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06.06.2021

How I made a career change to become an actuary

As the grip of COVID appears to be lessening (in the UK at least) and things begin to open up again I’m really interested to see how the workplace landscape will change. It will still be a while yet before the full impact of the pandemic is clear, but 2020 saw large numbers of redundancies and it’s possible that once the job retention scheme ends, there may be more to come. While this is daunting and will be an immense concern for many, I believe it could also be looked upon as an opportunity. Easier said than done I’ll admit; however, it is a situation I found myself in a couple of years ago.

I wanted to write this article to share my experience, and my tips for anyone in a similar position. Whether you’re a new graduate entering a tough job market, you’ve been made redundant as a result of the pandemic, or you’re just looking for a career switch, I hope there’s something in this short article that could be of some value to you.

In 2019 I was working as an account manager for a company selling finance software. Though this was perhaps not my dream job, it was also not one that I hated. Come May of that year, due to a sudden decision by our main supplier to pull one of its products off the market, the terrifying prospect of redundancy was now a reality. I found myself unemployed.

As I had worked in the industry for the last five years, I had made plenty of contacts in the channel and could have used my references to move to another business partner relatively easily. However, as I said earlier this was not my dream job, so I decided to take the opportunity to review my situation and switch careers.

My biggest tip for anyone who finds themselves in this situation is don’t have a Plan B. Yes, that’s right – I said don’t! Decide what is your Plan A and stick to it. The best way to achieve any goal is to put all of your efforts into your desired outcome. The moment you have a fall-back option it is very easy to get away from what you really want.

As a Maths graduate, I always wanted to work in a role which allowed me to use my analytical skills. I decided to make becoming an actuary my Plan A. I joined the IFoA and started to study for some of the early exams. This was not a trivial investment of time or money for me, but it helped me gain insight into the field and some basic knowledge. It would also demonstrate to potential employers I was really committed to my Plan A.

I then started down the path of applying for a wide range of entry-level jobs I could find which related to actuarial work. I’m sure anyone who has been through a career change will tell you that you will apply for a lot of jobs and hear nothing. This can be very demoralising. However, I found it helpful to remember that this silence does not reflect on you or your ability. It is merely a reflection of the volume of applications that most of these jobs receive. You will have your breakthrough, and for me that was with APR.

Offering a wide range of projects in Pensions, Life and General Insurance, it was clear APR was a great opportunity to start a career as an actuary. I could tell that working at APR would allow me to gain experience in several different roles quickly so that I could understand where my skills would be most effective. It was also apparent there would be plenty of opportunities to involve myself in both the actuarial work and other areas of the business as well. Having come from a small business this was something which really appealed to me. It is important to recognise (and emphasise, when applying for roles) transferable skills from previous jobs that are key requirements for actuarial work, such as effective communication, collaboration and project management. I felt a smaller employer like APR would be better-placed to utilise some of these individual strengths I had developed rather than a very large employer.

Now, almost 18 months in, I’ve worked on projects in both Pensions and Life insurance and have already learned a range of new skills. I have comfortably shifted from the world of selling finance software to a career as an actuary and am loving it.

It is worth noting Plan A might not always pan out exactly as you expect. This could be for a host of different reasons and should not be viewed as a failure. The journey can have many benefits, and every situation, such as a failed interview, can still be a valuable learning experience. You never know what doors will open even if it isn’t exactly what you initially aimed for.

It is so easy to get into a comfort zone with work. I should know, I did it for a good five years! If you have the opportunity and means, I would strongly recommend dedicating the time to find something you love doing and be willing to invest your time or what scarce resources you have in maximising the chances of making it happen. Remember, what we do for a living is a huge part of our lives, so make what you love doing your Plan A. No matter how daunting the first steps appear, it will certainly be worth it!

Tom Coyne

June 2021