The traits, experience and skills needed for entry-level actuaries

Written by Baron Cao: DSC_0068

It was an honor for me to attend the Iowa Actuaries Club meeting, hosted by Drake University, on February 25th.

I attended a students’ session where three panelists discussed the key traits, experience and skills they are looking for when hiring entry-level actuaries. The panelists were Paul Connor from Athene USA; Jacki Kertzman from Principal Financial Group and Ryan Hansen from Nationwide Insurance.

Before I share my notes, I would like to offer a friendly reminder to all readers. Some of these suggestions are subjective. For example, Paul even said, “It really depends on who interviews you and what job you are interviewing for.” Some employers like to see the amount of exams you have passed while others care more about your extracurricular activities. Some care about GPA and others are more interested in your past job experience.

Therefore, the very first suggestion is to have a balance among academics, exams passed and extracurricular activities.


True, you are nervous. But the interviewer could be a first-timer as well; he/she is probably as nervous as you.

Speak slow. People speak faster when they are nervous. Take a deep breathe if needed. The interviewer totally understands that.

Before the interview, know what the company is doing and review basic facts such as the products, size of the company and their stock information etc.

Show your interest in the position and the field of working. (Don’t walk into a life insurance department interview and say your favorite thing is property casualty.)

But don’t talk just to satisfy the interviewers. Be straight with them.


Your resume is the entrance ticket to an interview. It is the very first thing an employer sees.

Depth of involvement in a certain student group or organization is more important than the quantity. For example being the president or leader in 2 organizations is better than being a member of 5 organizations.

Know what is on your resume. Be prepared to be asked details about it. Interviewers do not feel comfortable if you stall during questions.

Characteristics of an entry-level actuary that employers are looking for:

Critical thinking ability: if your manager gives you something to do that you have never seen before, you are expected to get an answer using logical reasoning. It doesn’t mean you cannot ask any questions; but sometimes you may have to figure it out on your own if your manager is too busy.

Presentation skills: You will present the actuarial results to senior managers who do not have related knowledge like you. Learn how to break things down to make everything understandable.

Communication skills: You will talk and negotiate with customers about products you design and then try to sell them.

Past job performance: Exams are important, but employers still need to know if you can get the job done. This can be an issue if you pass “too many exams” because then they have to worry about your starting level and compensation. The best way to solve this is to get an internship and prove your past job performance is good. If interviewers seem worried about this, tell them straight that you are not an over-qualifier.

LinkedIn: A valuable tool to both you and employers. Also, be aware of your activities on other social media sites.

Special note to first-year students:

Go to career fairs like other upper classmen. True, most companies would not hire freshmen; but tell employers what you know about the company and ask them what opportunities they could offer instead of just saying “oh you don’t offer internships” and leave. A lot of companies have first-year leadership programs instead and a lot of companies love to keep track of your resume from year to year. And, a lot of companies can help you in other ways, like through mentor programs, etc.