also improve.
Dan Karrow – Senior Director at DW Simpson
For career guidance from an experienced recruiter, contact us at DW Simpson.