John Hardmern graduated with a degree in MORSE (Maths, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics) from the University of Warwick. He is now a trainee actuary at Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow
What do you do in your job?
There’s a lot of technical work. This includes solving calculations for the administrators of pension schemes. If it’s a big scheme, you might write a model in Excel to let the administrators do the work themselves. If there’s a smaller volume, you’ll do the sums. It could include queries such as someone retiring early and working out the reduction on their pension, or calculating the cost of a transfer between pension schemes. I’ve also taken on a secondment to run a mentoring scheme for newcomers to the company.
What was your motivation in applying?
With a degree such as MORSE, I could have pursued quite a few career paths. A lot of my peers went into accountancy. But contrary to popular perception, I think that it’s a more number-crunching profession than actuary. I applied to do a summer internship with Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow in the summer of 2003, and was offered a job at the end of the eight weeks.
What did the application process involve?
The internship application process was very much like being interviewed for a graduate place. There was an assessment centre day and an interview. I think it was slightly more relaxed than the graduate interview, which also involves a presentation. It’s worth checking on the internet what tests you’ll be asked to do, and try some practice ones. Friends of mine struggled with the numeracy test because it was different from the maths they were taught at uni.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I really love the mentoring role I’ve taken on, and the fact that in actuary, a lot of the problems are solved in teams. I mentioned at the interview that I’d been interested in becoming a teacher and Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow has given me opportunities to pursue this interest, such as the mentoring secondment project.
Most challenging part of the job?
Balancing the huge work burden of exams for the professional qualification with work and social life. Exams can take over your life if you don’t watch out. A couple of weeks before exams, it’s every night and all weekend. There are two sessions of exams every year, and the average period of qualification for an actuary is four-and-a-half years. I try to spread study over the term rather than leave everything to just before exams. Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow also gives 30 days’ study leave a year, which really helps.
Advice to readers considering a career in your field:
Make sure you have the motivation to stick with qualifying to be an actuary, because the studying and exams are intensive. Friends of mine who have dropped out of the profession have done so because they lost interest, not because they didn’t have the skills and ability.
The actuarial profession is a small but highly regarded part of the financial and business community. Qualification consists of passing 15 exams and, crucially, three years’ work experience. Caroline Henderson Brown, career adviser with industry body Actuarial Profession, says: "It’s hard because of the demands of being an actuary, and also because of the public interest they have to represent."
There are diverse routes to qualification, but A-level maths is a must, and a numerate degree is generally preferred. Graduates can expect to earn between Â£20,000 and Â£25,000, increasing to Â£30,000-Â£40,000 for partly qualifieds, rising to an average Â£53,000. However actuaries can use their thorough training to rise to senior levels of business.