Actuaries made a median salary of $102,880 in 2018. The best-paid 10 percent made more than $186,110 that year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made less than $61,140.
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An actuary makes use of advanced mathematical and statistical tools to accomplish their duties. They make use of specialized computer programs that are unique to their field of work. Also, they undergo several years of study and exams before they get a professional status. Suffice to say, becoming an actuary is not an easy feat, but if you have a natural love for numbers, computers, and endless learning, you might just be cut out for the job.
Actuaries calculate the possible cost of risk to the companies they work for. They also help to find ways to minimize losses due to these risks. Below are more detailed responsibilities of actuaries:
Actuaries have certain specific traits and characteristics that are unique across all of them. Some of these traits may come off more prominently than others. However, people who make excellent candidates for actuaries have a balanced mix of the following qualities:
Your favorite subject is mathematics
Becoming an actuary may be the right career decision if you constantly feel a pull towards mathematics during your student years. If complicated formulas and advanced computations do not faze you, you might just have a deep enough love for the level of maths that it takes to deal with responsibilities that actuaries come face to face with every day.
Principles like Calculus, Statistics, and Probability should come off as easy for you since these are the types of knowledge you will use as a basis for your decisions and recommendations in quantifying risk. Your deductions should be meticulous and trustworthy enough since it will be the basis of big business decisions that could make or break a company’s status.
You like playing the devil’s advocate.
Risk calculation is the main responsibility of an actuary, so if you are planning to become one, it will help if you have somewhat the mind of a skeptic. Actuaries often like to err on the side of caution. It is their duty and obligation to know how things can go wrong and how much it could potentially cost an organization.
You are independent and self-motivated.
An actuary’s role is a solitary one most of the time. Therefore, someone who is independent and does not mind working alone will suit the part just right. And because you work alone, it means that you are not only self-sufficient but also self-motivated since you are solely responsible for pushing yourself to meet your goals.
Here are a few tips for developing a good sense of self-motivation:
You can also work with others.
Despite having a solitary role, actuaries sometimes also need to mingle with team members and become a top team performer-either as a leader or a member. This means that you have to have some decent interpersonal skills and strong communication that you can bend to relate to people of different situations -from rank and file positions to executives and decision-makers.
You are ambitious
Actuaries have a lot to go through before reaching the peak of their careers. You need to be driven and ambitious enough to rise through the ranks and become successful. A healthy sense of ambition is also useful when handling projects and daily responsibility. It gives you the motivation to excel at the job.
The road to becoming an actuary is neither short nor easy. It entails years’ worth of study and perseverance. If you think you are willing to brave the elements to become a full-fledged actuary, below is a list of steps you need to undertake. Do remember that some of these steps overlap or might precede each other in varied succession.
Most actuaries have degrees that are related to analytics such as mathematics, actuarial science, and statistics. These degrees often have courses that heavily touch on maths, statistics, business, economics, and corporate finance.
On top of the courses related to actuarial science, students who want to go all the way into the actuary route need to take classes beyond those that deal with maths as well, such as computer science, programming, public speaking, and communications.
Two registered societies offer programs that allow actuaries to rise to professional status: the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The former accredits actuaries who work with properties and casualties such as those in automobiles, housing, worker compensation insurance, and medical malpractice. On the other hand, the latter certifies actuaries who work in life and health insurance, retirement benefits, investments, and finance.
Both the CAS and SOA require applicants to have had coursework in economics, finance, and mathematical statistics during their college days. To become an associate, an applicant must pass a total of seven exams to obtain certification. Many employers expect applicants to have initially passed at least one of the seven actuary exams before even stepping out of college.
It takes between four to seven hours for an aspiring actuary to reach the associate level. That is because the process of preparing for all the exams usually takes hundreds of hours worth of study within several months of preparation for each test.
After reaching the associate level, the next step for an actuary is to become a fellow. This step is a bit shorter than the previous as it only takes about two to three years to complete. The CAS offers a general fellowship certification while the SOA offers a more specialized certification with five different tracks to choose from: life and annuities, retirement benefits, group, and health benefits, investments, and finance/enterprise risk management.
If you do decide to become a pension actuary, you will need licensing issued by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries. The board issued this license to actuaries who have had the required experience and have passed two exams from the SOA.
The CAS and the SOA both have continuing education requirements to maintain an actuary’s status. These societies host training and seminars for actuaries. Employers may also provide training and seminars in support of their actuaries and coordination with the two certifying bodies.
Typically, employers are supportive of the advancement of their actuaries. They usually cover examination expenses, finance study material, support paid study leaves, and give bonuses or a salary raise for every examination passed.
When you start your career as an actuary, you will most likely begin as a trainee under the mentorship and teaching of an older and more experienced actuary. Within the team, your first few tasks will be fairly simple such as compiling data for other departments, such as marketing, underwriting, and product development, to learn all aspects of the company’s work and how actuarial work applies to each one. Gradually, as you gain more experience, you are handling more complex responsibilities, such as conducting research or drafting reports.
Becoming a successful actuary is no walk in the park. The same can be said with actually performing the role and being in the shoes of one. To effectively perform at this job, an actuary must possess the following knowledge and skills:
Advanced mathematical knowledge
Actuaries quantify risks using complex mathematical concepts such as statistics, probability, and calculus. You need to have advanced knowledge of these complex concepts to be able to deduce, analyze, and do the job correctly. This is the reason why most actuaries are graduates of math-related degrees, such as statistics. Actuarial science programs are also quite heavy with mathematics-related courses to adequately prime aspiring actuaries for the role they are about to play.
Project management and problem-solving
Aside from assessing and quantifying risk, actuaries also find ways to minimize those risks. They identify challenges that increase those risks and find ways to go around them. During their work, actuaries may even find themselves leading teams for specific projects. Project management has its challenges and therefore requires a fair amount of problem-solving skills.
Advanced computer skills
Actuaries use and develop spreadsheets, databases, and statistical analysis tools with the help of programming. Programming and computer science courses are usually recommended for those aspiring to enter the field of actuarial science. The area has a heavy reliance on technology, which allows data to be processed quickly and flawlessly. Having advanced computer skills enables an actuary to breeze through the work more efficiently.
Good business sense
Another type of coursework that is recommended for those entering into the actuarial field is business and corporate finance. Actuaries are usually employed by companies or organizations that handle finance, investments, and revenue. Having some solid background on business gives an aspiring actuary a good grasp of business concepts within every organization. It allows him or her to relate to the organization’s business processes to integrate risk analysis seamlessly into the fold.
Strong communication skills
Actuaries should be able to communicate effectively, even to those who do not have any actuarial knowledge. Therefore, being able to translate complex ideas into understandable statements is a definite must. Also, formulating reports and recommendations requires excellent written communication skills. Strong communication skills allow an actuary to convey essential messages clearly for the benefit of the organization that he or she is in.
Looking for an actuary school near you? Below is a comprehensive list of universities and colleges within the United States that offer actuarial programs:
Getting an actuarial job can still be quite a challenge, although it is foreseen to have a very fast-growing number of positions until 2028. If you are set on wanting to become an actuary, you need to fix your career compass early onto getting to the job as quickly as possible. Here are some things you can do to help you get a job as an actuary:
Pass at least two exams from a certifying agency
Usually, actuaries who get their first actuarial job have between one to three exams already under their belt. It is recommended that students begin taking the exams while still studying so that they have at least one or two exams done before they start applying for jobs.
Choose between the CAS or the SOA, depending on your perceived long-term career goals. Do you want to work with property and casualties? Or do you want to deal with insurance and retirement industries? Deciding early on which path you wish to undertake will give you a clear perspective on which direction your career should go.
Get an actuarial internship.
One of the best ways you can secure an actuarial job soon after college is to get an actuarial internship. Internships are often offered to college students in their final year of study. If you cannot find a placement for an actuarial position, internships in related fields are similarly helpful.
Internships provide you with useful work experience, advanced knowledge, and referrals, which can come in handy when looking to apply for your first official full-time job as an actuary. Additionally, according to a survey, paid internships usually end up in full-time employment, so there is a whole lot more long-term value in an internship.
Get a related job while your exams are still ongoing.
Once you have graduated, the chances of getting hired as an actual actuary are still pretty slim. What you can do to remedy this is starting with a related job that offers entry-level positions. Below are some examples of such similar jobs:
Look into industries that commonly hire actuaries.
There is a published Directory of Actuarial Employers that you can look up as a reference to see which industries and businesses you could work for as an actuary. In terms of actual hiring entities, Actuarial Employers -Global Listing can provide you with much-needed reference to hiring entities across each state. Their website allows you to filter employers based on country, size, and type. This site is perfect and convenient for actuaries who want to search for jobs based on location.
Below are the pay differentials in terms of state location for actuaries:
|State||2018 Mean Annual Wage|
|State||2018 Mean Annual Wage|
|Arizona||Data not released|
|Virginia||Data not released|
Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Here are some of the things you should keep in mind when crafting your resume:
Mind your choice of color, font, and general appearance. Remember that you are applying for a professional position. Therefore your resume or application should reflect the same vibe in terms of appearance. Choose a plain classic font that looks clear and formal on print like Times New Roman. If you are submitting an online resume, non-serifed fonts like Arial are usually more eye-friendly.
Do reserve your paragraphs for the cover letter. The resume should be brief and concise. Get straight to the point. Make use of bullets to enumerate educational attainments, work experience, and accomplishments. This way, it will be easier for the hiring manager to scan through the document and get the gist of the most important aspects of your resume.
With the choice of format, you can either go chronological or reverse. The latter works best for those who have plenty of recent experience since the most featured parts are your recent employment while the former works best for those who are just starting out since the main highlight would be your education and awards, if any.
You can not purely rely on system-generated grammar and spelling checks. On top of such applications, you should also take the time to read through your resume. If you can, print it out to see how it looks on paper. Chances are, you may have missed something that is not immediately obvious on a computer screen. Have a friend look over your print out and let them tell you what they think, what could be improved, or if they spotted any errors in it. This step is important because minor errors like misspelled words can turn off a potential employer.
While character references are no longer as popular as they were before, it could still pay off to practice some diligence and include some in your resume. This is especially true if you know you have a strong reference. If you’re not too sure, including a reference could still give you a better chance of catching the manager’s eye enough to call you back for an interview than if you were not to include it. Who knows -the company and your reference might be long lost acquaintances, belong to a shared organization, or are somewhat related.
Once you have finally secured an interview for an actuarial position, you can start preparing for possible questions that might be tossed your way. Below are a few examples:
The benefits of being an actuary are quite impressive. They include high salaries, flexible working hours, central roles within an organization, widespread scope covering many departments or industries, and international opportunities.
Actuaries need to be proficient in the following concepts:
An actuarial report is a report on the current and future condition of a fund such as insurance or pension. This report is used to determine whether the fund meets its beneficiaries’ needs. Actuarial reports from the government may be publicly accessed upon request, while reports from private entities may not be as readily accessible.
Sharpen your skills in actuarial science by taking these top online courses
Aspiring actuaries have a long learning process ahead of them before becoming full-fledged professionals. If you want to enhance your knowledge to better understand actuarial concepts and practices, here are some highly-recommended online courses from Skill Success:
Ready to move up in your career?