Summer is nearly upon us, and a fresh batch of actuarial analysts will soon begin their new careers. Future Fellows has long provided advice to newer actuarial candidates, such as in June 2011, when Kuda Chibanda shared some thoughts for fresh university graduates starting a new job. (“Perspectives on Starting a New Job”, June 2011, Vol. 17, No.2)
Five years later, with additional wisdom and experience, Kuda has agreed to meet with Future Fellows to answer follow-up questions and share new insights on starting your first job.
Future Fellows: When fresh graduates start their new actuarial jobs, what should they do to make a good impression on their managers and teammates?
Kuda: When I started off in my career, I was very eager to prove that I had what it took to be an actuary (intellectually, that is). I was slightly insecure that maybe my managers would think I was not cut out for the career if I made any mistakes, so I spent way too much time trying to prove I was intelligent. Now that I'm a manager, I am most impressed by new analysts that always ask why. Although that's a cliche, it rings true when you become a manager, because you realize that those students who have intellectual curiosity are the ones who will be most conscientious about being detailed in their tasks, even the menial ones.
The exam process does a fantastic job of weeding out those who don't have the acumen for actuarial work very early on, so my advice is if you've made it to the job offer stage, you're smart enough. Don't worry so much about proving how smart you are. It's far more impressive to show that you can think about the purpose of what you're doing and what its implications are. From that, you will automatically become more detailed and thorough in your work.
Future Fellows: You are now a manager. Would you give your direct reports today the same advice that you gave Future Fellows five years ago? (If not, what is different?)
Kuda: For the most part, yes. One piece of advice that I gave that still rings true for me today is about not judging more experienced co-workers by their exam progress. I continue to learn so much from colleagues who are not necessarily FCAS. The exams are a good way of standardizing the knowledge required to be an actuary, but they are not a measure of how good an actuary someone is, so take time to learn from those in your office who are very experienced, regardless of what their exam situation is.
I also remember that I struggled A LOT with just making it through the day in the first few months. I'd have to take bathroom breaks so I could sit on the toilet seat and put my head down for a few minutes. Since then, I've learned there's something called coffee that apparently does a fairly decent job at keeping you up. I've therefore become an avid consumer of this substance.
I've also developed a naturally higher tolerance for making it through the work day. Waking up before 10 am isn't quite the torture it used to be. It could be because older people need less sleep...?
Future Fellows: What common mistakes do junior analysts typically make, and how can they avoid making these mistakes?
Kuda: Related to my first response, I think many young analysts try too hard to wow their managers and therefore rush through their work, and sometimes don't think about the implications of what they are doing. It's better to be thorough than it is to be fast. The exams teach you that you should try to finish as quickly as possible, because partial credit will ensure you are rewarded for your effort. In the workplace, a half-right analysis might as well be totally wrong. If you are unable to make a deadline, it's better to communicate that than to rush through your work and have careless errors.
On the flip side, I also see some analysts become defensive when they make errors. If you've made a mistake on something and your manager points it out, I suggest you spend less time explaining the unique circumstances under which that error occurred, and rather focus on the development points coming out of it. It's far more valuable to you to figure out how you can avoid making the same error again than it is in explaining that it was a one-time issue.
Future Fellows: The number of millennials in the workplace continues to grow. Do you see any shifts in behavior or mindset as we move to the next generation of analysts?
Kuda: I'm (technically) a millennial myself, so to some extent, I can't really answer the question about shifts in behavior. I know that I feel like I have different expectations of the workplace, and that in some ways, the workplace feels like it's not really catching up to what my colleagues and I are looking for. For example, we're a generation that hates being chained to our desks. We want to be able to work from anywhere in the world. I think that differs significantly from prior generations that view being present (physically) as a pre-requisite for being a good worker. Attitudes are changing for sure, but there are still some gaps. I also think we're the generation that speaks up. Whenever there are issues in my office, they will be shared, one way or another. I personally think these are all good things because it means we can be engaged employees, who can be balanced but still productive. The question is whether older generations see the value in that thinking.
We appreciate Kuda’s time, and we hope to check in with her again in five years! For more tips, read Kuda’s original article.