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THE IDEAL ACTUARIAL CANDIDATE

(AS REVEALED BY THE RESUME)

By Nancie L. Merritt of I.S.O.

It is rare to find the ideal candidate, actuarial or not.  I like to keep searching, nonetheless.  So I will spell out some of my ideas to hopefully serve as guidance for you folks who aspire to this profession. 

Most important, I look at a candidate's academic background as it appears on the resume.  Because this career demands a solid mathematical background, the first thing my eyes seek out is the education section.  I look for a major, minor, and an indication of mathematics coursework (engineering, physics, etc.)  But let's us focus on the major first.  A math degree is ideal, but there are other majors that are suitable, too.  (For example, statistics or some other quantitative subject.)  In addition, any major would be good if it is paired with a math minor.  Further, I would say that any major or minor along with a minimum of 24 math credits, including the full calculus sequence, would be appropriate.

 I like to see someone who has a wider variety of academic interests other than math.  I particularly like coursework that requires writing papers.  Why?  Because even though actuaries must be math oriented, they also must write memos, reports, speeches, and other forms of written communications.  Writing skills are among the top skills that actuaries need to develop.  Among the coursework that I feel are particularly appealing are economics, business, and finance.  These courses expose students to a more applied, than theoretical, use of mathematics.

 The next item that catches my eye is the Grade Point Average (GPA).  Of course, it not enough to be a math major or to have taken a lot of math.  The grades must be good, too.  I 'm aware that putting too much emphasis on this is controversial.  The theory goes something like this: If students are penalized by the importance of maintaining a high GPA, they will shy away from difficult courses or courses outside the major that may be of interest to them.  I am a firm believer in students getting the broadest education possible.  However-- and this is a big however--employers have no way of determining whether low or average grades are due to the sheer difficulty of the courses, the courses being a stretch for the student, or that the student was simply more busy with campus  party life than concentrating on studying.  For me, the GPA tells me something about the capability of the student and/or their diligence. 

 We have hired an employee or two in the past who finessed their way around undistinguished grades in the interview process, but whose other indicators predicted success in this field.  Then they turned out to be undistinguished performers on the job.  And, they did not pass exams.  Grades may not be an indication of true capability, but capability means nothing if it does not result in good or excellent performance.

 Before we leave the subject of grades, I will explain that I am somewhat flexible if a student indicates that he or she has high grades in the junior and senior years, but had some adjustment problems at the beginning of college.  To me, the later demonstration of performance is more important.

 After grades, I turn my attention to the educational institution.  Generally, the better the school, the more the academic performance means in terms of overall ability.  Usually, I expect to see higher grades in the less demanding schools than in the Ivy League schools..  But, I do not restrict my search to the top schools.  I have found that there are good candidates in many schools.

 I am also interested in SAT scores as a predictor of success on exams.   I like to see SATs at least in the 1300 + range.  Here I expect to see a minimum of 650 for the verbal and 650 for the math.  I am somewhat flexible on this, but not as much on the math side as on the verbal.  This indicator is not always available on most resumes, so it is information that I often need to request.

 Exams are the next item of interest to me.  While I do not require them for consideration, I do like to see them because they show me that the person has already invested something in their career, understands the exam process and has made somewhat of a commitment to their career choice. 

 Employment and school activities are the next areas that attract my attention.  Because I am dealing primarily with new graduates, the employment section contains experience that is--for the most part-- not related to the work they will be doing on the job. So I look for signs that the student has worked more than one summer at one place (when invited back, it shows they were liked.)  Along that line, I like to see increased responsibilities when they have worked more than one summer at the same job.  Being able to take on additional responsibility is a positive sign. 

As far as activities go, it isn't important what activities students are involved in, only that they are involved in more than going to classes.  It demonstrates an ability to juggle their time and prioritize schedules. The ability to juggle work, commuting, family life and exam preparation is mandatory in this career. 

All of this is just what is shown by the resume.  But the resume is the critical piece of information that opens the door to an interview.  Once face to face with a candidate, I look for still other indications of success such as clear and concise verbal communications, good interpersonal interaction, enthusiasm for the profession and work in general and an interest in our organization.