Preparation for Interview for Beginning Actuaries
Remember, impression and perceptions are important on behalf of the interviewing company. How you present yourself to them from your first spoken words set the stage for whether or not you will be offered a job. In an interview situation you are subtly trying to sell yourself to a company, you need to be perfect at doing so. Someone may have all the abilities in the world but if they are not communicated in the right way, companies will move on to someone who has communicated their abilities favorably. Here's how you can position yourself to have a great interview:
1) First Impressions -This may seem like a minor point to start with, but the first contact you will have with a company is when they make that first phone call to you. First impressions are critical. If you do not have an answering machine, get one. If you have a humorous or out of the ordinary outgoing message on your answering machine, change it to a professional sounding one. If others might take a message for you, educate them that you are looking for employment and a prospective company may call. They need to be able to take a detailed, professional message....pen and paper by the phone, etc. If a company catches you off guard when they call, see if you can call back within the next 24 hours. You need time to get ready, to prepare mentally and from an informational standpoint.
2) Prepare - Find out as much as you can about the company you will be speaking with. A company will be impressed that you took the extra time to find out about their company and line of business. It will also put you in a position to interview better. This includes going to the library and researching the company. The Best Reports (which reviews insurance companies), Standard & Poors, Morningstar (for publicly traded companies) would be your best start. Also, know about the type of work people do on a day to day basis within the line of business you are interviewing for i.e.; casualty, life, pensions, health, etc. Also know what it's like to work at an insurance company v.s. a consulting firm. The hiring company will want to know that you have a good perception of their company and the type of work you will be doing. You've got to show them you know what you are getting yourself into.
3) Practice for the interview - Every good athlete trains and warms up before a major event. This is your major event and you need to warm up. Practicing is the best way to do so. Chances are this is one of the first interviews in your life. For a phone interview, practice on the phone with a friend. For an in person, video tape yourself. You need to present yourself in a positive, confident manner. Think about the types of questions that will be asked of you and know your answers ahead of time. Listen for your mannerisms and change them if you need to. You want to sound confident, enthusiastic, optimistic, well informed, and skilled.
4) Dress the Part - First impressions set the stage for you to be hired or not hired...so look the part. Men: suit (pressed), tie (conservative), shirt (pressed), dress shoes(shined), haircut a few days prior. Women; business attire, conservatively dress and makeup, no heavy perfume. Even if the company tells you they are casual dress, I still recommend wearing the above. It's always better to error on being over dressed that not being dressed well enough. They'll still comment about them telling you it was casual, but don't go in casual.
5) Speak to the Positives - A company's interests are going to lie in several different areas. Make sure you are prepared and cover the following items in your interview. I'll call them your "Selling Points". In a interview make sure to bring up the positives, and not the negatives unless specifically asked. Make sure to bring these up even if not asked. These are the hot buttons to a prospective employer if you posses them and they are the reason you'll be hired. Essentially you have only a short period of time to communicate that; you know what you are doing, your know where you are going and how you are going to get there. If you interview for a casualty actuarial position, know what casualty actuaries do. If you interview for a life actuarial position, know what they do, etc. Do NOT wing it because the next person they interview probably won't.
Make a written list of your selling points. Use your resume to start your thought process. For a phone interview, have this list in front of you so you can speak quickly to your selling points. Also have a copy of the resume you submitted to the company in front of you as the company will be looking at this as they speak to you. If you go in for an in person interview make sure to take a long a copy of your resume. It should look highly professional. Also make sure to have your selling points memorized if you go in for an in person interview.
Actuarial Exams - Selling Points: Total number of exams passed...but more importantly be sure to mention high scores (8,9,10's), no or minimal number of failings, consecutive sittings without gaps of time (shows determination and commitment).
Education - Selling Points: High GPA, High SAT/ACT scores, Dean's List, Degrees in Actuarial Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science.
Experience - Selling Points: Actuarial Internships, positions in the accounting, math, or true business world, tutoring, teaching (i.e. working at the local discount store is fine but having a part time job performing accounting is far better).
Computer Skills - Selling Points: Identify which programs and languages you know very well. You can also mention the one you've simply been introduced to. Spreadsheets, Databases, and newer programming languages are the desired skills (i.e. knowing Word for Windows is fine, but knowing how to write macros in Excel is far better).
Honors or Awards - Selling points: Any honors or awards you earned to show your extra abilities are considered strong positives.
Activities - Selling Points: President, Treasurer, or participant in Clubs, Honor Societies, anything to show you are outgoing or multidimensional (i.e. gardening is fine but being in the math club is certainly more applicable and desirable).
Location - Selling Points: If you live near the company you are interviewing at it is generally preferred. If you have ties to the area bring them up. The more you know about the area, the more comfortable a company will feel about you moving there. They will feel there is less chance of you moving some place you won't like and later deciding to move away.
Ask Questions - Companies are looking for you to ask intelligent questions and you need to be prepared to do so. Ask good business oriented questions based on what you have learned about the industry, field, line of business or the company. Stay away from benefit oriented questions. For example, don't ask about vacation time, do ask what areas of growth do you see for your business over the next several years. Or, what would my first project be, etc..
6) Thank you letter - After the interview, send a thank you letter to the most senior people you met with. The letter should...thank them for their time and communicate that their position meets your long term goals and objections and at the same time you feel your aptitude and education lend itself well to their position. The letter should not be handwritten, should be laser printer generated, should be spelling perfect, and should look highly professional. Right after your interview, go home write it and mail it the same day.
7) Follow Up - Call 7 days after the interview. Make good use of voicemail if the person does not answer (even ask to go into the person's voicemail as opposed to leaving a message with a secretary). Leave the message or say something to the effect... I just wanted to reiterate my interest in the position we discussed. With my abilities (be brief and to the point) shown by (example...use what attributes you had that seemed at the time to strike an interest) i.e.... my degree in Actuarial Science, having passed 60 credits, my programming abilities in Visual Basic I feel I could be an asset to your firm. At the same time you offer me the type of career opportunity I am extremely interested in. I certainly would like to work for your company. Please let me know if I can answer any more question. You can reach me at ......
I hope this helps. Over many years of helping experienced actuaries finding employment, I've learned many aspects of what separates a good interview from a bad interview. You have every opportunity to make an interview go well. If an interview goes poorly, consider it a warm up for the real thing. Don't be discouraged if things don't go your way or the company decides to hire someone else. Ultimately, you don't have control over the hiring process. What you do have control over is how well you interview. So, stack the cards in your favor, be at your best, do your best. Your career depends on it.