Lessons of an Actuarial Independent Study

Last Spring, I wanted to give back to my Alma Mater, so I agreed to help teach an Actuarial Independent Study. The topics were entirely based on Exam 3/MLC, Actuarial Mathematics, where the first goal was to create a mortality table.  Before creating such a table, my students and I needed some data. Luckily we came across virtual island data. This data simulated the lives of hundreds of individuals.  Eventually, the virtual island individuals reached their death and we were supplied with important information about their death.

As the students went about creating the mortality table, Excel skills became very important for their efficiency.  They had to calculate how long somebody lived by taking the difference of two dates. Excel functions came into play here.  Then the students had to group individuals together by different age brackets, which Pivot tables came into play.  At this point, they started to calculate the probability of death within the next year.

After a week of hard work, the mortality table was developed. But the fun didn’t stop there!  From Exam 3/MLC, the students knew that with a mortality table, they could use it to theoretically price Life insurance.  To make this leap though, knowing how to use Lookup functions based on various categories made the students very efficient.  Better yet, with Excel VBA, they were able to run a few hundred simulations!

At the end of the Actuarial Independent Study, the students created a mortality table, knew how to set a theoretical price based on the mortality table, and could now price a premium for hundreds of virtual individuals wanting to buy Life insurance using Simulation.  But just as important, they learned valuable skills in Excel and VBA that made them more marketable as an aspiring Actuary.

You too can learn the fundamental technical skills used in this Independent Study to become an Actuary. Sign up for the Technical Skills Course today!

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We live in a “Show and Tell” age

In this day and age, you need to be able to stand out. One way to do this is to actually do actuarial tasks before you get the actuarial job. You’ve study actuarial concepts if you have studied for the first few actuarial exams. Can you stretch yourself and apply those concepts to data available on the web? Once you have done some analysis, consider sharing it to the world.  Build a website and show what you can do. Someone is bound to notice your great work and will try to hire you.

Let’s take an example. There’s this individual who was curious about the actuarial exam progress of people. He pulled in all of the pass list data and compiled it into one database. From his website, people can enter in a name and the results are queried onto the webpage. This shows off his database skills and web design skills that can help a company out there. He was recently hired.

Where can you get data? There is a great source in data.gov. At this website, you can download thousands of datasets for free such as the Social Security Administration’s disability claim data. But you can also learn how to “scrape” a webpage of its data to create your own data. “Scraping” uses computer programing to build data as you define it.

Learn the fundamental skills to perform actuarial analysis with the Technical Skills Course and share your talent to the world! 

How are your interview skills?

You’ve passed a couple of actuarial exams and you’ve built your technical skills with the Technical Skills Course (of course!). This puts you in a great position to get that entry-level actuarial job.  After getting your resume in good shape, you start getting scheduled for interviews.  This is a critical time and you need to practice your interviewing skills.

Here are a few basics to work on:

  • First impression.  How are you dressed? It is appropriate for the work environment? Do you exude confidence in your posture?  You are portraying an image of yourself to your prospective employer.  They want to see that you can represent them well now and in the future.
  • Handshake. Do you have a firm handshake showing confidence and self-worth?  Handshakes that are weak can display that you are timid, passive, or even scared of the situation. Instead shake hands firm enough (not too hard!) that you are friendly, you welcome the situation, and you want to join in this partnership.
  • Eye Contact. Do you have strong eye contact when you are listening to the interviewer? What about when you are speaking? Having good eye contact shows attention and interest in the conversation.  It also shows you are open to coaching and you take direction well.
  • Confidence. Do you speak with confidence in yourself and in the skills you have to offer?  You are trying to sell that you are best applicant for this job. Show it and convince the interviewer!
  • Relevance of answers.  When asked a question, listen carefully and give the best answer possible. You need to put yourself in a positive light here.  If they ask about your Excel skills, say “Yes, I have worked on my excel skills.  For example, I worked through the Actuwaiters All-Around Course practicing vlookups, sumproducts, etc.” If they ask you to analyze a chart to make decisions, ask confirming questions first to make sure you have all the facts before making a decision.  Often times, people will just ramble on about the first thing that comes to their mind. Work on this skill to listen and be relevant in your answers.
  • Saying thank you.  When your interview is about to conclude, make sure to thank them for their time and for considering you for their position.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer questions especially when it comes to their business.  This further shows your interest in the position.

Make sure to complete the Technical Skills Course to build your technical skills before interviews take place.  You don’t want to have that feeling of being asked of your Excel, Access, VBA, and SQL during your interview, only to respond that you don’t have any experience with these programs.

Idea: Helping out Non-Profits to gain experience

There are a lot of non-profit businesses out there needing help with their business issues (e.g. Reading Programs, Health clinics, Boys & Girls Clubs, Cancer Associations, Food Banks). Actuaries and people wanting to become Actuaries have potential to help them out. Developing simple metrics such as how many customers do they serve, what kind of customers are buying their products, is the price appropriate, what would sales look like if they tweaked this assumption?  They will enjoy the charts you create for them.  What about a database you build, but they can maintain and run monthly? If you are looking for experience, you can possibly reach out to these non-profits and see if you can perform some technical analysis. Your services may end up being free, but at least you can put it on your resume, gaining good practical experience for a great cause.

Of course, you will need technical skills to help these businesses out and promote yourself.  Sign up for the Technical Skills Course to gain an array of technical skills.