Research Guides

Actuarial Science

Interview with an Actuary
Tracy Valentine
Pricing Actuary at The Navigators Group, Inc.
San Francisco, California

Tracy is currently an actuary with the reinsurance
division at Navigators and lives in San Francisco,
California. Tracy is a Fellow in the Casualty Actuary
Society and passed all of her CAS exams within five
years (which is remarkably fast). She graduated from
Fairfield University with Bachelor’s degrees in
mathematics and economics and has worked for
other big names in the industry such as Munich RE.
Here is some of Tracy’s advice for aspiring actuaries.
  1. How did you manage to pass all of your exams so quickly? Did you find any study tips especially helpful?
Putting in the hours and devoting myself to studying allowed me to pass my exams in an efficient manner. My work-life balance was slightly skewed in the short term but this time commitment paid dividends in the end. Having the exams over with was such a relief and allowed me to advance other areas of my career. I also think it’s important to budget your paid study hours efficiently. Some of my coworkers blocked off eight hour chunks of time to study. Personally, I know that this is not an effective method for me. At some point, there is a diminishing return of how much you are going to learn in a day. I would start studying further in advance of my exam date but only study for around four hours a day as opposed to eight. For the more advanced exams, using online programs such as Infinite Actuary is very helpful. Also, consulting online forums such as Actuarial Outpost is a great way to find study tips and advice from peers.
  1. Where should I start my internship/job search? How can I enter the industry if my school does not offer an actuarial science program?
It is very important to pass one actuarial exam if you want begin looking for jobs in the industry. Passing an exam shows potential employers that you are self-motivated and able to budget your time. The CAS and SOA websites have listings for internships and job openings around the country. Also, you can reach out to a recruiting firm such as Erza Penland or DW Simpson in order to jumpstart your job search [links for recruiting websites can be found in the Helpful Links section of this handbook]. Insurance companies often contact recruiters when they have positions that need to be filled. In addition, these recruiting sites have salary surveys which list average salaries based on years of experience and number of exams passed.
  1. What classes would you recommend students take in undergrad in order to prepare for an internship?
I would recommend that students take courses in probability, statistics, economics, and finance. You should consult the SOA or CAS websites for a list of VEE credits, which are college classes that all actuaries are required to take. Computer science classes are also helpful because they cover the basics of several programming languages. In recent years, actuaries have been expected to integrate more and more computer programming into their daily job functions.
  1. Is graduate school necessary? How would continuing my education enhance my career goals?
Many universities now offer Master’s degrees in actuarial science but I find that they are not necessary for securing a job. I would say that your primary focus should be on finishing the exams and learning as much as possible from on-the-job training. Once you are settled in your career and finished with the exam track, you may want to pursue a more advanced degree in an area that you are interested in such as statistics, predictive analytics, or business. Companies will often pay for their employees’ higher education once they are established as credentialed actuaries.
  1. As an interviewer what do you look for in a potential new hire? What questions should an interviewee be prepared to answer?
Before an interview, you should look up current events that are relevant to the industry you are applying for (such as health, life, worker’s compensation, etc.). Interviewers may ask about current events and their impact on the industry, for example, the effects of “Obamacare” on the health insurance sector. Critical thinking questions often come up as well. I was once asked to estimate how many balloons would fit in the office where I was being interviewed. Another time, I was asked to explain how to calculate an integral as if I was explaining the concept to a fourth grader. Interviewers want to see that you are able to verbally lead them through your thought process. They want to see that you are able to present your flow of thought in a clear, logical order. They also want to see if you are able to maintain your composure when asked a “surprise question” and if you are able to effectively communicate with others. You should also be prepared to ask a few questions at the end of the interview about the company. Finally, it is very important to send thank you emails post-interview. 
Year Semester To Do
Freshman Fall > Schedule an appointment with your advisor- select classes for next semester relating to math, finance, or economics.
> Begin to research what a career in actuarial science entails.
Freshman Spring > Choose a major that is sought out by actuarial employers.
> Maintain a high GPA. Go to the Learning Commons (1st floor of Ritcher) for tutoring services and study support.
Freshman Summer Break > Work a part time job or internship that can be used to build your resume.
> Begin to draft a resume. Schedule an appointment with a career advisor at Toppel to have your resume and cover letter proof read.
Sophomore Fall > Take MTH 224 or MTH 524.
> Attend Math Club meetings and create an account with Toppel- seek out networking opportunities.
Sophomore Spring > Browse online job postings on sites such as Glassdoor and Monster to get an idea of preferred qualifications.
> Familiarize yourself with the basics of Excel (VBA), SAS, SQL, and R. The Learning Commons periodically offer workshops about these programming languages.
> Look up upcoming exam dates for Exam P.
Sophomore Summer Break > Purchase a study manual for Exam P.
Dedicate the summer to studying for the exam.
> Sit for the exam toward the end of summer break.
Junior Fall > Update your resume and begin applying for internships.
> Schedule a session with Toppel and practice interview skills.
> Retake Exam P if necessary.
Junior Spring > Secure an actuarial internship or other relevant job for the upcoming vacation.
> Brush up on programming skills.
Junior Summer Break > Network with coworkers while interning and seek out career-related insight.
> Look up test dates for Exam FM.
Senior Fall > Update resume and begin applying for full time positions or researching graduate programs.
> Sit for Exam FM.
Senior Spring > Retake Exam FM is necessary.
> Solidify a job or alternate post-graduation plan.
> Relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Online Resources and Study Tips
  1. - Actuarial journals and resources compiled by UM’s math librarian Bill Jacobs. You can (and are encouraged!) to schedule a meeting with Bill if you want to find additional readings about actuarial science.
  2. - Exam notes and resources from an actuarial professor at Florida State University.
  3. - A compilation of discussion forums with very helpful insight. Users can create an account and ask questions that will be answered by members of the actuarial community (similar to Yahoo Answers). Examples of discussion threads include debates on which is the best study manual to purchase for a certain exam and lists of study “hacks”.
  4. - The Society of Actuaries site has sample exams with detailed solutions. This site also has the official syllabus for every exam as well as the exam schedules for a given year.
  5. - LinkedIn is a great resource for connecting with alum from the university and other industry leaders. LinkedIn also has discussion forums like Actuarial Outpost.
  6. Monster, Glassdoor, Simply Hired, Indeed – These sites are updated with new positions on a daily basis. I recommend checking these sites every single day for new openings (this is how I secured my first actuarial internship).
Study Tips:
  1. Write down all of the formulas that need to be memorized for an exam on flashcards. Review these flashcards while at the gym, waiting for the bus, or during commercial breaks. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can memorize equations this way.
  2. Create mnemonics for more complicated properties and formulas. Try to craft an acronym for concepts that you have difficulty memorizing.  For instance POS (Put is an Option to Sell) and COB (Call is an Option to Buy) are useful acronyms that keep me from getting the definitions of “put” versus “call” confused while solving lengthy word problems.
  3. Create a detailed study schedule for each exam. Each actuarial exam can take in excess of three hundred hours to study for. This is a significant amount of time and thus needs to be carefully scheduled into your daily routine. If you don’t set aside adequate time to study each day, you will procrastinate and be unprepared come exam day (trust me on this one).  Create weekly goals for completing sections/chapters of the study manual and leave at least two weeks prior to the exam date for review. You should be finished learning new material from the study manual well in advance so that you have plenty of time for practice drills.
Recommended Readings:
  1. - The sections on “Traditional Employment” and “Nontraditional Employment” are especially helpful in giving a high level overview of various career paths one can take as an actuary.
  2. – Lists the types of actuaries and the percentage employed in each category.
  3. – Gives a concise, excellent definition of what an actuary is and what they do.
  4. - The HHS website’s official summary of the Affordable Care Act. It is useful to know the basics, especially if you are applying to jobs for health insurance companies.
  5. - This site has hundreds of financial and insurance-related terms defined. Poke around this site to familiarize yourself with industry lingo. 
About Me
Hey guys! My name is Alana Ergui. I’m from Miami and attended The U from 2013 to 2016. I decided to be a math major because I really enjoyed calculus in high school (foolproof reasoning, right?). I loved the courses I was taking at UM, but after about a year or so in college, I realized that I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree once I graduated. The two most obvious options: grad school and teaching- just weren’t for me. I researched alternate career options for math majors and that’s how I stumbled upon actuarial science. From there, I began the process of pursuing a career as an actuary- which included studying (and restudying) for exams and securing internships. It has been a challenging, but extremely rewarding process thus far. I hope this handbook in conjunction with the services offered by UM help you on your journey to becoming an actuary. 

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