Written by Kaitlyn Fleigle of Maryville University
As we all know, actuarial science requires a high level of mathematical and analytical skills. However, I have recently realized the extent that other skills play in the success of an actuarial candidate – namely technical and soft skills. Typically, technical skills may come easier than soft skills for most actuarial students, but both are extremely important to stand out from other candidates.
The most common technical skills I have used in my internship experience are Excel, SQL, VBA, and Access. However, I have recently had to work more in Word, PowerPoint, and even R. This list is not the same for every student though; I have heard of other interns using software such as Prophet, MG-ALFA, and SAS. As I have met more actuaries through networking and internships, I have learned which technical skills are most often looked for in candidates. Most will say that Excel is essential, and anything else is a bonus. Having knowledge of one language gives candidates an advantage since many computer languages relate to one another, making future learning much easier.
While college courses have taught me the basics of my technical knowledge, internship experience has provided me with the bulk of it. With each internship I have had, I have learned a new technical skill and have also learned a valuable lesson – Google is a powerful tool. Anytime I have to learn something new or tackle a problem, I resort to looking up the solution online. In fact, I learned most of what I know in SQL using a source called w3schools. Plenty of other free online courses for different software and computer languages are available as well. Another common website I visited was Stack Overflow, which was useful when I had a single issue and needed a solution. Aside from courses and online tools, companies provide huge help with possible training and plenty of qualified people who are ready to answer your questions.
Although technical skills are highly recommended – and sometimes required – to obtain a position, soft skills are just as important in the hiring process and beyond. In fact, most of the industry leaders I have met have said their soft skills are a leading asset in their success. However, they have also said they were not always so comfortable speaking to people, so if soft skills is where you lack, do not fret!
So how can you better your soft skills? First and foremost, the quickest way to dive into bettering your presentation skills is by taking a speech class. This will teach you the basics of presenting and help you become more comfortable in front of people. When already employed, you could join a Toastmasters club at your organization. You can also ask for more presentation opportunities at your internship or job to better your skills. From my experience, managers take well to this as it shows you are trying to improve your weaknesses.
However, before you can begin presenting in front of coworkers, you will need to land the job first! Decent communication skills can turn a good interview into a great one. Rather than speaking in front of a large group, you will be required to interact on a more personal level. The best way to improve these skills is to do plenty of mock interviews ahead of time and get used to talking to people about your resume and experiences. Speaking about technical skills and experiences can be difficult if your interviewer may have little to no experience in what you are talking about, so be sure to practice talking about these on a more high-level overview. Also, get used to asking questions and follow-up questions to better hold the conversation. Being a candidate who is easy to talk to and still brings a lot to the table is the quickest way to stand out among others.
When it comes to landing an actuarial position, technical skills and soft skills play huge roles in selling you as a candidate. These are skills you can learn from classes and on your own to make you more marketable, as well as help advance you in the industry. Don’t be afraid to take chances and learn something new!