Girlfriends, MLC and Jobs

Written by Jeremy:Jeremy

Last spring, Tonya Manning, then president of the SOA, together with three young actuaries, gave a seminar at Columbia University’s MS in actuarial science program (where I am a student). The three actuaries took turns talking about their careers and answering questions from the floor. As they spoke, it emerged that they all entered the actuarial profession at the suggestion of their girlfriends. By the time the third one said this, there was audible laughter in the room and Mrs. Manning commented, “Well, it looks like we have a new recruiting tool for actuaries: girlfriends.”

I thought back on my own experience. At age 36, married for 11 years, I had been getting by for several years on sketchy income as a freelance and ghostwriter of books and articles. It was clearly time to move on, but to what? My wife was taking accounting courses and one day she told me she had heard about something called an actuary. I had also heard about it long ago, but didn’t know exactly what it entailed. She had heard that to be one, one didn’t need any specific kind of degree. It was “only” necessary to pass a series of math exams. I was good at math and had often helped her with the math parts of her courses. So this was a natural idea for me.

I quickly ordered a book on probability, studied it and then passed Exam P/1. A year later, I passed FM/2. But my job search was going nowhere. Living in New York has the advantage of being near a wide range of insurance and financial companies, and the disadvantage of being up against tough competition in landing jobs with such companies. I decided that a degree from Columbia might boost my chances.

The MLC exam, which I just took for the second time, is a lot harder than the first two. I don’t personally know anyone who has passed it. When the professor in one of my classes asked who had passed P and FM, a good number of hands went up, but when he asked about MLC, there were no hands up. “That’s what separates the men from the boys,” he commented. The exam covers a very wide range of topics and some problems can take many steps to solve.

My strategy for passing MLC this time consisted of three parts: 1) In addition to going over my notes from Prof. Weishaus, whose course I took last spring, I spent a good deal of time on practice exams. I went through two past exams, analyzed my mistakes, and tried to crystallize my error on each problem in a short sentence, which I wrote on the test paper. Then I reviewed those errors again and again. 2) I did three practice exams with Coaching Actuaries, which my school provides as a courtesy. I found it to be an excellent simulation of the real thing. My only complaint about Adapt is that I would have liked to be able to stop and view the solution in the middle of a test, while the problem was still fresh in my mind. 3) On the real exam, I read through all the problems during the 15 minutes provided at the start, determined which problems would be the easiest and quickest, and did those first. I can’t emphasize how much this helped me.

In conclusion, my advice for all my fellow actuarial students out there is that you have to try hard because jobs aren’t as easy to find as you might imagine, and that on an exams you should always do all the easiest questions first!