A career as an actuary is very demanding.  With competing demands on your time, how do you ensure that you have a successful career?  Listed below are several “difference makers” that you should consider for a successful actuarial career:

Difference Maker #1 – Read General Business and Industry Publications

Given the rigors of the actuarial career and the considerable hours dedicated to pass the actuarial exams, it is understandable that many actuaries do not regularly read major general business publications such as the WSJ, Bloomberg-Business Week, or The Economist.  This is a mistake.  General business publications such as these broaden your learning, provide you with insights on industry trends, and better prepare you for management and senior management positions. I stress these publications because your local paper’s business section is not robust enough.  This is true even if you live in a major city such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, New York or Boston.  These cities all have fine newspapers but they are not “difference makers” in your career. And by all means, you should absolutely continue to read industry trade publications such as The Actuary and Contingencies.

Difference Maker #2 – Develop Your Communication Skills

Effective communication skills (writing, speaking, and presenting) are critical to your career advancement.  If you want to take on more responsibility and earn more money, you must invest in your communication skills. Presentations are fixtures in companies, large and small, consulting or insurance.  Effective presentations can make the difference in your career, especially when they are combined with strong writing and speaking skills.

Suggested avenues to improve communication skills:

  • Business writing courses
  • Presentation skills training (with video)
  • Public speaking (Toastmasters, etc.)
  • Sales training (for those in consulting roles requiring revenue generation)
  • Effective conference call and voicemail training

Difference Maker #3 – Work Hard Toward Your Goals

You must set short- and long-term professional goals for yourself.  And then work hard, very hard toward achieving them.  If you aren’t willing to work harder than the people around you, then you can’t expect your career to outperform theirs.  If you want greater responsibility, greater compensation, and faster promotions, you have to demonstrate your capacity to handle your current responsibilities in a manner that leaves colleagues and managers certain as to your abilities now and even more so in the future.

Difference Maker #4 – Semi-Annual Career Check Ups

The annual performance review is a fact of life in corporate America.  It is a tool that management uses to review your performance, but just as importantly, it is a development tool for you.  After your annual review with your manager, ask yourself the following 2 simple questions:

1. Is your manager indicating that you are performing at a high level, a level necessary for you to achieve your professional goals?

2. Are you actively following the advice in this section of “difference makers”?

Annual self-reflection is not enough; you should review your goals, performance, and plan for achieving your goals every six months.

 Difference Maker #5 – Avoid Too Many Employer Changes

You should view any potential employer change within the prism of how it will help you achieve both your short- and long-term professional goals.  Obviously, there will be personal factors that come into play as well.  Make sure you have thoroughly explored your options within your current employer.  Bear in mind, too many employer changes can create “red flags” that future employers will scrutinize for many years.

Difference Maker #6 – Develop and Nourish Your Professional Network

Your professional network is of paramount importance as you advance your career.  Focus on building your network within your employer; get to know people in other parts of Actuarial or other departments. Leave them with a positive impression of your work quality and work ethic and they may think of you when advancement opportunities arise. If you change employers, keep your network at your previous company intact by using LinkedIn. Attend conferences and networking events such as local actuarial society meetings; talk with people you meet and follow up with them to remain in professional contact and discussion. The actuarial profession is small and you will undoubtedly find that a robust network will serve as a great asset to your career over time. For consulting, this network is critical.

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