BEGINNING YOUR CAREER

Where can I find out about actuarial internship programs or entry level positions?

Regardless of your particular circumstances, Beginning a career as a U.S. actuarial student requires the following three items:

  1. Eligibility to work in the U.S. full-time
  2. Current primary residence in the U.S.
  3. Successful completion of at least one actuarial exam (Exam P/1 or FM/2)

 

Eligibility to Work in the U.S. Full-Time

For most entry-level actuaries, the first follow-up question is often, what do you mean by “eligible to work in the U.S. full-time”?  This is a good question.  Unfortunately, there are very few “absolutes” when it comes to employers’ willingness to hire entry-level actuarial students who do not currently have U.S. citizenship or permanent work visas (H-1B).

Many actuarial students are in the U.S. legally under an F-1 (student) visa.  This is fairly common as bright young students from around the world come to U.S. universities to pursue degrees in mathematics, statistics, actuarial science or other fields that lend themselves to a career as an actuary.  Under the F-1 visa, your eligibility to work full-time is finite.  Employers who wish to hire you must begin the H-1B visa sponsorship process to keep you employed at their firms beyond the 29 month limit.  Unfortunately, U.S. immigration policy is not well conceived.  For decades, the U.S. has made it very difficult and expensive for employers to hire talented people from around the world who wish to work in this country.  The current cap of 85,000 H-1B visas granted each year means that employers find it very difficult to get applications approved for their employees.  As a result, many firms have simply chosen not to sponsor any employees for H-1B visas.  This is particularly true of companies that do not have an international presence, which unfortunately represents a significant portion of U.S. insurance companies.  As a result, if you are living in the U.S. under an F-1 visa, the potential pool of employers is much smaller than if you had your “green card”. There are certainly firms willing to sponsor- but it’s a small number.

The second point to consider if you are here under an F-1 visa is that you may be at a relative disadvantage as compared to those with permanent work status. All things being equal, hiring an entry-level actuarial student who requires H-1B sponsorship is more difficult and expensive than hiring one who does not require sponsorship.  You cannot fight this, you can only be aware of it, and do your best to make sure you are a more attractive candidate with other factors such as your communication skills, exam progress, exam scores, internships, etc.

Living in the U.S.

If you want to work in the U.S., you must be living in the U.S. legally (or perhaps in Canada legally).  I stress both living here legally and full-time (not just visiting for a month in an attempt to find a job).  You simply will not be able to get a position without these conditions being met.  The only exception to this is perhaps with some Canadian actuarial students.  A number of companies, typically the large consulting firms, will interview Canadian university students, for opportunities in northern U.S. cities.  As a result of NAFTA, employment in the U.S. under a TN visa is a fairly simple process.  Despite its ease and low financial cost to employers, however, you will still find a high percentage of employers unwilling to consider Canadian actuarial students.  The TN visa is often viewed as a complication and many U.S. companies are simply unwilling to take the extra time necessary to either understand or complete the process required.

If you are living here legally, perhaps under an F-1 visa, then you will find that some employers are willing to sponsor entry-level actuarial students for their green cards.  As discussed previously, it is not an easy process attempting to identify the firms willing to sponsor you but it can be done. You will likely find if they do agree to hire you and sponsor you for your green card, that the company may not start the process for six or twelve months after your start date.  Companies often want to evaluate your performance before agreeing to begin the laborious and costly green card process.

Finally, if you are living in the U.S. illegally, don’t even bother applying for an actuarial position.  Even if the company wanted to hire you after completing the interview process, they will almost certainly discover that you are here illegally and the offer, if made, will be immediately rescinded.

Passing Your First Exams

You must have passed at least one actuarial exam (preferably two) to be considered for full-time entry-level actuarial employment.  If you have not passed either P/1 or FM/2, again, do not bother applying.  It will be a waste of your time as there are too many qualified applicants who will be selected over you.  The fact is that you simply do not yet qualify as an actuarial student.  Nearly all employers use the one exam passed minimum criteria to weed out applicants that have not taken serious steps toward beginning their actuarial careers. Without an exam passed, you will not be considered by the majority of actuarial employers.

Please note, more is not always better when it comes to exams and obtaining your first full-time position as an actuarial student.  In fact, too many exams can work against you.  The ideal number is two exams passed, perhaps two plus MFE/3F or MLC/3L.  Any more exams passed, and you run the risk of “pricing yourself out of the market”.  To understand what I mean by this you have to understand how most of the large insurance companies and consulting firms compensate their employees who are part of their actuarial student programs.  Actuarial students at these firms are compensated based on a combination of years of experience and exams passed.  These two factors are expected to rise together, allowing for greater compensation as both experience and exams passed increase.  However, if an entry-level actuarial student has too many exams, this compensation “formula” is broken immediately.  It breaks because the exam raises and/or bonuses paid to the actuarial student for passing each exam are typically a matter of fixed policy and not subject to modification.  Therefore, an employer may be faced with a situation such as the following: A well-respected actuarial student with three years of service at the firm and three exams passed may be earning $56,000 plus a 5% bonus.  While a new hire, with no employment history with the company but having passed the first four exams and Modules 1-5 of FAP would have to be paid $60,000 based solely on exam progress.  Most companies won’t pay these compensation rates without work experience.  They want to hire an entry-level actuarial student at $48,000 to $50,000 and have their compensation gradually increase through the combination of exam progress and experience.  Due to the nature of their schooling, there are some Canadian actuarial students who graduate with four exams passed and the market for these candidates is strong- however they are the exception rather than the norm. In general, companies are highly unlikely to pursue the entry-level actuary with four or more exams.

NOTE: The above is an excerpt from Achieving Your Pinnacle: A Career Guide for Actuaries, by Tom Miller, Copyright 2013. It is reprinted here with permission.