Warning! This post contains references to maths and computers! May not be to everyone's tastes!
Did you know that 'actuary' was voted best job of the year this year? Here is a link to an article which tells you more. http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2013/04/22/dust-off-your-math-skills-actuary-is-best-job-of-2013/ It's a funny thing as so many people haven't any idea what an actuary does.
An actuary is basically someone who tries to predict the future. And how might we do that? By using maths and statistics to analyse things that went on in the past and apply that logic to future things. Actuaries tend to work in a few different areas - life insurance, pensions (the more 'traditional' stuff) and what I work in - General Insurance. That is stuff like car insurance, home insurance, public liability, travel insurance and the more 'sexy' types like piracy insurance.
One slightly morbid thing actuaries do is try to predict when people die, so they can work out if/when insurance will pay out or when a pension will end. I try to predict if companies will have claims on things like fire insurance, and how much those claims will be for. Easy right?
Actuaries have a reputation of being a bit boring, and that's not necessarily untrue. We spend a lot of time on computers, working away silently. You need to be very strong at maths to do the job (think A standard), and also things like computer programming. A lot of actuaries are very quiet and introverted people. I would think I'm a bit more outgoing but I definitely have my actuary moments!
A huge part of the job is study. To qualify as an actuary you need to pass 15 exams, taking one or two every six months until you've finished. Anywhere between 40% - 70% of people will fail each exam, so you can see it can take a while to get through them.
My work give me about 40 days off (paid) per year to study. They also buy me study material and pay for the exams. You read the notes yourself and practice questions. You go to a revision class which lasts 2 - 3 days and apart from that you're on your own! You also need to study for a few hours most weekends too so it takes a lot of dedication. Most people fail exams not because they aren't smart enough, but because they haven't done enough work. Imagine sitting a maths exam where everyone got an A1 in the Leaving Cert and they had to fail half the people sitting it, that's what these exams are like.
I have two written exams left, as well as an exam on Excel and one on doing technical presentations. The exams I've passed are on things like financial maths, statistics, claims reserving, finance, probability and also topics even more boring than those! Each time you pass you get a small payrise which helps with the motivation.
I'm hoping to qualify next year which means it would have taken me about 3.5 - 4 years. That is probably a little under average. It can be anywhere from 3 - 10 years +. Seeing as they are so hard, there is no shame in failing. In fact, it would be unusual not to fail at least one over the whole course. Employers are very sympathetic to failure, especially seeing as the bosses probably failed a few themselves in their time!
I am really lucky that I love my job. It's the perfect mix of maths, computers and communication - a big part of my job is taking non technical people through our models. I love working out what statistical distribution fits a group of claims best! It's also given me the opportunity to travel; England once a month, or maybe more, and also Canada. The US is a possibility for next year.
There are more jobs than people so it's quite easy to get a job and working conditions are really good.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about the job, or maybe you are a student who is wondering if being an actuary is for you, I'm happy to answer any questions you have. I also do a lot of 'volunteer' work for the Actuarial Society on things like organising social events, committees and representing students.
Hope this post didn't bore you to death, but I did warn you! The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries website has more details if you are interested (http://www.actuaries.org.uk/).