Common struggles of Actuarial Interns & How to avoid them
Nathan Temeyer, in this linkedin post, gives an overview of the situations faced in reality by an Actuarial Interns. The tips are too helpful if you are in the arena of ‘an Intern’! The post applies to all the interns and not only for the region of Iowa. Read on:
The weather’s finally getting a little warmer in Des Moines, Iowa – and just in time for the start of summer internships (that’s my roommate and I during our 2012 internship)! Every year, our company hires actuarial interns from across the country, with the goal of giving each one of them meaningful and valuable work. However, there’s inevitably going to be some challenges (or opportunities??) when college students move to a new city, work in an office for the first time, or encounter new software. I remember thinking I’d be ready, but there were definitely areas I didn’t anticipate or were difficult transitions for me. So I’m hoping to list a few common obstacles that I’ve experienced or seen along with some suggestions to overcome them. Hopefully reading through this article can help you to make the most of your summer experience!
Work vs. College Schedule
It can be a difficult transition switching from a few hours of daily class to working full 8-hour days. I definitely had days where it was difficult to stay engaged. I didn’t really understand the meetings, I was spending more time than ever behind a computer, and I was stressed trying to figure out all the people, acronyms, processes, etc. It truly is a lot of potentially overwhelming information at once!
I didn’t really understand the meetings
I think there are a number of solutions to help with the transition. One that I wished I would’ve utilized more is the power of networking. I’m an introvert, and most actuaries usually are. There’s a reason we chose this field, and it’s generally not because we’re energized by human interaction. However, my internship made me realize that I do need more of this than I thought. It was challenging and intimidating for me to interact with co-workers that were far more knowledgeable on work topics. So outside of scheduled networking events, I usually resorted to “just trying harder” to learn things. This is a valid approach to some extent, but it became exhausting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and look dumb at times. No one expects you to know everything! Doing more of this could’ve helped energize me.
I also used the caffeine card. I’d never been a fan of coffee, so I found some of that caffeinated water flavoring to get me over the hump. I say this not to recommend getting hopped up on stimulants for your job, but this was a relatively simple and short-term solution that helped me to compensate for my lack of networking. I’ve now learned to employ more interpersonal activities, which has eliminated the “need” for caffeine, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t help me transition to working in the office. My advice would be to do what works for you, but keep things in moderation!
I’ve already mentioned this some, but I really can’t stress the importance of networking enough. An Actuarial internship is intended to be a two-way street. Yes, we as a company are evaluating the interns for full-time hires, but you should also be using it as a test run to learn more about what you want for your career. What are you passionate about? What products seem interesting? And which ones would would you be fine avoiding? There really aren’t any better ways to learn these things than to actually get to know people that have lived it for years and get their take on things. Looking back on my internship, I think I failed to fully utilize the opportunities and network that my company provided. It’s worked out okay for me in the end, and I’ve come to learn the power of networking over time. But I could’ve had a head start in this as well.
An internship isn’t just about the work
An internship isn’t just about the work. Building strong relationships will help you get a job offer, but it will also help you learn more about yourself in the process.
For myself and others, an actuarial internship is often the first experience in a professional, office environment. Every company is different on specifics, but make sure to at least pay attention to professionalism. My rule of thumb is to try to emulate those on my team. Some are more casual, and others are more formal – even within the same company. I think a good approach for this is to start of being more professional/cautious than you probably need to be, and then start to loosen up to match the team members as you gain more information and experience. I’ve seen people leave bad impressions from being too casual to start, and then trying to scale up from that.
I think it’s great to have fun at work, and I love to joke around with my coworkers. But I definitely didn’t have any sense of how to do that when I started my internship. I knew I should probably act differently than with my college roommates, but what did that actually mean in practice? I’d recommend using good risk management techniques, and starting slow. In addition, I’d recommend asking your leader or team members about expectations, or find a mentor or someone you can trust outside your team to ask these questions. Use your network! (see previous point)
Assuming You’ll Remember Everything
There’s a deluge of new information at the start of an internship. And it’s oftentimes not organized in a linear fashion like we’re used to from college classes. Information given today might not make sense until we learn an unforeseen piece tomorrow. WRITE THESE DOWN or ASK QUESTIONS. I’d highly recommend starting a list of terminology or acronyms you hear. They’ll probably come up again, and if you’re like me, you might only remember 25% of them on a good day. Unfortunately, there are a lot of technical terms in actuarial science, and we tend to work with complicated problems. This can and often does make it feel like you’re listening to another language when you start. Don’t be scared to stop an explanation to ask for clarification. Or if it’s not the right time, keep a running list and ask at a later time. It’ll also come in handy for future reference.
Giving Up After a Few Mistakes
Ultimately, don’t expect to be perfect at everything you do. I like the phrase “growing pains” because it helps me to remember that we often need to struggle and endure difficult times in order to push ourselves to improve and learn more. I definitely remember a number of these instances during my internship, and questioning whether I could actually handle the work. It was hard for me. I made mistakes. But ultimately, I had a great team and leader that helped me work through these struggles and I learned so much because of it. Remember, a winner is just a loser that tried one more time. Don’t give up on your mistakes!
Don’t give up. Expect growing pains.
Can you think of any other struggles you’ve seen or mistakes you’ve made in internships? Or if you have an upcoming internship, what are you most nervous about?
From The Actuarial Club: