Case Study 1
Role: Actuarial Graduate – Risk Pricing Analyst
Department: Product Pricing
Company: AXA Personal Direct and Partnerships (AXA Insurance, AXA UK, AXA Group)
Degree: BSc. Mathematics from the University of Leicester
A year ago I was sat in the university library applying for my job. I didn’t expect that 12 months later I’d be sat in the office I wanted to work in, doing the job I was applying for and giving advice to others on job applications, as I was just as perplexed about them as everyone else. It feels like such a long time ago, but it’s not. It just reflects what’s been achieved in a year long journey.
How did you get your job at AXA?
I wanted to work in the financial sector but without living near a city meant the only (AXA) office in my hometown provided my single prospect of work experience, but there were no vacancies or formal programs to be had. Even so, I telephoned them registering my interest for any sort of office work and was invited to an informal chat/interview. Within two days of calling I was offered a full time contract for three months and worked there between my second and third years at university.
I didn’t have a day’s leave from work/university that year, thus my work-ethic improved immensely, and I was adamant to secure a job before I left university. I worked extraordinarily hard (for me) in the first semester of final year and focused on three job applications. I was fortunate to be invited to interview for each one, and I advanced a stage further each time. Narrowly missing out on an accountancy job at my first assessment centre confirmed that it wasn’t for me. I decided I definitely wanted to be an actuary as the relevant university modules I’d chosen to study were the most enjoyable part of my whole degree, and probably my entire education.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at AXA over the summer and I didn’t find reason to apply elsewhere. The work I’d done didn’t have many similarities to the job I was applying for and I was employed by another AXA group company, so I applied through the external route like all other applicants. I think I was chosen due to my initiation and experience with the company; I already knew I liked and fitted in with the culture; and also my preparation/research for and performance at the assessment centre. The fact I’d been employed as a full time employee, and not an intern, helped me to increase my expectations of what they were looking for, and to be more proactive. Also my soft skills, personality, degree, determination and my specific desire to work for AXA helped.
What would you like to achieve in the future?
I aim to finish my professional exams and qualify as an actuary. Alongside this I should become specialised in a particular sector, as well as getting varied challenges across different parts of the business. There is no formal rotation scheme for me so it’s up to me to direct my career path. Following my exams, I’m more interested in the management side of the business than technical and research type work, so I’d like to progress further in the company, perhaps in a senior actuarial or management role. I’d get a broader view of AXA, and see how actuarial work affects the wider business, meaning I could change location or company within the AXA group. I would like to continue working for AXA long-term.
What was the interview process like?
I found it more enjoyable as they allowed you to be yourself. The process followed the format of online application, online numerical test, face-to-face interview, assessment centre, and it took around four months from starting my application to being offered the job.
The online application was relatively straight-forward but some of the questions involved topics which I’d not studied in my mathematics degree, so this is where most of my research took place. The online testing was quite basic for me as I had to sit just a numerical one. At interview it helped that I’d worked at AXA before as simple things such as the decor and ‘feel’ of the place were familiar to me, so I wasn’t distracted. My interviewer was very encouraging; I could tell he wanted me to do well. Some questions were tricky, but I’d practised basic competency questions a lot and I’d previously written down a list of all my experiences and skills, from birth it seemed, that might, in some way, be related to the job! I was aware of the values and ‘behaviours’ that AXA uphold, partly through research, and partly through working there, so I made sure I ticked all the boxes.
The next day I was invited to the assessment centre, which was one of the most challenging but stimulating days I’ve had. It was the first time I was able to use the hard work I’d done from the entirety of my education, my ‘soft skills’ and my personality all together. They relaxed us with a presentation of the company as a whole, putting it all into perspective, which made me want the job even more as I realised how close I was. Then they turned the tables and sprang an unexpected presentation task on us, which was my favourite part of the entire process. We had further tests, interviews and so on all day. And I was exhausted by the end of it!
Any advice for the interview process?
- Focus only on a few applications, and execute them well.
- Research the company and its competitors, industry and qualification in your spare time. Know plenty about them.
- Network with people in your desired role in real life or on linked in. If you can find people in the company you’re applying to ask them what they think the company is looking for in an employee, and also what it’s like to work there (all from their personal perspective).
- Ask a variety of people you trust to read your application form and get feedback. Change it accordingly.
- Rewrite or cut your application so everything written has value.
- If you‘re required to submit a CV or covering letter ask a careers advisor or recruiter for help.
- Practise online tests if you’re new to them or find it difficult to pass.
- Usually you’ll have to score within the top ‘X’% or ‘Y’ amount of people to get through, as they can only take ‘Y’ many people through to interview. If they set a pass mark, everyone might get though to interview and they don’t have the resources for that! Hence your completion time and accuracy both matter.
- Write and practise competency questions and answers.
- Know roughly the career route you’d like to follow.
- Be aware of the importance of each stage. I met my recruiter at my university careers fair. I didn’t remember him, but he remembered me at my assessment centre months later. And my first interviewer is now my manager and I sit next to him every day.
- You might well get lost, be late, have had no sleep, miss your train or have any number of reasons why you can’t perform well at assessment centre. Nearly everyone does, so they’re not reasons.
- Stay alert and concentrated at all times and you will leave with equal chances of getting a headache and a job. It’s easier said than done!
What ‘soft skills’ have you found useful?
Skills which aren’t imperative, but have been useful, are skills I’ve gained from extra-curricular activities and hobbies, and in reality that’s what sets you apart (everyone has those which are necessary). What’s been useful to me are my team work skills gained from being a leader and a team player in sports; attaining dedication, perseverance and performing to an exceptionally high standard in long-term hobbies; and concentration have all been underlying aptitudes. I’ve also been a performer in my past which helps me greatly to control my nerves and perform well under pressure.
It’s useful to get some practise working 9 to 5 so you can know whether you suit that style of working, and just to get used to it physically and emotionally. It’s also helpful to have had a manager, or other similar professional relationship, as it means you work quite differently from the way you work at university.
Resilience is really important, everyone has bad days and it’s been important for me to come to work the next day without it affecting me so I don’t put strain on my work or relationships.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
In my opinion I think your enjoyment at work depends on your work colleagues, team, manager and company as these all influence your job greatly. In terms of the actual work I do I enjoy the flexibility there is to change or improve what already exists. I have my own partners whose ‘books’ I work on, but at the moment it’s my manager who liaises with them, so I do more of the technical side. It’s great to be given that much responsibility so early on, so I do like that I’m the only new graduate in my team. I mostly enjoy the reason I applied in the first place; the challenge of solving problems which seem unsolvable and the mathematics that’s involved. I’m enjoying being creative in thinking up new ideas as there wasn’t much opportunity for this in my degree.
Case Study 2
Company: Capita Employee Benefits
Role: ATC Actuarial Analyst
A view from a CAA: Transferring from FIA to CAA
“We recently had a ‘wear a football shirt to work’ day in our office for charity. One of the actuaries took the opportunity to wear a shirt which said “It only took nine years” referring to how long it took his beloved AFC Wimbledon to gain promotion to the football league. However he felt obliged to cover it up in order not to demotivate thestudents in the office who might assume it was a reference to how long it took him to obtain those mystical three ‘FIA’ letters at the end of his name.
And that in a nutshell is why the CAA has been needed for some time. As it stands, students have a horribly binary choice – stay the course, slog it out and one day you’ll be popping champagne and trying not to analyse too much if it was worth the sacrifice (it probably was, you reflect). Or you give up, deciding life’s too short and for ever more enjoy your Easter weekends but potentially with a slight nagging feeling that you don’t have anything to show for your endeavours.
I had a relatively swift route through the CTs myself, but then like many got stuck when told I had to start writing more words, remembering lists and generally being more creative than writing the words ‘taxation’, ‘administration costs’ and ‘legislation’ at the end of every question in the hope of scraping a few bonus marks.
At the same time we had a fundamental shift in how we do actuarial work at Capita, with the analysts splitting into two pools - a core technical centre on one hand with the rest providing consulting support to the actuaries on the other. This seemed a great way to validate the decision I’d made in going down the technical route and an opportunity to gain a qualification that more closely reflects this new role. Within the technical centre we have a number of new joiners in the last 12 months who have now started down the CAA route with Capita’s support. This enables them to get the necessary grounding in the theoretical aspects of what we do but without either them or the company having to commit the all-consuming time and costs involved in going down the FIA route.
I do have a large degree of optimism that the qualification will gain respect across the industry. The first set of results suggest to me that the quality and rigour of the CAA exams is up to the standards expected with CT modules, just that the material itself is more focussed on the purely core technical concepts.
My hope is that the CAA qualification will act as a sort of rubber stamping of the level I’ve reached as a technical analyst. I am also hoping as we get a few increasingly experienced members of the team reaching CAA status, it will help show junior members of the team that this is something worthwhile working towards. All being well I will ‘qualify’ this year and if so I will be sure to crack open the Buck’s
Fizz (well, champagne would be a bit OTT after all - especially if I’m paying) and reflect that yes it was worth the somewhat reduced level of sacrifice and start to look forward to a summer on the golf course instead of one spent studying.”