The insurance industry depends on actuaries-the brainy pros who access the financial cost associated with risk. Actuaries are astute number crunchers, statistical whizzes. They analyze the cost that uncertainty invites, and they help develop policies accordingly.
In addition to supporting the insurance industry, actuaries are an asset in the financial sector. State and federal governments also depend on actuaries. The Society of Actuaries (SOA) emphasizes that there’s an “increasing number of emerging job opportunities in industries where actuaries have never been.”
Working as an actuary is a thriving, evolving and lucrative role. If you have a knack for numbers, and you love playing probabilities, working as an actuary may be the perfect fit for you. Read on to learn how to find a job as an actuary.
How to Get Hired as an Actuary
How to Gain Skills, Knowledge, and Experience
There’s a bustling marketplace for credentialed actuaries. Earning actuary certifications takes planning and work, though, so it’s beneficial to engage in that work throughout one’s undergraduate experience.
Though many are employed by companies, some actuaries work as independent consultants.
Career paths plug: Degrees needed to work as an actuary
Candidates interested in pursuing a career as an actuary first need a bachelor’s degree in an analytical field such as actuarial science, statistics, computer science, math, physics, engineering, economics or finance. They usually aim to pass at least one actuary exam before they complete their undergraduate work. The next step is to pursue actuarial credentials.
The SOA and the Casualty Actuary Society (CAS) certify incoming professionals through a rigorous series of courses and evaluations. Two certification levels, associate and fellow, are available. Earning associate-level certification can take four to seven years, and securing fellow certification can add an additional two to three years of study.
Skills for working as an actuary
These are some skills that actuaries need to hone and apply in their daily work:
- Amass, analyze and explain data
- Calculate the probability and related costs associated with an unforeseen event such as an injury, death or storm
- Use modeling software, charts, tables, spreadsheets and reports that communicate the probability and cost of such events
- Create, test, and facilitate business products (investments, pension plans, insurance policies) tooled to minimize risk and maximize profitability
- Work as part of a group to advise decision-makers about risk
Actuary Hiring Process
The credentialing process is rigorous, so it’s in the best interest of those entering the field to engage in their work early. Internships during one’s undergraduate years, for example, are encouraged. SOA and CAS recommend that students aim to staff two summer internships while they are engaged in their undergraduate work. Similarly, the associations recommend that those who are changing careers to become actuaries also engage in internships. It’s key to learning the role.
On Be an Actuary, a website co-sponsored by SOA and CAS, the associations advise: “Probably the single most important qualification for an entry-level candidate is exam progress. Entry-level candidates should be prepared to pass two exams before being seriously considered for employment. However, a candidate with one exam and excellent internship experience is just as desirable as a candidate with two exams and no experience. The market discourages candidates from passing more than three exams without experience.”
The associations note that recent grads who have passed two tests, have a solid academic track record and can demonstrate stellar computer skills should start their search by looking for internships. They advise that it’s possible but difficult to earn a full-time starting position without experience.
The BLS similarly notes: “Job opportunities should be somewhat competitive for entry-level applicants because the number of students sitting for actuarial exams has increased in the past few years. Students who have passed at least two actuarial exams, have had an internship while in college, and have strong analytical and business skills should have the best job prospects for entry-level positions.”
How Much Does an Actuary Make?
Glassdoor data reveals that an actuarial trainee can earn $93,000 annually, while an entry-level actuary can make $97,000 a year. The average base salary for this job is $105,000, and the top of the range is $136,000. Actuaries with 10-14 years of experience reported earning nearly $160,000 annually. Some actuaries also report earning an annual bonus, averaging nearly $15,000.
By checking out Glassdoor salaries, you can filter by location to see actuary salaries in your area. Salary estimates are based on 1,565 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor by employees who work as actuaries.
Actuary Job Market
Outside of the insurance and financial industries, universities, labor unions, fraternal organizations and rating bureaus are some businesses that employ actuaries. Glassdoor shows nearly 3,200 job openings for actuaries, across industries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the job outlook for actuaries is robust: “Employment of actuaries is projected to grow 22 percent from 2016 to 2026 . . . The increase in available data will allow insurance companies to better develop new products, set competitive prices, predict consumer behavior, and make more accurate projections of future risks and costs.”
The BLS points out that growth stands to accelerate in the health insurance industry: “health insurance companies will require more actuaries to help evaluate the effects of changing healthcare regulations and guidelines, expand into new insurance markets, and offer products to new customers.”
Actuary Job Interview Tips
Step one to nailing your job interview is to thoroughly prepare. Research the company and absorb all the details articulated in the job post. Also, make sure to formulate your questions about the company and the role.
If you haven’t done this before, or you’re feeling a bit out of practice, keep in mind that interviewing for a job as an actuary requires a hybrid approach. It’s a technical interview where you will likely be asked to demonstrate your expertise, approach and problem-solving skills. The work also demands excellent communication skills and team work. So you’re likely to field behavioral questions as well.
You want to show that you’re prepared. To that end, rehearse your answers. Work them through with a mentor, friend, parent. Grab a partner who is a good listener and whose professional opinion you respect. He or she can help you think of elements to your answer you may not have considered. Take the time to mindfully sharpen your interview-response skills, this way, you command the narrative when it comes to articulating what makes you a stand out.
These are some interview questions that Glassdoor users fielded when they were interviewing for jobs as actuaries:
- What was the hardest decision you had to make while dealing with a very angry customer?
- Tell me how you think.
- “What motivates you? Why do you want to become an actuary?"
- "What is your favorite Excel function?"
- "If you were going to rate a commercial automobile, what facets of the risk do you think would be the most important to consider?"
- What is an ethical dilemma you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Two people each take turns to throw a die. Whomever has the higher number wins, and it's a draw if the numbers are the same. What is the probability that the first person to throw wins?
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Working as an actuary is a thriving, evolving and lucrative role. If you're looking to break in, here are some additional resources: