Q&A: Entry Level Actuarial Market

Q&A: Entry Level Actuarial Market

Q&A: Entry Level Actuarial Market

Perspectives from a senior-level Actuary and an in-house actuarial recruiter.
By Adam Noreen & Alyssa Duffy

Today’s entry level actuarial market is quite healthy and competitive. With the growing popularity of the profession, it is becoming more challenging to land that first actuarial job. We sat down with Misty Munzinger (Human Resources & Recruiting at Milliman Milwaukee/Chicago) and Tom Duffy (Director and Actuary, FCAS, at Aon Chicago) to discuss their thoughts on the entry-level actuarial market.

What are the most marketable/desirable traits of an entry-level actuarial candidate?

Misty Munzinger (MM):

  • Steady exam progress
  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Integrity
  • Ability and desire to learn and master new concepts
  • At the very least, some base exposure to Excel. Ideally some programming background as well, but that is not a deal-breaker

Tom Duffy (TD): The ideal candidates have a few actuarial exams passed and internship experience.

I look for the following traits in Actuaries on my teams:

  • A good problem solver
  • An effective communicator
  • Good people skills and a team player

Tom, also expanded his thoughts surrounding advanced educational degrees—          

TD: With the exception of certain research and advanced statistical application positions, I don’t believe having a graduate degree is a huge advantage for the entry-level Actuary. Firms are looking for well-rounded candidates. So if someone has demonstrated they have the math skills by passing a few exams, having a broad based liberal education and demonstrating a desire to learn in new areas are pluses.

Which technical skills are most important in today’s actuarial market? Has this changed over time?

MM: Technically, I would only consider hiring a candidate if they have at least had some exposure to Excel and its basic functions.  Ideally, some programming experience in VBA or SAS/SQL is nice to have, but is not a deal-breaker.  Experience in other coding languages can be useful, as it shows that a candidate is able to learn those types of skills.  Ability and willingness to learn new technical concepts along with methodology is something that I think is a marketable trait in a candidate.  Certainly, programming has become a more used actuarial skill in the last few years, so technical skills and their use in the market do change over time.

TD: Employers are increasingly focused on predictive and stochastic modeling and big data management capabilities. The emphasis on modeling skills has continued to grow over the last several years. A few particular programs that make candidates more attractive if they have a working knowledge are Excel, VBA, SQL, R, @Risk, and Crystal Ball.

What is the first thing that you look for on a resume? Are there any common red flags or mistakes?

MM: The first thing I look for is exam progress; we require at least 2 exams for an entry-level position.  Ideally, you want to see solid progress within the last few years and intentions of a future exam.  We also look at the GPA to make sure it is at least 3.2.  Besides those items, I like to see some sort of business work experience, ideally an actuarial internship but other experience (underwriting, finance, etc.) is good as well.  Lastly, a resume with detail about what a candidate did at their past jobs rather than no explanation or one bullet point is ideal.

As far as common red flags, English and grammatical issues will lead me to reject a resume outright.  Not including detail on past jobs can make for a generic resume, which does not lend itself well to extending a first round interview.  I’ve seen cover letters and resumes with candidates calling out the wrong company, which, again, shows a lack of attention to detail in the job process.

The entry-level actuarial market has become a lot more competitive over the years. What did an appealing entry-level candidate look like 15 years ago compared to today?

TD: Today’s candidates typically have passed at least 2 actuarial exams and have had a summer internship. These were characteristics valued 15 years ago as well. It is harder today, though, to break in without these accomplishments already on your resume.

Can you describe a few common reasons why candidates do not move forward in the interview process?

MM: We typically do our first round interviews as a one-way video where we have prepared questions that the candidate records themselves answering.  Typically, a candidate will not move on in the interview process because they provide short answers that do not include detail.  If we ask a question about “Why are you interested in our company?”  I want to know that you did your research on us (we’re a consulting firm, not an insurance company; the job you are applying for is in healthcare, so I am not interested to hear if you ultimately want to get into property and casualty insurance).  Answers without detail demonstrate that the candidate either has not learned skills in their previous positions enough to be able to discuss them, or that they do not value the interview enough to provide answers with content.

How important is networking in breaking into this industry?

TD: Networking is especially important if you haven’t had the summer internship and passed the first few exams. I would suggest rather than initially networking through social media or email, use the personal relationships that you already have first, and grow your network from there. Examples would be reaching out to alumni from your school, a professor or advisor at school (who is “connected” to the actuarial community), a family member, or neighbor who is an Actuary. Using those relationships can be more effective than approaching someone you do not know.

Do you have any advice to offer entry-level Actuaries who are just beginning their job search?

MM: Utilize your school’s business/career center’s resources, as jobs are often posted on those websites, in addition to career sections of companies’ websites – utilize all these resources to find job postings. Many schools also have career fairs that are worth attending.

If you choose to cast your net wide, ensure you are committing to each and every interview. Be prepared, confident, and ask questions.

TD: Start your timeline early in school. You need to pass an actuarial exam or two early in your college career so you can be eligible for a summer internship. Work hard, learn as much as you can, and be persistent in pursuing summer internship opportunities.

Join the school’s actuarial club. Ensure you are aware of employer interviewers that come to campus. Be aware of the differences between the actuarial organizations (e.g., CAS, SOA) and the career paths (life, property/casualty, health, and pension).

Learn, but have fun too. You will be successful if you get into an area that you truly find interesting and where your contributions will be valued.

DW Simpson’s dedicated entry-level recruiting team is happy to assist you in your career search. Please feel free to reach out to Adam Noreen (adam.noreen@dwsimpson.com) and Alyssa Duffy (alyssa.duffy@dwsimpson.com) for personalized advice on starting your actuarial career.

Misty Munzinger is the HR Generalist and Recruiting Coordinator for Milliman’s Milwaukee office and has been with the firm for seven years. She partners with the actuarial recruiting committees of the various practices within the Milwaukee office to recruit talented individuals who will thrive in Milliman’s entrepreneurial and free agent culture.

Tom Duffy is a Director and Consulting P&C Actuary with Aon. He has been with Aon for eight years, serving some of their largest clients. Prior to his time at Aon, Tom worked as both a consulting Actuary and an executive Actuary with insurers over the past 40 years.

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